10/10 Recommend

A 5-Hour Road Trip With Spotify’s New Car Streaming Device

The aptly named gadget is an easy audio upgrade, especially for older cars.

A review of Spotify's Car Thing, a voice-activated Bluetooth music player.
Spotify

Back when I was a teenager, there was only one feeling more exquisite than getting your driver’s license: singing along with your meticulously curated car playlist, which you had to burn onto a CD yourself. Today’s teens have it even better. They get to sing along to Olivia Rodrigo’s “drivers license” — arguably the most perfect car song in existence — and they don’t have to spend hours downloading songs on the computer to do it.

If you buy a new car in 2022, it will likely come with a console-based music player, which will sync with your phone for a (mostly) hands-free audio experience. But according to a 2021 report from IHS Markit, the average age of a car on the road in the U.S. is now over 12 years old, meaning most vehicles that people are actually driving require you to use an aux cord or Bluetooth adapter to play your music through the speakers. That, in turn, forces you to look down at your phone to switch playlists or skip songs.

That’s why Spotify’s Car Thing, a voice-activated, Bluetooth-based music player, was so hotly anticipated when it became available by waitlist only in April 2021. And on Feb. 22, Spotify made it available to everyone for $89.99, plus the cost of a Spotify Premium subscription ($9.99/month).

I took Car Thing for a test drive on a recent road trip in an ‘06 Honda, and the experience certainly beat burning your own CDs.

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First Up: The Basics

When you open up Car Thing, you get the device itself, a USB power cord for a car plug (also included), and a variety of plastic bits to mount the gadget to your dashboard, CD player, or A/C vent. When you first power it on, you’re greeted with step-by-step instructions to connect it to your phone via Bluetooth. From there, Car Thing syncs to your sound system as easily as your phone does, which is to say you do need some kind of Bluetooth or aux cord hookup. (My car is so old that I need a Bluetooth tape adapter for this.)

Using Car Thing is pretty much a leveled-up version of using Spotify on your phone. You can say “Hey, Spotify” to ask it to play your latest album obsession or a genre you’re vibing with, or select four favorite presets that you access with physical buttons on top of the device. You can use the dial on the front of the screen or swipe and tap to browse through music options.

Why I’m Obsessed

During my recent five-hour road trip, Car Thing quickly hooked up to my retro-verging-on-vintage car’s sound system. My road trip buddies cycled between Fleetwood Mac and Radiolab episodes with ease. From my position in the back seat, it took everything in my power not to use the voice control to ask Spotify to play a joke album or playlist. (What can I say? I love pranks.)

That said, speaking as an earth sign, the primary benefits of Car Thing, to me, are convenience and safety. It eliminates the need to wait until you’re at a stoplight to change your playlist — because none of us would ever thumb through podcast episodes while driving, right? While on a busy stretch of highway, my road trip companions were able to skip songs or change albums without ever taking their hands off the wheel or eyes off the road. The device essentially hands-free streaming for cars that were made before “streaming” existed.

I would be mindful of leaving it visibly mounted if you tend to park somewhere break-ins happen, but you can easily stash it in your glove box and plug it back in before getting on the road. Additionally, you do need a Spotify premium account ($9.99/month for individuals) to use it, though support for free accounts will be added in the future.

The TL;DR

Car Thing is easy to set up and even easier to use. For anyone who’s tired of spending half their morning commute searching for the perfect playlist to start their day, the gadget is a must-have.