We’re all encouraged to keep our hands off our phones while driving, but as our media shifts from radio to streaming apps, it gets a little more difficult. For the past few weeks I’ve been using Spotify Car Thing to control the music on my drives, and while it’s a device full of great ideas, I can’t help but think it is somewhat redundant at this point.
What can Spotify Car Thing do?
With a non-descript name like “Car Thing”, you’d be forgiven if you can’t fully imagine what this device is capable of. But, in short, it’s a small screen designed and optimized for accessing your Spotify library from the road in a way that (mostly) keeps your eyes on the road.
Spotify Car Thing has a touchscreen with five buttons at the top, a scroll wheel that covers a small portion of the screen, and a back button below. The device is designed only to control Spotify playback, and nothing else. When music is playing, you’ll have a full-screen display that includes the song title, artist, and album art, as well as play/pause, skip/back, shuffle, and ” I love “. The “home screen” however acts much like the “Home” tab of the Spotify mobile app, but with a bit more focus on your content library. You can see your most recent playlists or albums, radio stations, and some recommended content. There are other tabs to dive into recommendations and your particular library.
Navigating Car Thing with those few buttons and especially the scroll wheel was a pleasure, and it’s a very intuitive UX. There’s a short tutorial at setup that explains how to use the back button and scroll wheel, but it’s easy to understand even without an explanation. The scroll wheel serves as a volume control (for your phone’s volume, not the car’s) when you’re on the “Now Playing” screen, and as a way to browse albums or tracks when it’s on. is not on this screen. The user interface is very fast and responsive, with no real lag or jitter, and the touchscreen was roughly comparable to that of a modern smartphone.
It was also great to see that Car Thing can handle connecting to multiple devices quite easily, which is really handy if you’re sharing a vehicle with your spouse, family member, or friend.
Bluetooth connections were strong and Great quickly. Car Thing would usually boot up and pair to my phone within seconds, often before my car’s infotainment system was fully ready to go. Of course, I still had to wait to start playback until the car was ready to go, because Car Thing only controls playback; it does not actually transmit audio to your car.
Once up and running, I never saw Car Thing disconnect from my Pixel 6 Pro or Galaxy Z Fold 3 halfway through. As for the initial pairing, the process is fairly simple, but I found that I had to manually select Car Thing from the Bluetooth menu rather than from a pop-up window in the Spotify app.
Editing Spotify Car Thing is also a breeze. The device itself has a pretty strong magnet on the back, which connects to an assortment of included mounting options. There’s a fan mount which has a clever design that ensures you can always get the right angle – it’s the option I’ve stuck with, and it works brilliantly. Other mounting options include one for a CD slot, which was stable in my brief tests, and finally an adhesive mount that you can stick to a reasonably flat part of your dashboard or windshield.
In my testing, the magnetic mount never moved, even on bumpy roads, so there was no worry around the device falling off while driving or interacting with it. A power adapter is also included in the box along with a decent length USB-A to USB-C cable. If you have a power source under the infotainment area, the cable is probably long enough to support mounting Car Thing just about anywhere.
Another key feature of Car Thing is support for “Hey Spotify” voice commands. Like in the mobile app, this media-focused voice assistant works to control playback, skip to other songs, and more. I had hoped that this lens would allow Car Thing to do more things with voice than Google Assistant is currently capable of. For example, one thing I wish I could do vocally in the car is say “Hey Spotify, open that full album” when a specific song is playing. That’s something the Assistant can’t do, and unfortunately Spotify can’t either. The basics work fine, but having a voice assistant that can’t do anything more than, say, an always-listening Google Assistant on your phone could do is a little frustrating. It’s nice, though, that Car Thing moves the mics away from your phone for better accuracy. I’ve never been disappointed with Car Thing’s ability to hear my commands.
Does Spotify Car Thing work with Android Auto?
To my surprise, Car Thing isn’t trying to step on Android Auto’s toes at all. The two play together incredibly well, to the point that Car Thing even recognizes when your phone is connected to Android Auto. Of course, it does because Android Auto disables the volume controls on the phone, effectively turning off Car Thing’s volume button.
While Spotify Car Thing does to work with Android Auto running, it’s not an experience I recommend. In my Subaru Crosstrek, finding a place where Car Thing made sense was awkward, and the experience feels entirely redundant.
Well, except for one thing.
Car Thing’s Killer Feature
The only reason I’m tempted to keep Car Thing installed in my vehicle is for the star feature of the product – playlist access.
The four buttons at the top of Car Thing can be custom mapped to your favorite playlists, with just one click to start playback. I quickly got used to this feature, and it’s awesome to get the music you want without taking your eyes off the road or fiddling with software. Just click, and you’re good to go. The fifth button from the top goes to the Settings menu.
I to wish there was however a way to replicate this without a second screen in my car. I’d love a battery-powered version of Car Thing that doesn’t have a screen and only has four buttons. A portable “Spotify Thing” could also be useful beyond the car, in places like a camping trip, while working outdoors, or even in the shower.
Who should buy Spotify Car Thing?
Spotify Car Thing looks like a product that makes sense in certain scenarios, all of which diminish in common.
The biggest market for Car Thing is someone who has a vehicle without a screen, but with a vehicle that Is still have Bluetooth, or at least an adapter. Since Car Thing doesn’t have an analog audio output, it falls into an odd niche. With a simple 3.5mm cable it would be a much more useful product in many more cars, but alas it is not.
Another area I could see Car Thing being useful is for cars that have an infotainment system, but lack something like Android Auto or CarPlay. Car Thing has a much better user experience than pretty much any car manufacturer software, and a built-in system will also certainly lack integration with Spotify playlists or libraries – Spotify is even actively removing this feature.
This is a product that feels overdue. If this had come out only a few years ago, it would have been a much more useful idea. But now, as Android Auto and CarPlay have become commonplace in new vehicles, and more and more used vehicles also have this feature, it is more difficult to find Car Thing’s niche.
That said, at $90, it’s a reasonably priced product if you fall into that niche. It offers a great experience with attractive, well-built hardware for the most hardcore Spotify users – and that’s a key distinction, since the product requires a Spotify Premium subscription.
You can buy Spotify Car Thing here.
More on Spotify:
FTC: We use revenue-generating automatic affiliate links. Continued.
Check out 9to5Google on YouTube for more info: