Ask Adrian: Our technology editor tackles your trickiest tech problems
Question: My mam is 76 and has a new car that doesn't have a CD player. She's a bit devastated as she likes to play tunes and she's not good with technology. She has just downloaded Spotify to her iPhone, but she struggles with this type of tech. She mentioned to me that there's meant to be an Alexa voice assistant for the car plug in, so I've been looking around for one for her. To be honest, they all look pretty unsatisfactory. Would you have any recommendations on this? The car is a 2018 Renault Megane.
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You're right - it is pretty unsatisfactory if you're looking for an Alexa-powered car plug-in. But there are a few things you can look at.
First, try the simplest option.
If your mum has Spotify on her iPhone, it usually works with the iPhone voice command 'Hey Siri'. So if you say out loud "Hey Siri, play The Beatles", the iPhone's Siri voice will respond with something like "Playing The Beatles from Spotify".
Now here's the clever bit: connect your mum's iPhone to the car audio system's Bluetooth. This is pretty straightforward to do - you'll find Bluetooth in the audio system's Bluetooth settings. Once this is done, whatever plays on the phone should play through the car's audio system, including Spotify.
So now when you say out loud "Hey Siri, play Sonny Knowles", the iPhone should reach into Spotify to find Sonny Knowles (or a particular track you ask for) and play it on the iPhone, which is now playing directly through the car audio stereo system. The main challenge here is the iPhone's microphone picking up your mum's 'Hey Siri' command in a possibly loud car environment. It doesn't always work flawlessly when the iPhone is, say, on the car seat next to you: voice commands are meant to be done within a few inches of the phone's microphone. But of course, holding a phone while driving is illegal. So this might be a bit hit and miss.
This brings us on to our second option: CarPlay or Android Auto.
You say that your mum has a 2018 Renault Megane. From what Renault says, all new Meganes come with a seven-inch touchscreen built in that are compatible with both Android Auto and CarPlay.
These are systems that basically turn your car's touchscreen into a version of your phone's screen. Android Auto is for phones like Samsung or Huawei (Android devices) and CarPlay is for iPhones.
Both systems support Spotify. You plug your iPhone's charging cable into the USB slot provided and to use Spotify on the car screen. And when I say 'use Spotify' I mean that you can either use the car's own touchscreen to now search, choose and play songs directly from Spotify or you can use voice control in the same way as I describe above (saying 'Hey Siri' or 'Okay Google', which is the Android equivalent).
Once the phone's charging cable is plugged in, the screen should automatically detect it and CarPlay should start. If it doesn't start automatically, pick 'CarPlay' out of the screen's menu and it should then connect.
So that's worth trying, too.
But if you're really fixed on an Amazon Alexa solution - which, given your alternatives, seems a convoluted way of getting to music -then you can try one of the following methods.
The Muse Auto (€60 from Amazon.co.uk) is a small circular gadget that plugs both into your car's 3.5mm (earphone) port and your power ('smoking') port. It takes power from the smoking port and channels music through the 3.5mm port. It then connects via your Amazon Alexa app on your phone - note that you have to 'add' it as a device within the Alexa app first.
Once you have all this done, you can now start to ask 'Alexa' to do things out loud, including the playback of music from Spotify.
The advantage to this gadget is that it's small and comes with an adhesive strip on the back for your dashboard. The disadvantage is that it's hard to get.
There is a last, MacGyver-type alternative. Amazon's cheapest Alexa-infused speaker is the Echo Dot. This generally costs around €60 but is often on sale for half that price. This comes with a power cable that can use a USB plug (like your phone's power cable) and a 3.5mm 'out' port. So what you can do here is get any old cheap adapter that turns your 'smoking' power port into a USB power port and keep it powered that way, while connecting it to your car stereo by a 3.5mm-to-3.5mm cable (a wire that basically has an earphone plug bit on each end).
If you don't have a 3.5mm (earphone) port on your car, the Echo Dot can connect to your car over Bluetooth, too.
But you'll have to keep your phone on 'hotspot' mode so that the Echo Dot can access the music (or anything else you would want the Echo to do) online. It's a lot messier as a solution.
Recommendation: CarPlay (no cost: it already comes with your car's audio system)
Email your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org
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