Spotify’s Baffling ‘Car Thing’ Can Now Do More Things

Spotify’s Baffling ‘Car Thing’ Can Now Do More Things
Spotify's Car Thing is a neat trick, but it needs more functionality before it's essential. (Photo: Florence Ion / Gizmodo)

Spotify announced today that it’s pushing through a bundle of new features to the Car Thing, its borderline-useless in-car accessory that goes for $US90 ($125). While the device is supposed to help enlarge the Spotify controls to put them front and centre while you’re behind the wheel — but in practice, it offers little utility over a smartphone even with this latest software update. 

The device has a screen about half the size of your smartphone and features a giant volume knob with a clicky sound reminiscent of an old iPod. That’s it. So if you’re someone who bought one of these from Spotify, the addition of new features should be a welcome surprise.

This latest update adds more car-specific functionality, though it’s still not enough. It allows you to answer phone calls and control other media directly from the device. Unfortunately, these two features are rolling out only to iOS users — Android users who’ve bought into this accessory are out of luck for now.

I tried the Car Thing’s phone-calling feature with an iPhone 13 Pro. When I received a call, the interface took over the whole screen of Car Thing so I could answer with a tap. However, you still have to paw at the screen to do anything else, which feels like the antithesis of what you should be doing as you’re behind the wheel.

I'm calling myself on the Spotify Car Thing.  (Photo: Florence Ion / Gizmodo)I’m calling myself on the Spotify Car Thing. (Photo: Florence Ion / Gizmodo)

When I originally reviewed the Car Thing, I liked the hardware and the enlarged Spotify UI, though it didn’t solve all my problems of controlling music in the car. Unsurprisingly, it only worked with Spotify. Today’s tweaks add the ability to control media within some rival apps, but I couldn’t get the feature to sprout up. I played media through Pocketcasts and Apple Music on the iPhone, but the Car Thing didn’t respond. Whenever I touched the device to select a control, it would revert playback to Spotify. At the very least, when I was playing the other media, I could still use the volume knob to turn it up or down. But as I mentioned when I initially went hands-on with the Car Thing, the volume knob is not particularly helpful if tethered to the car stereo via AUX since it only controls the volume output on your phone and not the car speakers. I’m following up with Spotify to figure out what’s going on.

I did appreciate the new ability to queue up songs and podcasts, which are available to both iPhone and Android users. Look for the same “add to queue” button you’d tap on the Spotify app to slot it into your current tracklist. The volume knob also lets you press and hold to add a track to the queue, though populating it this way seems complicated to juggle if you’re driving with your other hand. That’s when you’d flip into a voice command. You can say, “Hey Spotify, open my queue” to see what’s next, and then use the dial to scrub through. If you ask to add a song to the tracklist, make sure you know it by name.

Queue up the next episode of Gadgettes on your Spotify Car Thing.  (Photo: Florence Ion / Gizmodo)Queue up the next episode of Gadgettes on your Spotify Car Thing. (Photo: Florence Ion / Gizmodo)

You can add a podcast to your queue if you feel like peppering in a bit of talking between songs. But keep in mind that the voice command for adding podcasts by name is not available yet. I tried the latest episode of Gadgettes to my queue, and the interface alerted me that it wasn’t yet possible, though I could add it through a manual search.

Admittedly, after writing about my experience with it, I shoved the Spotify Car Thing back into my gadgets closet and reverted to the old way of playing music in my car. I brought it out to try the new features, but they’re still not compelling enough for me to swap out my perfectly-fine phone-only solution for navigating and listening to music during a drive. Again, I’d encourage you not to spend the cash on this gadget.