Spotify officially rolled out its first bit of hardware on Tuesday: the wonderfully named Car Thing. It’s not a retail rollout, since the project is still somewhat of an experiment, but the good news is if you can get a spot on Spotify’s Car Thing waitlist you’ll only pay for shipping. An active Spotify Premium account is a required for the waitlist, and it’s U.S. only for now.
Spotify refers to the Car Thing as “a smart player for your car.” It’s essentially a physical manifestation of Spotify on your dashboard and a way to interface with the music app without having to handle your smartphone.
Yes, your smartphone is still needed because it provides the data and the music itself; smartphone remains the point of contact with your car’s audio system whether through an AUX port, USB, or Bluetooth. But the phone is no longer the focal point of the music experience.
You also have to keep the Thing plugged in to a power source via the car’s 12V outlet. In the era of quick recharging lithium-ion batteries, this seems like a real pain in the ass. Why have wires dangling from your Thing, getting all tangled up in a car’s center stack, when a quick overnight charge could power it for days depending on how you use it? It’s giving me bad flashbacks to the cassette adapters drivers-of-a-certain-age will remember using in their cars to plug in their portable CD players.
If you are like most drivers and prefer the convenience of Bluetooth, then it’s a pretty slick way to leave your phone in your bag or pocket while still retaining control of music in your car.
I haven’t even mentioned one of my favorite features of the Car Thing: physical controls. The Car Thing has a knob! And four well-spaced preset buttons along it’s upper ridge next to a mute button, which should make them easy to access. Finally, it has a back button on its front face and an array of microphones to receive voice controls.
It also has a touchscreen and even though I’m touting the physical controls, touchscreens are wonderful for tracking backward and forward when listening to music. It’s very satisfying to swipe away a song you don’t really want to hear or swipe back on a song you want to hear again (and again and again.)
Sadly, though, the knob is for navigation rather than volume. I’d rather the Car Thing and its knob act as a sort of preamp for the car’s audio so that you could crank it when a good song comes on. But the Car Thing taking the place of a preamp might be too complicated for this more or less experimental...thing.
Remember that Spotify is a music service first, of course, so we have no idea how well its hardware will perform. Its software enjoys a wide range of usability, being both on Android and iOS, and additionally the music service can interface with a lot of audio gear through Spotify Connect.
It’s honestly a great idea to have a physical interface that is easy to use as well as eye-level for such an important service to drivers. We’ll see how users react to the Thing in the coming weeks.