Spotify is entering the hardware market with Car Thing, a smart music player meant to sit on your dashboard.
The company released Car Thing to a limited number of subscribers in October, and it announced on Tuesday that anyone can buy the device for $90—but you need a Spotify Premium subscription to use it. Spotify Premium currently costs $10 per month for individuals, with plans going up to $16 per month for six accounts. Car Thing also requires a connection to your phone for mobile data or Wi-Fi.
The device is meant to provide a way to listen to Spotify in your car without the need to look down at your phone or deal with clunky built-in car interfaces, which can be dangerous to use on the road. A 12 V power adapter connects to Car Thing and your car’s auxiliary power outlet, and the device then connects to your phone via Bluetooth. Finally, you connect the device to your car stereo via AUX, Bluetooth, or USB. The player also supports Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
Voice control is the device’s most prominent feature; you can control Car Thing by saying, “Hey Spotify,” followed by a command, like “shuffle my liked songs.” The system does not yet support some actions, like adding songs or podcasts to your queue, but Spotify is working on adding more commands.
Still, Car Thing can bring hands-free media control to cars lacking the feature. Of course, smartphones can also enable voice control, but people who aren’t keen on having their phone constantly listening in may consider using the feature through a dedicated device in their car.
Car Thing has near-field and mid-field microphones with adaptive interference cancellation to help block out the sounds of cars driving and honking. The device has a 4-inch touchscreen, a press-in rotary knob for scrolling, and a small “back” button south of that.
Four physical buttons on top of the device are reminiscent of traditional radio controls, with presets for your choice of playlist, podcast, news program, artist, or album. A fifth button brings up the settings menu or mutes audio. The device has a unibody design with “matte-textured rubber details” to “make it easy to navigate,” Spotify says.
Spotify says that it’s planning updates for the device based on feedback from its initial limited release. These include a Night Mode that dims the screen during evening drives.
Spotify’s Car Thing represents the music streaming service’s first foray into hardware. The company is currently managing the challenges of incorporating podcast distribution into its business model, so we’ll see if Car Thing proves to be a less Controversial Thing.