FAQ | What the Heck Is a Spotify ‘Car Thing’ and What Does It Even Do?

As the name implies, Car Thing is a dash-mounted streaming player for music and podcasts from Spotify’s network. It’s a dedicated, single-purpose device that, as Spotify says, “has one job and does it awesomely.”

We have no doubt that it does, of course, but it’s also one of the most single-purpose gadgets on the market today, right up there with Ye’s Stem Player. You have to really be all-in with Spotify to buy a device that you won’t ever be able to use to listen to anything but Spotify.

You’ll also need to be a Spotify Premium subscriber to use Car Thing. That’s not really a big surprise, but it does mean that if you decide to stop paying for Spotify, you might as well just toss Car Thing alongside the rest of the gadget graveyard in your junk drawer.

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Car Thing 4
Spotify

Still, there’s no arguing that Spotify has a massive subscriber base, which gives it a ready-made market for Car Thing, but that market may also not be as big as you’d expect.

After all, Car Thing is only practical for those who don’t already have CarPlay or Android Auto built into their cars, since the Spotify mobile app will work with both those platforms without the need to add any extra hardware.

How Car Thing Works

Even for those folks, however, docking their smartphone may be enough, and it’s worth keeping in mind that Car Thing is ultimately just a glorified controller — you still need your smartphone not only to provide it with network access, but even to actually play your music.

Spotify Car Thing setting it up diagram
Spotify

Yes, you heard that right. Car Thing does not connect directly to your in-car infotainment system at all. Instead, it pairs to your iPhone or Android smartphone over Bluetooth, and it’s that device that delivers the music to your stereo, either using a wired AUX port or a second Bluetooth connection. In other words, Car Thing is basically just a remote control for the Spotify app running on your iPhone.

Car Thing is basically just a remote control for the Spotify app running on your iPhone.

That said, Spotify’s aim here is clearly to provide its fans with the best possible user experience, and it’s fair to say that using Car Thing will be easier for many people than trying to navigate Spotify on an iPhone or other smartphone.

For one thing, you get a nice big screen that’s all about Spotify, optimized for in-car use in a way that the mobile app is not. Buttons are large and accessible, and artwork is front-and-centre. In practical terms, it doesn’t appear to be that much simpler than using CarPlay, although it has Spotify’s own design flavour to it.

Spotify Car Thing
Spotify

Car Thing’s physical hardware controls differentiate it further, however, letting you browse, select, play, and pause music with a large dial, in addition to using the touchscreen.

There are also four preset buttons on the top to take you to your favourites, which can be changed up anytime. This even includes pulling up the latest episodes of your favourite podcasts and up-to-date news.

‘Hey Spotify’

On top of all that, Car Thing also offers voice control, and it does it on Spotify’s own terms. More than anything else, this probably best describes the very reason for Car Thing’s existence. Spotify clearly wants to chart its own course, and draw outside the lines imposed by Apple and Google.

With Car Thing, there’s no worry about trying to convince Siri to play your music with Spotify, rather than defaulting to Apple Music or telling Siri which service you would like to use.

Instead, you can simply say “Hey Spotify” to Car Thing, and it will pick up your voice and let you access your favourite playlists. This includes starting playback or simply showing them on Car Thing’s screen.

Car Thing 2
Spotify

For example, “Hey Spotify, show 90s hip hop” will display a selection of music that you can then browse through and choose from, rather than immediately shuffling playback. Obviously, you can also ask Spotify to “play” something too, but the ability to bring a selection of music or podcasts up on screen is a nice bonus.

In some ways, Car Thing feels like a throwback to the days of satellite radio receivers that were common in the days before services like Sirius XM became standard on in-car systems, and of course before the streaming generation made satellite radio mostly irrelevant.

While you have to be a pretty hard-core fan of Spotify to appreciate Car Thing, it’s easy to understand how it will appeal to some folks. Even those with CarPlay can benefit from a second screen that keeps their music front-and-centre while keeping their main screen focused on other things like Apple Maps.

Spotify Car Thing Hero Credit: Spotify