There are a number of ways to bring music, podcasts and audiobooks into the car, but the method Automatica uses is unique in that it doesn’t need a constant flow of bandwidth to stream the content. This gizmo plugs into your car’s USB port and plays back anything that you’ve picked from a long list of providers without using any data.
Available at: Automaticaweb.com
The Automatica unit is manufactured by an Italian company called Inrete, and is only available through the company website. At first glance, it looks like a USB dongle, but it’s more of a playback device. Inside, there’s 4 GB of memory that stores up to 24 hours worth of audio. A microSD card slot on the side expands that up to a further 64 GB, which you can use to store more content and load your own music.
You have two options for setup. You can either do it through a PC or Mac when you receive the device, or set up your preferences, Wi-Fi connections and content choices before you actually get it. Under the latter option, the unit would load the preferences and content you selected as soon as it recognizes your chosen Wi-Fi network.
When selecting your podcasts, you can also decide how many episodes to store for each series at one time. By default, it’s three.
The sheer library of podcasts and radio stations available will take time to wade through. A better navigation setup and search feature would be better to browse through it all. A nice addition is that you can also sync directly from your cloud-based accounts for Dropbox, Google Drive, Box and SkyDrive.
It all seems a bit confusing at first because there’s no real indicator to tell you that syncing has completed.
I plugged mine into a USB charger, even though it has no battery, because there’s no actual on or off switch. I didn’t know how long it took to load everything I picked until I logged into my account. I tethered my smartphone to the unit wirelessly by adding its Wi-Fi signal to the list, since Automatica checked every 10 minutes for an Internet connection to sync over any other content it may have missed.
Once plugged into the car’s USB port, I went to the USB setting and the list of podcast series’ and radio stations I chose appeared on the in-dash display. Both dash and steering wheel controls worked with the unit, so managing playback and navigating menus was seamless.
The USB port is crucial because it not only powers the Automatica, but also loads the content to the stereo system. This won’t work if your car doesn’t have a USB playback port, and that includes workarounds like a special USB-to-Aux-In adapter cable. That’s an unfortunate deal-breaker for older vehicles, especially since this might not play nice with all aftermarket installs.
While a little unconventional, Automatica still delivers the goods when it comes to syncing a lot of content quickly and then streaming it in-car without using a data connection. Those with small data plans might find it a good value proposition, given that it’s a one-time cost to use it.