The Spotify Car Thing is a bit ambiguous. What exactly is it and what exactly does it do? If one eats, sleeps, and breathes this stuff, several read-throughs of the Car Thing website and some time spent with the device will provide a clue. If one has better things to do with one's time, here's the bottom line, the Spotify Car Thing is a nice remote control for one's phone. That's it. That's the Car Thing.
I'll cut right to the chase for audiophiles, the Car Thing will be a great device, for those without CarPlay or Android Auto, once Spotify releases its lossless audio offering. Those who already have CarPlay or Android Auto can skip Car Thing for sure, unless they absolutely have to have the voice the "Hey Spotify" feature that enables listeners to use voice control with Spotify. That's really what Car Thing comes down to, a remote control for those without an existing interface in their cars.
I drive a somewhat dirty and dusty 2019 Subaru Impreza. The all wheel drive is absolutely fantastic in snowy Minnesota winters. The car came with a decent touch screen and support for Apple's CarPlay and Google's Android Auto. I connect my iPhone 12 Pro via Lightning to USB cable, and use either Siri or the touch screen to select my music. The audio from Qobuz, Apple Music, Amazon HD, and Tidal is all lossless until my car's stereo slices and dices it up via built-in DSP.
Adding a Spotify Car Thing to my setup makes absolutely zero sense, but I had to try it anyway. Is everyone OK if I waste my money rather than yours? OK good, we're on the same page.
The Spotify Car thing requires power from what we used to call a cigarette lighter port, and a Bluetooth connection to one's phone. This is a point that should be made in bold letters. The connection is Bluetooth from the Car Thing to the phone, not from Car Thing to the car's audio system. Car Thing is a Bluetooth remote control for the Spotify app running on a phone. This is actually a great thing. Bluetooth only for command/control, and lossless for the audio (once Spotify launches lossless audio, and as long as the listener connects to the car audio system via a wired digital connection like Lightning to USB).
Setup of the Car Thing was incredibly easy, as a step by step wizard holds one's hand the entire process. Although, during the setup there is a screen that says, "Before continuing, make sure: The volume is turned up on both your phone and car stereo." I ignored that because I connect via digital Lightning cable and the phone's volume is always disabled when connected this way. After I completed the setup, the maximum volume I could get from my audio system was fairly low. I set the car's volume level to 38, because isn't that what all maximum volume levels are supposed to be? 38? Come on Subaru, who creates a volume control that goes from 0 to 38? Anyway, with volume at 38, it wasn't loud enough. Also keep in mind that the Car Thing dial won't control volume when CarPlay is being used.
I disconnected my phone from the Lightning cable, then reconnected it and the volume situation was fixed. The car volume control was back to normal with a full range (still from 0 to 38), and the phone's and Car Thing's volume controls were disabled. I couldn't reproduce this issue again, but want to mention it for all those Googling, How come the volume of Car Thing is so low or How do I increase the volume of Car Thing.
Speaking of volume control, given that Car Thing is only a remote control, it worked great while I used my steering wheel volume and track forward/backward controls. I guess the only thing Car Thing has to do was stay in sync with the audio and volume in this case, but it did this successfully.
The real use case for Car Thing is for cars without CarPlay or Android Auto. There is a nice preset feature, enabling quick access to anything playable via Spotify as well. In my previous car with an Alpine head unit, installed before CarPlay or touchscreens were a thing, the Car Thing would have been a great add-on. Again, with the immanent release of lossless audio from Spotify and the data path that sends music from the cloud to the phone to the audio system (bypassing the Car Thing), this Bluetooth remote would be a welcomed addition to certain cars.
I also thought about using Car Thing in my house as a remote control for Spotify. Yes, this is a kludge but I'm sure there could be a neat use for this at home. I connected the Usb C port of Car Thing to my Leviton T5835 30 watt / 6 amp power outlet with built-in USB C ports. The Car Thing wasn't happy. It gave me the following message, "Use adapter - TO power Car Thing, use the adapter provided with your device."
I then connected Car Thing to my Apple Pro Display XDR's USB ports and the unit powered up perfectly. Car Thing controlled my phone identically to how it had while in my car. Use cases will vary, but I'm sure there is a situation where one's phone is in another room or physically connected to a stereo, and the little Car Thing mounted to a wall would be a nice way to control music. Keep in mind, there are no speakers or audio outputs on the Car Thing. It's only a remote. Have I said that enough?
The bottom line with using Car Thing outside a car is that the included IBD322B-3,1A (Input: DC12-24V, Output:5V/3.1A) isn't required, but a suitable source of power is necessary.
Car Thing is only a thing for those without CarPlay or Android Auto. Sure, it will work in conjunction with those apps, but it's superfluous for all but those who wish to use the "Hey Spotify" voice control feature. In my Subaru, the built-in touchscreen is by no means high end, but it's still much better than the Car Thing interface.
Mounting the Car Thing was pretty easy. I used the CD player slot with the included magnetic mount. Setup was simple. The concept of a Bluetooth remote control that doesn't route audio through itself is great (Apple, are you listening?), but Car Thing has a limited audience and seems like a product that would've really hit its stride around 2006 when Spotify was first launched.