Spotify's Car Thing gadget

Spotify’s $80 Car Thing device for drivers is actually real and — for now — free

Spotify’s Car Thing has voice, touch and physical dial controls.

Angela Lang/CNET

Spotify launched its Car Thing gadget for automobiles in a limited release Tuesday, making it available at first only by invitation to a select number of its paid Premium subscribers in the US. And it’s free, for now: Those who score one of these devices — which make it easier for drivers listening to Spotify on their cars’ sound system to navigate the streaming service’s library — need to pay only for the shipping cost of the product, thanks to a special promotion. Spotify said Car Thing’s retail price would otherwise be $80. 

People can join the wait list to get one at, which the company said “just opened” Tuesday morning. It wouldn’t characterize the scope of Car Thing’s initial supply nor confirm whether more Car Things would become available later. “Our focus is on this limited release,” a Spotify spokeswoman said. “We will share more information about future plans as they become available.”

Spotify has flirted with the idea of physical products in the past, but Car Thing marks its first legit hardware. Hardware has been on Spotify’s radar for years — CEO Daniel Ek once mused about a future with musical lightbulbs — but the company has remained focused on its streaming-music service, helping it to become the world’s largest such offering with more than 345 million listeners globally. The scant track record in hardware, and the fact that Spotify has been referring to it simply as Car Thing throughout its development, made the product seem like it may amount to nothing more than vaporware.

“Our focus remains on becoming the world’s number one audio platform — not on creating hardware — but we developed Car Thing because we saw a need from our users, many of whom were missing out on a seamless and personalized in-car listening experience,” Spotify said in a blog post announcing the release.

Car Thing is similar to a touchscreen, voice-enabled tuner, except the only things Car Thing helps drivers “tune” are different tracks, podcasts, albums or playlists inside Spotify’s library. In addition to allowing you to tap its screen or direct it with voice commands, Car Thing has a large physical dial. Spotify said that Car Thing “is not meant to compete with in-car infotainment systems.” It can supplement the system your car already has, or it can provide a way for older cars to add a higher-tech tool for listening to Spotify. (And yes, this device only works with Spotify.) The device comes with a selection of different attachments to mount it to your dashboard. 

To qualify for the limited-release promotion, you must be a paying Premium subscriber in the US and have a smartphone with Wi-Fi or mobile data connection. 

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