Alexa integration, USB charging and Bluetooth compatibility in one device.
I admittedly did not have the best first impression of the Aukey Spark, but as I used it more (and paid better attention to the user manual), I was left with a more positive opinion overall. The things that initially bothered me didn’t get better, per se, but the other functions proved useful enough that I could forgive them.
The first interaction you have with a product is its appearance. Upon taking the Aukey smart charger out of the packaging, I was struck with its odd design. The thing that concerned me was the placement of the USB charging ports – they’re on either side of the device facing outwards instead of forward. This makes the ports more difficult to see and use when the device is plugged in, and it raises a few space concerns. For example, the dash DC outlet in my Toyota Corolla is in a recessed area with limited space around the top and left sides, so I can only use one of the two USB ports at a time. The 3.5mm auxiliary output is also on the outside edge at the top, though I could fit a cord there and in one of the USB ports at the same time. I’m sure there’s a reason why the ports are not on the device’s face, but it’s still just not very practical from a charging standpoint. The two USB ports have a 5V 2.4A output, and both work independently, but I couldn’t test them together due to the spatial constraints of my car.
The Aukey smart charger’s front face houses the Bluetooth button, a multifunction button, two microphones and a multi-colored status light ring around the perimeter. There is also a mute mic button on the bottom edge. The status lights support spring green, navy blue, lime, aqua, safety orange, scarlet, blue and red. I’m not sure if all of those are different colors from each other, but they are all mentioned in the LED Indicators section of the manual. I both like that the status lights are so expressive but also dislike that there are so many signals, as I’m going to remember two of them and either ignore or have to look up the others. I do, though, like that the device flashes orange if it detects low voltage from the outlet.
If this was just supposed to be a car charger, then the USB port placement would be a deal-breaker. But the benefits of the Aukey SPARK’s other features might make up for the loss of the USB port. The Bluetooth connection is easy to pair, set up and use. It’s a nice upgrade feature for older vehicles without built-in Bluetooth compatibility, and you can connect it to your car either using an FM broadcast channel or AUX cable. I couldn’t get the broadcast option to work in my tests, but the AUX option worked like a charm using the included cable.
The Bluetooth connection by itself is enough to just listen to music through your vehicle’s stereo or take calls without holding your phone to your ear. You can do basic Bluetooth connection stuff without the Aipower companion app. You do need the app, however, if you want to use the SPARK’s Alexa integration features, which is the main selling point of this device.
After pairing to your smartphone, you can choose to create an account in the AiPower app and log in to your Amazon account through the third-party app to allow the SPARK to access your Amazon Alexa account in order to do things like tell you the weather, play music or navigate. This gives you truly hands-free access to the virtual assistant, as you can summon Alexa by just saying the name rather than pressing a button in the Alexa or Amazon apps. You can also press the multifunction button on the SPARK to trigger the voice assistant, but that seems counterintuitive to the idea of hands-free use. The multifunction button can also answer calls, put the SPARK into pairing mode, play or pause audio or reject a call.
My least favorite part of the Alexa integration and smart features is the need to create an account with the Aipower app. The app is pretty basic at the moment and feels unpolished, and some menu options are misspelled or grammatically incorrect. That’s superficial, will probably change, and doesn’t necessarily affect how the app works, but it doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence right now. Same goes for the app’s homepage, which is a shopping page for other Aukey products, some of which don’t even use the Aipower app, instead of anything actually useful. These aren’t fatal flaws, and the app does work as intended. You basically only need to interact with it to set up your Alexa account and pair your device.
The Aukey SPARK Aipower Smart Dual-port Car Charger is a useful device that brings three modern updates to older vehicles. Even if you already have a Bluetooth-enabled car, the SPARK’s Alexa integration adds a layer of hands-free usefulness. It’s not without flaws, but it adds more functionality than frustration.