Whether it’s Apple’s Siri, Google’s Assistant or Amazon’s Alexa, if you’re into smart home technology or the latest gadgets, I am sure you are already using one of the above digital assistants to enhance your everyday life.
In just a small period of time smart home technology has grown that spouting, ‘Hey Siri’, ‘Alexa’, or ‘OK Google’ has become a daily occurrence in many homes around the world. However, saying the same call-to-action words whilst in the car has not been so common.
It’s pretty safe to say that Amazon has absolutely dominated the smart home digital assistant with its Alexa/Echo. It is a surprise to me, though, that Amazon are taking a rather slow approach in auto industry – an environment where such a voice assistant would be most welcome.
Amazon has slowly started to enter the vehicle domain with its Alexa assistant by partnering with a number of companies who each feature its technology in a number of devices, even cars. The Anker Roav VIVA is one such device that allows you to add Amazon’s Alexa to your car, with ease.
Looking like a common 12v USB charger, with its two high-speed USB charging ports, the Anker Roav VIVA simply slots into a 12v/cigarette socket in your centre console and wirelessly beams audio to your car speakers via your connected smartphone, be it via Bluetooth, 3.5mm AUX or USB cable (including CarPlay) connection to your vehicle’s receiver.
Like all Alexa driven car peripherals, you have to pair the Anker Roav VIVA to a smartphone running its Roav VIVA app. With both devices connected and powered, instructions for setting up the Roav with Alexa are very straightforward, with each step described through the app’s simple tutorial. Once setup, Alexa is ready to help you with assisted GPS navigation, audio streaming, messaging and the usual 45,000 Alexa skill commands you regularly use at home.
Like all cloud-based assistants, running Alexa on the Anker Roav VIVA requires a stable data connection to the internet to perform its tasks. So because the Roav is located in the car, this means a mobile data connection from your smartphone will be used, regularly. This isn’t just for Alexa comments either, it will also be required for streaming audio from its growing library of audio services.
For someone that uses Spotify, I’ve never had the luxury of asking Siri to play music from the Apple Music app on Apple CarPlay. With an Amazon Prime account however, I have access to a similar expansive library of online music via Amazon Music. So asking Alexa to play any music track or artist is as simple as just asking for it, which is great whilst behind the wheel, and far less distracting than finding it on an Apple CarPlay display.
Spotify support is currently under beta testing on the Anker Roav VIVA, so I was unable to test this during my review. Once up and running however, I am sure you’ll be able to interact with Spotify via Alexa on the Roav VIVA just like you can on an Alexa enabled home device. This is something I am very much looking forward to trying out. For now though you can choose between Amazon Music, TuneIn, Pandora, Deezer, I Heart Radio and SiriusXM music streaming services.
GPS Navigation via Alexa is not as much of a fluid experience as using navigation directions directly on Apple CarPlay via Siri. Asking Alexa on the Roav for directions to a place will result in being told to tap the notification bar on your iPhone, sent from the Roav app. Once the notification is selected, your iPhone will load up the directions on either Apple Maps or Google Maps. I’m not sure why one request sent me to Apple Maps, whilst another it time sent me to Google Maps. Perhaps it was the last navigation app I used, I am not 100% certain.
Messaging via Alexa on the Roav VIVA requires you to grant access to your contacts and mobile phone numbers on the Alexa App. Once this is done you can sent messages, call contacts and make drop in announcements to other Alexa enabled devices you own – So you can tell anyone at home that you’re on your way home from work, tell your kids to go to bed, or remind someone to put the dinner on before you arrive.
The Anker Roav VIVA is a nice compact size that doesn’t overwhelm your centre console too much. It’s top facing surface has a similar look to the top of an Amazon Echo Dot, with its centre mute button and its blue glowing ring of light that wraps around it. It’s dual microphone placement and noise cancellation chip allows the Roav to listen out for Alexa commands through various in-car background noises that could occur. Sadly though, in practice, it doesn’t quite pick-up commands as easily when any loud audio is played through your car speakers. This is a common problem I find when playing loud music and sending commands to Alexa around the home.
When Alexa does hear you though, it response clearly through your car speakers and commands are heard and carried out accurately, which can’t be said for Apple’s Siri, who can struggle at the best of conditions to understand you in the same vehicle environment. Asking for weather, playing a music track, by name or artist, through to sending announcements to other Alexa devices; all were received and carried out clearly and played perfectly over my in-car speakers. Teamed up with CarPlay running off the same wired USB cable connection, you can have the best of both worlds here.
This is where I think Amazon Alexa could jump in and fill a void that Apple CarPlay so desperately needs to fix. A solid and reliable digital assistant such as Amazon’s Alexa brings new life to an in-car infotainment experience. I tried downloading the Amazon Music app in hope that, once streaming from it service, it could displaying the same track playing on its own CarPlay app. Sadly this was not to be; the CarPlay app didn’t know or show any music that I was currently streaming from it. This was unfortunate, because that would have been very cool if it did work.
For now, the Anker Roav VIVA is a really great gadget for the car. It could get better with software updates and improved Alexa skill support. Whether you’re using CarPlay or not, it is a great partner for Apple’s in-car platform, yet it is also a good solid replacement for it too, albeit app content such as navigation would not be displayed on your CarPlay display, but on your phone instead. But it is using Alexa’s other functions, that Siri sometimes refuses to understand or carry out, that makes the $59.99 Anker Roav VIVA a perfect companion for any driver seeking a digital assistant in your car, even if it is partnered alongside Siri and an Apple CarPlay display.