Amazon’s Alexa assistant has slowly been making its way into cars in recent years; BMW, Ford, and Nissan are among the automakers adding capabilities to remotely start or lock vehicles, for example. The level of integration with cars has been limited to those brands and only the newest models, however. That’s where Anker’s Roav Viva comes in.
China-based accessory maker Anker announced on Monday that it is venturing deeper into the automotive space with what it says is the first plug-in device intended to give a full complement of Alexa skills to drivers. In addition to weather and music, the Viva can control voice calls and navigation instructions through voice commands — something even the newest cars still struggle to do sometimes. In theory, many of Alexa’s skills that would be useful for managing tasks relevant to drivers or car trips could be enabled with the Viva.
Anker’s Roav line, a sub-brand of the popular USB charging and smartphone battery company, began first with a dash cam and a plug-in phone charger. Similar to how Anker has pushed into the smart home with its Eufy brand and into wireless audio and home entertainment with its Zolo and Nebula lines, Roav is the company’s way into the smart car. The Viva is Anker’s biggest push yet as an attempt to replace the built-in infotainment and charging features of modern-day cars, while also being a path for owners of older cars to make those vehicles smart via plug-in adapters.
In theory, the Viva should appeal to people who own those slightly older vehicles that do not support features such as Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. The fact that it uses a Bluetooth as old as Version 4.0 makes it possible to connect with vehicles from early in the decade that may be quickly falling behind the in-car tech curve.
I used a Volvo S60, which has Bluetooth and some connected services for weather and parking using a 3G hot spot, but the company’s older infotainment system lacks Android Auto or Apple CarPlay. (It has a pretty clunky voice recognition system, too.)
Downloading the app to an iPhone or Android is easy enough, but the battle will always be about how easily your car and your Bluetooth devices get along. In the case of the Volvo I was using, the car’s Bluetooth sometimes stumbles in recognizing when you’re trying to connect with anything other than a phone to stream audio. For that reason, I made it a point to unplug my phone from the car’s built-in USB port to stop it from trying to play music directly off my iPhone. To alleviate the issue a bit, the Viva does include two USB ports that can keep charging your phone without confusing your car’s infotainment system as much.
Once working, the Viva mostly functions with all of the standard Alexa skills — or as well as it might work on an Echo in a house with other ambient noises. Navigation works with Apple Maps, Google Maps, and Waze, and music can be requested from more than just Amazon’s service.
Of course, all cars are different, but given how much faster infotainment systems have become in recent years, one might suspect those using older platforms in older cars may get frustrated with the way the Viva interacts with stubborn systems. Owners of newer vehicles may find the actual usage of this limited, since connected services that are cropping up in cars equipped with hot spots work slightly more seamlessly with built-in services. Many newer cars also have built-in Siri compatibility, which is ultimately a plus for those who use iPhones.
Anker says the Viva will go on sale early this year for $49.99. That seems like a fair price if your car is caught somewhere in the gap between having Bluetooth and lacking anything meaningful in terms of smartphone integration. It’s also a decent indicator of how voice assistants will integrate into cars in a way that goes beyond basic locking, lighting, and starting functions.