by Eric Ravenscraft on
You buy a gaming console to play games, but then it ends up being a centerpiece of your home theater. If you’re going to watch movies and TV on it, you may as well get the best one for your needs.
Alexa, thanks to the popularity of the Echo, might have a firm standing in millions of homes but outside the house Siri and Google Assistant still reign. The Roav Viva is one of the new and emerging products that aims to put Alexa front and center in your car.
The Roav VIVA ($50) is a car charger with Alexa built in. It features two USB ports for charging your devices, and two microphones to aid in noise cancellation, so Alexa can distinguish your voice from the rest of the car sounds. The device is made by Anker (Roav is a sub-brand not many people realize is part of the Anker stable).
Yes, the branding is a little confusing, but the good news is there’s a a reputable company behind the product. So how does Alexa in the car (and the Viva delivery mechanism) stack up? Let’s take a look.
In order to use the VIVA, you’ll need to download and install the Roav VIVA app for Android or iOS. Interestingly, you don’t have to have the Alexa app installed on your phone. Once you set up the VIVA, it will connect to your phone after a few seconds whenever you turn on your car. Your phone will need to be connected to your stereo via either Bluetooth or an auxiliary cable in order to hear Alexa.
Depending on how you prefer to listen to music, though, this might already be an inconvenience. Personally, I listen to music through my phone through an aux cable, so this isn’t too far out of my way–although if I need to charge my headphone-jack-free Pixel 2, I don’t just lose music, I lose the ability to hear Alexa’s responses.
This is also a problem if I want to pass the aux cable off to my girlfriend so she can play music from her iPod. This problem is alleviated a bit if you pair with your car over Bluetooth (so at least headphone jack-less phones can still charge at the same time), but it can still be inconvenient depending on how you use your car’s audio.
When it’s working, Alexa performs admirably. I’m pretty heavily invested in Google’s ecosystem, and use Google Maps and even Google Play Music in the car. When I asked Alexa to give me directions, my phone didn’t just pull up directions, it launched driving navigation. This impressed me since the Amazon Echo in my house responds to that very same command with traffic conditions and general advice about how to get where I’m going. Whether Alexa is smart enough to realize I’m in a car, or the VIVA app is helping it along, I can’t be sure, but it worked great and that was enough for me.
The Viva excels at good contextual responses that are useful and relevant while you’re in the car.
My music preferences, on the other hand, once again became a problem. Since I use Google’s music app, and Amazon and Google have a dumb rivalry going on, I couldn’t ask Alexa to open my playlists. Fortunately, Alexa supports Spotify, Pandora, and its own Amazon Music subscription (which you have access to if you have Prime), so most people can probably play their music and—perhaps—I’m asking a bit much of a very Amazon-centric platform.
Outside of these minor issues, Alexa works about like you’d expect. You can add items to your shopping or to-do list, set reminders (say if you want to remind yourself to do something on your drive to work tomorrow), or play your audiobooks. Some common Alexa tasks might not make as much sense in the car—for example you probably don’t need to ask about the weather when you can see it raining on your windshield—but there’s still plenty you can use it for.
While testing the VIVA, I tried to give it and, by extension, Alexa a fair shot to stand on their own. Once I got to the problem with Google Play Music, though, I had to address the big question: Why can’t I just use Google Assistant or Siri? Whether you’re using Android or iOS, you already have a voice assistant on your phone. You can even use hands-free voice commands if you choose to set that up on your phone.
So, why use the VIVA instead? The main advantage is, from the very start, Alexa. If you’re not a fan of Google Assistant or Siri (which isn’t necessarily an unheard of opinion), you might prefer Alexa as a more competent voice assistant. Also, some older iPhones can’t use “Hey Siri” hotword detection on older phones unless you’re charging, and it’s not even enabled by default for that reason (you can turn it on by following this guide). If you’re still using an older iPhone and want better voice integration, that might be a good reason to use Alexa instead.
You might also, naturally, prefer Alexa if you’re heavily invested in the Amazon Echo ecosystem. Even when you’re away from home, Alexa can send messages to your Echos with Drop In, control your smart home gadgets, or play music through your speakers at home. While Siri and Google Assistant can do some of that, it’s easier if you only have to remember one collection of commands so that the routines you’ve learned in your home transfer seamlessly to your car.
The Roav VIVA isn’t for everyone. More specifically, it’s not for people who are happy using Siri or Google Assistant in their car. On the other hand, if you like Alexa, the VIVA is an excellent way to add a voice assistant to your car, even if it’s not quite as smooth as using an Echo at home.
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