If you can’t control it with your voice is it even worth buying? Love it or loathe it, Amazon Alexa is taking over the world. What started off as a fun voice-controlled speaker has expanded to included wall clocks, microwaves and more.
So, it may come as no surprise that Anker under their sub-brand Roav has developed a USB car charger with built-in Alexa. We all know of the danger of using your phone while driving, so of all the things Alexa is being shoved into this one seems to makes some sense.
The Roav Viva is similar to many of the dumb USB car charges you have used in the past. The big difference is that this then connects with your phone via Bluetooth which then integrates with the Roav Viva app. The Viva is basically the microphone which then processes its commands using the data from your phone with the app and your phone then carrying out the commands.
While the VIVA has a small speaker for notifications, it is designed to be integrated with your car audio, and this can be done either with aux line-in, Bluetooth or via USB. I believe the USB option will allow you to integrate it with Android Auto.
Here is where I think they missed a significant feature. I have a 9-year-old basic Vauxhall Corsa; it has neither aux or Bluetooth. I also don’t even have a 3.5mm jack on my phone thanks to the Mate 10. So, it would have been great to see the Viva have a radio transmitter built in as well so it can then pass the audio to a radio channel.
To get around this issue I managed to find a radio transmitter that uses a USB port rather than plug directly into the lighter socket. It is a bit of a hack job but it works and it is much cheaper and easier than replacing the car CD player. You can buy it from Amazon for £11.88. The one issue here is that between my dashcam and radio transmitter, both the USB ports are taken, so no phone charging, thanks to the superb battery on my Mate 10 Pro this is rarely an issue.
Apart from having to buy a 2nd device to get this to work the set-up process is quite straightforward, you download the app, sign in whichever method you prefer, connect to the Viva and go through the guide. It will ask you to choose the audio out option and to connect with Amazon.
One I got the device set-up I was advised to do a firmware update, this was easy enough, but it had to be the slowest firmware update ever. Probably because I just sat in the car waiting for it, whereas a TV or phone update I would just wander off and do other stuff.
In order for Roav Viva to work you do need the app running in the background, and it will need to connect to the device prior to you being able to issue commands. It will connect automatically but you probably won't be able to start your car and immediately issue a command. It only takes a few seconds though.
Once you are all set up, it works just like you would expect Alexa to work. I asked Alexa to navigate to a business I do some contract work for, and it identified the place straight away loading up Google Maps and starting navigation.
There is one major omission with Alexa, and that is the lack of Spotify integration. This is not a fault of Roav as far as I am aware, the UE Megablast had the same problem and it is apparently something that will arrive at some point, but it does limit its functionality a little bit. If you ask it to play Spotify, Alexa will respond by saying why don’t you try another service and that Spotify will be available in the future. Amazon music works and you have full access to the 25,000+ Alexa skills that you would find on other products, like the Echo.
You can also use Roav Viva to make calls. When I asked the Roav Viva to call my partner, the Roav app brought up the name and number then tried to dial. As it was the first time using this, I had the usual request to select which app to use, either the dialer or skype. Once I picked it to use dialler always, it would carry out the command without intervention in full. When I didn’t say the full name from my phone book, Alexa asked me who I wanted to dial. Overall this worked flawlessly which makes hands free calling much easier. Unfortunately, it doesn’t support any form of text messaging.
The Viva doesn’t have as many microphones as an Echo but it does include two, and I have found the audio pickup adequate. If you are listening to loud music or driving fast on the motorway you may want to raise your voice a little, but in general, it works, and it is a lot safer and quicker than trying to do things with your hands while driving.
The Viva app is a surprisingly well designed and user-friendly app, I have had no issues with it, it connects reasonably quickly to the Viva, and most importantly it has been reliable for all the commands I have issued.
It is a long way off being perfect, but I like the Roav Viva a lot, it has brought my £900, 9-year old Corsa into the modern world of AI smart assistants.
I think they missed a trick, not including a radio transmitter but this was an easy and cheap fix, and it could be that my car is so basic that it is rare for anyone to need these nowadays.
Spotify and SMS are big omissions though. I rarely use SMS but it would be nice to have so that I could text someone something important quickly without having to pull over.
It is perfect for navigation, and in general, it does everything I would want a smart assistant to do in a car. Once Spotify is working it will be the perfect smart car device for me.
It is priced at £45.99 on Amazon, which isn't cheap (especially for a car charger), but it is cheaper than the Muse – Alexa Voice Assistant while also offering dual USB ports. I personally think this is a great investment for anyone with an older car with little or no modern media features.
Roav Viva Review
Product Name: Roav VIVA, by Anker, Alexa-Enabled 2-Port USB Car Charger
Offer price: 45.99
Overall - 75%