The Anker Roav VIVA has some good aspects, but the reliance on your smartphone, absence of key services at launch and some performance hiccups hinder it’s potential.
I know a car charger certainly may not sound like it fits the criteria to be featured on a site devoted to covering the smart home market, even if it’s unique feature is that it also happens to have Amazon’s Alexa built in.
But Alexa has become a prominent – almost required – fixture in the concept of a smart home. In fact, Alexa and voice assistants in general are the newest key aspects in bringing the smart home concept to the forefront of the technology market; making the smart home more accessible than ever. A big benefit of a smart home is being able to monitor and control your home while you’re away from home, and in my opinion, anything that gives you more of that ability – especially on the go – is worth covering.
It’s with that consideration in mind that the Roav VIVA, a car charger created by China-based accessory maker Anker, offers an interesting premise: it’s intended to be a fully functioning Amazon Echo within your car; able to give you turn by turn directions, play whatever music you ask, and even control your smart home. Other products have come to market offering similar promises but have seemingly fallen short: there’s the Muse, which according to reviews on Amazon suffers from performance and voice recognition issues. There’s also the Garmin Speak that retails for almost $70 more than the Roav Viva; it too has received less than stellar praise. So with it’s attractive design and promise of in-car voice isolation at an affordable price, we were were hoping the Roav Viva would be the one to break the mold from those other devices and live up to it’s promised potential.
Which makes it a bit of a letdown to report that as of right now, the Roav Viva is as disappointing as those other devices due to a significant reliance on your smartphone, an absence of notable services, and other missteps that hinder it’s potential.
Interestingly, one of my initial issues with the device was that it suffered from a devastating software bug that completely bricked Alexa on the device; relegating it to nothing more than a normal car charger for those using an iPhone running Apple’s latest iOS 11.2.5 update.
If Anker is able to address a few other exclusions and quirks with that sense of urgency, the Roav Viva will certainly reach it’s potential to functionally be a great device.”
It was a software bug so bad that Anker (or perhaps Amazon themselves) pulled the device from sale and updated the Amazon listing (it’s worth noting that the Android version of the app seems to be unaffected). I happened to purchased the device on January 23rd; the same day Apple released iOS 11.2.5. The device was already on it’s way to me when I discovered the updated listing on Amazon, which had been changed to read “temporary Bluetooth Issues with iOS 11.2.5”, with stock status now changed to currently unavailable. I use an iPhone X as my daily driver and thankfully had not yet updated my phone, so I was able to still proceed with testing and properly reviewing the device.
As of yesterday, I received an email from Anker stating that something Apple did in iOS 11.2.5 had caused this temporary issue, and they had released updated firmware to resolve the issue. I applied the firmware and confirmed that the device once again worked. I was extremely impressed that they pushed through a fix that quick (and on a Sunday no less) and that it restored Alexa functionality. If Anker is able to address a few other exclusions and quirks with that sense of urgency, the Roav Viva will certainly reach it’s potential to functionally be a great device.
If you minimize your expectations and learn what it can and can’t do beforehand, you’ll find the Roav Viva is impressive at times.”
The Roav Viva is an unassuming car charger with two USB inputs for charging mobile devices. It looks like a car charger through and through, save for the top of the device. That proves to be the standout, as it features an LED that shines the near iconic blue hue that illuminates when amazon’s voice assistant is activated. There may be some who have reservations about having a device that emits bright light to your car, especially during nighttime driving, but I found it was never too distracting. In fact, I would say it would have been a wrong decision to have left it out. It’s a visual cue that catches your eye enough while driving that it won’t fully distract you, and it is so closely associated with the alexa experience that it would have seemed incomplete without it. The top of the device does also feature a mute button; for the times you do not want to activate alexa or want a little privacy from something that is always listening to you (if you believe that sort of thing).
The Roav Viva features two high sensitive mics that Anker says offers 30% background noise reduction for in-car voice isolation, and in my testing I found them to perform exceptionally. I never encountered a problem with Alexa not hearing when I called for her, even when driving on the highway, which I found incredibly impressive.
Setup was refreshingly straightforward. The app walks you through the steps, instructing you to plug the Roav into your car’s charging port and start the car. From there you wait for the app to detect the device, and then select the wifi signal it broadcasts in your smartphone’s wifi menu.
You will then be asked how you typically receive audio in your vehicle; either through bluetooth or a 3.5mm auxiliary input. If your car supports it, the natural selection is to broadcast the Roav (and alexa’s) output through bluetooth. The clever system streams to the vehicle through this link while the smartphone is utilizing it’s cellular data connection to send the queries to the alexa voice service.
My main hangup with the Roav Viva is that it is too reliant on your smartphone for proper functionality.”
If you minimize your expectations and learn what it can and can’t do beforehand, you’ll find the Roav Viva is impressive at times. Now I happened to discover Spotify support was absent at the worst moment – while I was driving – when I asked alexa to play some music from spotify; to which she responded that “Spotify is not supported at this time” (Anker’s website says it’s coming this spring). So I decided to simply switch to the spotify app; but soon discovered doing so caused a break in the Alexa data connection and I was forced to return to the Roav app to continue use. This is not something I wanted to be doing while I was driving, so lesson learned. I will say if you subscribe to Amazon’s Music Unlimited service though, you’ll be in good shape and the service works quite well here (I signed up for the 30-day free trial for testing, which you can do here).
My main hangup with the Roav Viva is that it is too reliant on your smartphone for proper functionality. While I knew that going in, anker advertises that you get Alexa in the car front and center on the packaging, and casual users who make this purchase may not fully realize how dependent it is on your smartphone for data connection and other functionality. For some people that will be an issue, especially if they have cellular data caps to worry about. I don’t have exact numbers on how much of a data impact this device will have on your data usage, and admittedly it may not be a whole lot. The issue though is that you have to keep the app running, especially in the background, and it can encroach on other things you may need to do on your phone. And if you are in the habit of closing your apps and close it by mistake, expect operation to cease ome people may be turned off by this. For me, I found it to not be too much of a nuisance, but my wife hated the concept (pro-life tip: the WAF, or wife acceptance factor, is always something to be mindful of). Let’s face it: those who have Echo, Kindle or Fire devices in their homes are likely used to Alexa functioning on her own without the need for anything else to do so other than wifi.
But the Roav Viva does not have it’s own on-the-go cellular connection, so it needs your smartphone’s data connection. Obviously this needs to occur to send the commands to the Alexa Web Services, but it can be fickle if you navigate away from the app, or even close it for that matter. Although it would likely increase the cost of the device quite a bit, if the Roav Viva had it’s own 3G/cellular connection it could access, I feel it would increase it’s performance and reliability exponentially. Aside from the data connection aspect, it’s also worth pointing out that since this is a car device, it is a bit of a letdown that it also cannot control any vehicle infotainment systems. That renders many of the ideal use cases people would utilize a hands-free voice assistant in the car non-existent, which is a shame. And in case you were wondering, this version of Alexa cannot participate in the intercom/drop in feature that normal echo devices offer, which would have been a nice option to have.
If you have an echo device within your home, then having Alexa in your car feels like a natural progression. It just feels right, which is why it’s disappointing that the Roav Viva gets things so wrong.”
Some of the most glaring problems with the device occurred when I asked alexa for directions. Although I mentioned that she was able to hear me every time I made a command – even while driving on the highway – I encountered numerous issues when it came to turn by turn requests. Though after thoroughly testing alexa’s responsiveness and execution of requests for this review, my conclusion is that these hiccups may have more to do with the handling and transfer of the request and data processing, then of the actual voice command itself. The app lets you select from Google Maps or Waze, which I consider a step in the right direction. Yet overall, the request for turn by turn directions proved frustrating. I had to be absolutely exact in my phrasing of what I was requesting to the point where I was forced to use my smartphone, which was both frustrating and admittedly, dangerous.
There were certainly moments though where I found having alexa in the car was a total joy. If you have an echo device within your home, then having Alexa in your car feels like a natural progression. It just feels right, which is why it’s disappointing that the Roav Viva gets things so wrong. When I asked her to make phone calls, she was much more accurate than my vehicle’s voice recognition system at recognizing who I was needing to call. I also have my garage door connected to my samsung smartthings hub at home, so I was able to tell alexa to open it for me as I pulled into my driveway. I didn’t have to use my phone, rely on an arrival sensor or use the garage door opener which I enjoyed. I was also able to ask her for a traffic report on my way to work, and have her give me my flash briefing during my morning commute. Those things made me a bit enamored with the Roav Viva, and because of this I was almost willing to forgive it for it’s various shortcomings.
There are many people who already saw the potential of having alexa in the vehicle and decided to use echo dot’s in their cars. Those who have already put an echo dot in their vehicles may not need to see the need for a device like this, but I can almost guarantee that the Roav Viva is a better experience. It was made specifically for the car, and although a bit clunky at times, it executes on that intent decently. Using this device solidified for me that there is a lot of benefit to having alexa in the car (and car manufacturers seem to agree; as Alexa is being built in to many new car models this year). Considering the price is comparable to an echo dot at $49, it really isn’t much of a choice: if you’re intent on having alexa in the car, then the Roav Viva is the way to go, even with it’s various trade-offs.
Given the responsiveness Anker put into resolving the iOS issue, I’m actually quite hopeful many of the quirks of the Roav Viva will be addressed. This version of the device won’t ever be fully independent from your smartphone, and for some that may be a deal breaker. Though if Anker continues to address the various quirks and shortcomings, then it’s a good bet that the Roav Viva will become a popular addition to the alexa family of third party devices. It’s just not quite there yet as of right now. I hope that changes soon, as I already welcome Alexa in my home; and would love to have her ride shotgun with me as well.
The Anker Roav VIVA can be yours for $49.99 and can be purchased on Amazon.
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Would you find use for Alexa in your car? If Anker resolves the issues with the Roav VIVA, would you be interested in purchasing? Let us know in the comments below!