I just ran a quick errand to the grocery store, with Google Assistant riding shotgun along the way.
When prompted, Google Assistant could tell me what the traffic was like between my house and the store. (A little heavier than usual, but my route was still the fastest way to get there.) I could also ask about the weather over the weekend to see if the backyard cookout I had planned was still a good idea. I had the assistant text my wife to make sure I wasn't forgetting anything at the store. And all this took place as the assistant pumped out a steady stream of tunes from the Play Music app on my Pixel 3 XL.
I don't have a car with one of those fancy Android Auto-powered infotainment systems. In fact, my 2012 vehicle predates Google Assistant’s arrival by several years. Instead, all I've got is a 12v socket, which is all I need to plug in the Google Assistant-equipped Roav Bolt from Anker and add an always-listening digital helper to my ride.
I had a chance to spend a few days with the Roav Bolt in advance of its launch. It turns out to be an easy and inexpensive way for people to add Google Assistant to cars that don't already have a splashy infotainment system installed.
Editor's Note: We'll be finalizing our review of the Roav Bolt, complete with a rating, in the coming weeks; stay tuned.
Google first announced plans to work with companies like Anker and JBL on accessories that could add Google Assistant over your car's stereo during CES earlier this year, and now Anker's effort, the Roav Bolt, is hitting the market. You can buy the $49.99 Roav Bolt online and at Best Buy starting today (April 17). It hits Walmart and other retailers in the coming weeks.
While there are several in-car accessories with Alexa built in—such as the Anker Roav Viva Pro, the Garmin Speak Plus, and the invite-only Amazon Echo Auto, the Roav Bolt is the first that uses Google Assistant.
The simplicity starts with installing the Roav Bolt. You plug it into a 12v socket (that's your car's cigarette lighter) and turn on your car. Ideally, you'll also hook the device into an AUX input on your car, since the Roav Bolt is optimized for that setup. But don't worry if your car lacks that kind of plug — mine does, and I could still use the Roav Bolt over a Bluetooth connection with my car. (Conversations with the Assistant are probably choppier than they would be if I was able to use an AUX input, but I still found the product quite functional.)
From there, it's just a matter of pairing your phone to the Roav Bolt and going through a one-time setup with the assistant. After that, interacting with Google Assistant through your car's stereo is as simple as saying "OK Google."
Using the Roav Bolt as a way to talk to Google Assistant isn't all that much different from using it on your phone, only with the added benefit of hands-free operation so that you never have to take your eyes off the road.
Built-in microphones aided by noise-canceling technology are designed to pick up your voice, even when you've got music blaring, passengers yammering and traffic noise trying to drown you out. I drove around with my windows down, trying to get the Google Assistant's attention, and 95 percent of the time, it heard me perfectly.
Talking to Google Assistant over the Roav Bolt isn't as conversational as it is on other devices. Nearly every question or command needs to be preceded by "OK, Google," even when you're asking follow-up questions. For example, after I asked the assistant to tell me the latest scores for the UEFA Champions League, I had to say "OK, Google" before I could ask when the next matches were coming up.
You ask the Google Assistant on the Roav Bolt the same sort of things you'd ask any Google-powered device — you can control music and podcast playback, send texts and make phone calls, or just ask general questions that plumb the depths of Google's knowledge graph. I found the device particularly handy when asking directions: the assistant would tell me the fastest route over my car's stereo, while my Pixel, held by a mount attached to the car's dashboard, launched Maps to give me visual directions. I could even ask the Assistant to find gas stations along the route or text contacts with my ETA.
The Google Assistant can also play games like Movie Trivia, Mad Libs and more — a feature I suspect might come in handy for families on lengthy car trips. (One heads up about that movie trivia game, which has you identify audio clips from famous movies: any words in the movie dialogue that would earn more than a PG rating get bleeped, but those bleeps come in loud and clear. I'd avoid that game if you have really young kids.) Because the mics on the Roav Bolt can pick up more than one voice, you can play along with passengers, too.
Because the Roav Bolt comes from Anker, which specializes in power accessories, you also get a way to keep your mobile devices charged. The Roav Bolt includes a pair of USB charging ports for plugging in your phone as you drive.
Google says the Roav Bolt is optimized for Android devices, and that it will be available for the iOS in a beta experience with limited capabilities, as media apps won't work with the assistant on the iPhone.
As with its in-home devices, Amazon has an early lead when it comes to third-party in-car gadgets with its voice assistant. The Roav Bolt could be the first step toward Google closing that gap.