Editors' Note: Updated at 12:46 p.m. ET with hands-on impressions.
LAS VEGAS — More new cars than ever before are rolling off the assembly lines with Android Auto or Apple's CarPlay built in. But that's not much consolation to owners of vehicles that aren't quite so up-to-date.
Fortunately, Google has come up with a clever solution to the problem in the form of new accessories developed in cooperation with JBL and Anker. They grant full access to Google Assistant over your car's stereo system, which is particularly beneficial if your ride lacks a touch screen.
They're rather inconspicuous, too. JBL's $59 Link Drive plugs into the car's cigarette lighter and is similar in shape and size to a car charger. It houses a USB-A port, meaning you can in fact use it as a car charger, provided you have the appropriate cables handy. Anker is also producing a $49 device with similar functionality, called the Roav Bolt, that packs two phone-charging ports.
But unlike ordinary car chargers, these carry Google Assistant superpowers. The Link Drive and Roav Bolt connect to your vehicle over Bluetooth or through the auxiliary jack. In that way, they act sort of like an intermediary between phone and car, capturing your voice with their dual microphones and routing Google Assistant through the car's speakers.
Google is touting full hands-free operation with the Link Drive and Roav Bolt. You'll be able to ask for directions, select music, fire off texts and initiate calls using just your voice, without having to lay a finger on your handset. Additionally, built-in echo cancellation means these accessories shouldn't have any trouble interpreting your commands — nor will anyone on the other end of a call, for that matter.
We sat down for an in-car demo of the Roav Bolt with the help of a Google representative, and the device allowed the driver to quickly and seamlessly summon the Assistant, even when the phone was locked. Additionally, we're told the microphones are well tuned to pick out the user's voice, even while music is playing in auxiliary mode.
The Link Drive and Roav Bolt appear to be impressive little dongles that accomplish more than their humble looks imply. They're shaping up to be a solid yet inexpensive way to bring some smart functionality to older vehicles that have Bluetooth but can't accommodate a full-blown infotainment platform like Android Auto. The Link Drive will begin shipping this spring, while the Roav Bolt will hit stores in February.