Voice assistants like Alexa, Google Assistant and Siri are becoming ubiquitous. They’re in our smartphones, speakers, televisions and some of our home appliances. Last year we saw the most popular voice assistant, Amazon’s Alexa, start popping up in cars, and since then a number of far car manufacturers — including Ford, Nissan, Toyota, Lexus and BMW — have all struck deals with Amazon to integrate Alexa directly into some of their cars. In the car, Alexa has a number of different skills that you’d expect from an Echo speaker that you have in your home. It can answer questions, check the traffic or weather, play music, call your friends or even control some of your home’s smart devices, should you have them. It’s effectively like having an Echo Dot in your car.
If you have a number of Alexa-enabled devices at home, and talking to the voice assistant is part of your day-to-day routine, having Alexa in your car could be helpful. The issue is, with Alexa only being integrated into some new cars, and with the car buying cycle being much longer than say a smartphone or speaker, which you’d update every year or two, most people aren’t likely to need to buy a car soon.
Fortunately, there are relatively affordable gadgets that can bring Alexa into your car today. Their looks differ a lot, but all and all, they all have similar Alexa-enabled capabilities. They have limitations, too. Most rely on your smartphone’s data for music and directional navigation, so if you’re on a limited data plan, watch out. But if you’re curious as to what it’s like to have Amazon’s assistant in your car — and if you need it — these entry-level devices are a good way to find out.
Anker Roav Viva
Anker’s ever-expanding range of gadgets now brings Alexa into the car, with the Roax Viva. It plugs into your car’s cigarette lighter socket and has two PowerIQ USB ports, so you can charge your other devices. More importantly, it’s compatible with Google Maps, Apple Maps and Waze, and you can ask it directions to wherever. If you’re worried about privacy, a simple tap on the top of the device disables the microphone. Like with an Echo speaker, you can ask the Roav Viva to change songs or shop online. It connects to your car’s speaker system via Bluetooth, the same way a Bluetooth receiver allows you to stream music in an old car.
The Garmin Speak is a small windshield-mounted device with an OLED display that gives you turn-by-turn navigation instructions. If your car doesn’t have a directional display, this little device could come in handy. It relies on your car’s 12-volt power port for power. Like other Garmin devices, the Speak’s main utility is telling you directions, but it can also function like an Echo speaker. It can take control of your car’s speaker system, via Bluetooth, and play songs. Although, voice commands are only supported with Amazon Music, Pandora and Sirius XM. Spotify and Apple Music aren’t supported, yet.
If you want to test out Alexa in your car, this is the cheapest way to do so. The ZeroTouch is a magnetic mount that secures your smartphone to the car’s air vent. Once set up with the ZeroTouch app, you can initiate Alexa by simply holding your hand over the smartphone. From there, you can text, call, change songs, ask for directions or control your smart home devices. It can help you find restaurants through Yelp, too. Unfortunately, the ZeroTouch app only works for Android, so iPhone owners should steer clear of this gadget.