Amazon’s Alexa got a head start on its smart home invasion compared to its primary competitor Google, and that early lead has extended beyond the home. Now, Google is aggressively pushing to catch up by partnering with third-party brands to further extend the reach of Google Assistant. One new area is connected car tech, which is served by a scattershot approach that involves often wonky built-in car infotainment systems, Apple’s CarPlay, Google’s Android Auto, and now Alexa and Google Assistant.
Today at CES, consumer electronics companies Anker and JBL both announced new Google Assistant-equipped gadgets that plug in via the 9-volt car lighter port, so they’ll work with a majority of new and old cars as a way to smarten up your on-the-road tech with hands-free voice control and music playback, among other features.
For Anker, this is an extension of its existing Roav line of car adapter and charger combos, and its new Google model is called the Roav Bolt. Like last year’s Roav Viva, which relied on Alexa, this one is powered exclusively by Google Assistant. The price point remains the same: the Bolt is $50, just like the Viva, and it comes with all of the same features, including hands-free calling and messaging, navigation, and music playback.
Anker’s model also comes with two standard (but soon to be a bit outdated) USB Type A ports for charging. The Bolt features Bluetooth 5.0 as well as an auxiliary port for physical connections, and it can basically handle any of the voice commands you’d normally throw at a Google Home or similar device. Most likely, however, you’ll be using it for taking phone calls, turn-by-turn directions, and playing music, as Anker designed. The company says the device will start shipping next month.
JBL’s Link Drive is not all that much different, though it seems it does not have any ports for charging. It costs a bit more, too: $60. Yet, considering it is JBL, the device comes with some nifty noise-canceling features for ignoring ambient noise like traffic and wind to pick up your voice commands. Because it also maintains a connection to your car stereo either via the aux port or Bluetooth, the Link Drive can also turn down your car stereo automatically when you use the “OK Google” wake phrase, so you can clearly speak to the device without music getting the way. JBL’s device will start shipping this spring.