Roav Bolt is a fairly simple unit that sits in the car's cigarette lighter socket (also known as the 12-volt sport). It has a pair of USB ports on the side for charging your phone and there is also an AUX connector. At the top there are four LED lights that illuminate to show that it works – Blue indicates pairing mode, orange is when searching for a connection, green is for incoming calls and white is when it is listening to you. Even if you can only say "Hello Google" for the assistant to kick in, there is also a physical button that you can press to skip this step. If you want to reset the bolt or put it in pairing mode, you can long press the same button.
Setting up Roav Bolt is relatively easy, but there are some approaches. For one thing, it only works with Android phones for now – IOS compatibility is in the works, but it's still a lot in beta at this time. To install Roav Bolt I plug it into my car's 12v port, and it immediately went to Bluetooth pairing mode. After connecting it to my Pixel 3, the Google Assistant Wizard started automatically and I followed the instructions on the screen.
It was here that I ran into the other neighborhood. Although the bolt works with cars that have both Bluetooth or AUX support, it works best with AUX (it comes with an AUX cable in the package). According to Google, it is because most Bluetooth systems in the car are running on older programs with poor Bluetooth performance, which will affect the overall experience. Also, the only way to truly experience Bolt's noise-reducing features is through AUX. I tried out Roav Bolt with AUX in a separate Google demo (with a Google-delivered car), and the assistant managed to hear my voice commands even over really loud music.
But my car does not have AUX; it only has Bluetooth. So I had to go through another step to pair my phone with my car, which was a bit of pain. Just as Google warned, my experience was somewhat hampered by a slightly older Bluetooth system. When I said "OK, Google", for example, it took a few seconds longer than normal for the assistant to trigger. As someone who uses Google products quite regularly, the delay was noticeable, and it took me a little to get used to. In addition, the lack of noise shutdown means that I could not blast my songs as high as I would like.
Google says the bolt is always in standby mode, which means you don't have to unlock the phone to use the assistant. Using the bolt also has very low battery consumption compared to having the assistant open all the time on your phone.
However, apart from the few problems, it is pretty good to have access to Google Assistant in the car. I can request that I play my favorite songs, use it for directions, make phone calls, read incoming messages and add appointments to my calendar. It's also good to share my ETA with someone or find a nearby gas station while navigating. Because it is tied to Google's ecosystem, I can use it to turn off the lights in my house, even during the road. Perhaps my complaint is that I do not have a step-by-step screen (looking down on your phone is an option, but it is quite dangerous to do while driving), but a Google spokesman said it can be easily resolved by investing in one phone car mount.
Still, a car mount is also the exact reason why you may not need Roav Bolt. After all, you can access the assistant and Android Auto with a regular Android phone. Even if you have the car in a charging bracket, the power problem is easy to solve, and you can easily keep it unlocked if you want.
There are two main differentiators that insert the bolt from each other. The first is remote field microphones with noise and echo canceller capabilities, which I mentioned earlier allow for better voice pickup, at least if you choose to use the AUX connection. The other is that it makes it much easier to rely on the assistant for all your interactions in the car, so you can leave your phone in your pocket or bag if you want. It's basically a more Google-fied version of existing Bluetooth dongles, with a greater emphasis on voice and assistant. And if you do not want a car-mounted but still want access to an assistant, Bolt fits the niche.
It is mentioned that because Roav Bolt is dependent on your car's Bluetooth or AUX port, you will not have access to the rest of the car's infotainment system. So, no one plays Sirius radio when using Google Maps, for example. That being said, it is quite common for you to use your phone as an audio source in most vehicles. Even without something like Bolten, if you use your phone as a GPS, music must also come via the phone. If you, like me, already have a built-in navigation system and only use Bluetooth for temporary phone calls, then you rely on your phone because the only way GPS and audio might be is not as attractive. That being said, I think Google Maps is a much better option than the obsolete navigation system in my car, and I like to have access to all the other sweets the assistant offers.
At the end of the day, if you already have an Android phone and an accessory for your car like a booth or cradle, the other benefits that Roav Bolt brings with the table are not worth the extra cost. The noise interruption is a good advantage, but it is not a must. What I think will make Bolten worth it, but if Google manages to make it completely iOS compatible. It is not so easy to use the Assistant on the iPhone, it's just an app and not fully integrated into the phone. If I could say "OK, Google" and get full access to the Assistant on my iPhone, it would be a pretty big gamechanger.
When it comes to competition you might want to consider Ankers Roav Viva, which is a similar product, but with the Amazon Alexa on board instead. However, it does not seem to be compatible with Spotify and, according to some early reviews, you need to use precise phrasing for navigation to the job. Amazon's upcoming Echo Auto may prove to be a better solution, but it has been delayed at the moment. On the Google front, JBL also has a Google Assistant car accessory, but it won't be out until later this year.
Anchor Roav Bolt, on the other hand, is available today from all Best Buy sites as well as bestbuy.com and walmart.com. It will eventually be sold at Walmart and Target retail locations as well.