Google Assistant is everywhere these days: phones, tablets, speakers, Chromebooks, and more. The first Assistant devices for cars were unveiled earlier this year, and the first model from Anker launched in April. The other device, JBL's Link Drive, was announced at CES and seemed like it wasn't going to come out. Of course, JBL is no stranger to delays, and the Link Drive just became available recently. So, how is the JBL Link Drive? It's an almost identical experience to the Anker Roav Bolt, but with more hardware disadvantages and a higher price.
|Dimensions||42mm x 109mm x 33mm (WxHxD)|
|Connectivity||1x USB Type-A (5V/2.1A)|
Design, hardware, what's in the box
The JBL Link Drive is a small black device that connects to the charging port in a car. The front has a single microphone button, with indicator lights that mirror those found on a Google Nest Mini. On the top is a 3.5mm jack, used for streaming audio to your car's stereo system. If your car doesn't have an AUX port, you can also use Bluetooth, but JBL recommends going with a wired connection if possible.
The tiny microphone button on the front has multiple functions. Pressing it once will read out notifications from your phone, or if the device is already talking, pressing the button will stop Assistant. Double-pressing it will mute/unmute the microphone, and holding it down will activate Assistant manually. Finally, holding it down for about 12 seconds will reset the device.
As with the Anker Roav Bolt, there are no dedicated media playback controls, so you can't pause or skip songs by pressing a button — you have to use voice commands. I complained about this with the Roav Bolt, and I'm disappointed JBL hasn't changed anything (though the decision may be up to Google).
The JBL Link Drive (left) and Anker Roav Bolt (right)
So, what's different compared to Anker's product, you may ask? Well... nothing good. First, the Link Drive is longer than the Roav Bolt, so much so that it slightly obstructed the cup holder in my compact Nissan Leaf. The design might not be as much of an inconvenience to you, depending on the positioning of your car's charging ports, but I think most will agree that Anker's more compact design is nicer.
The greatest disadvantage of the Link Drive compared to Anker's adapter is the charging capacity. The Anker Roav Bolt offers two USB Type-A ports, both capable of 5V/2.4A charging (even at the same time). The JBL Link Drive only has one USB port, with a slower maximum capacity of 5V/2.1A—no charging multiple devices, no quick charge support, and no USB Type-C connector. Yikes. In the box, you get the JBL Link Drive and a male-to-male 3.5mm cable. That's it.
Software and performance
I won't go into overwhelming detail about the software experience on the JBL Link Drive, because it is identical to the software on the Anker Roav Bolt in every way. If you want all the nitty-gritty details, you can see our previous review here.
In summary, once you pair the Link Drive to your phone via Bluetooth, the Google app should automatically open and walk you through the setup process. Once that's done, the Link Drive becomes an always-on microphone for your phone's Google Assistant, capable of hearing you even with blowing wind and loud music. It can do everything that Assistant on your phone is capable of, including opening apps, sending a text message, playing the news, and so on.
When you're not using Assistant, the JBL Link Drive doubles as a Bluetooth-to-AUX adapter, so anything playing on your phone is piped to your car's stereo. This might not be a big deal to anyone with a car that already supports Bluetooth audio playback, but my car lacks that ability.
I previously said that the JBL Link Drive works identically to the Anker Roav Bolt, and that includes the Bolt's disadvantages. Pairing to a different phone requires resetting the adapter, so the Link Drive isn't ideal for shared cars. Voice commands also don't always work when the phone's screen isn't on, which I assume is something related to Android Doze. For the record, I used the Link Drive mostly with a Galaxy S10e, but I experienced the same issues on the Roav Bolt with my OnePlus 6T and Google Pixel.
Should you buy it?
No. The JBL Link Drive isn't necessarily a bad product, but there's no point in buying it when the Anker Roav Drive exists. The Roav Bolt takes up less physical space, includes an additional USB port, and is also $10 cheaper (as of the time of writing) with an identical software experience. It's rare that someone can definitively say there is no point in buying a certain product over a competitor, but the Link Drive doesn't seem to have a single advantage over the Roav Bolt.
If you're looking for a way to bring Assistant into your car, with a better microphone than you'll find on any phone, the JBL Link Drive and Anker Roav Bolt will do the job. But for now, you should just buy the Roav Bolt.
Buy it if...
- You want a more powerful Google Assistant in your car.
- You can find the JBL Link on sale.
Don't buy it if...
- The Anker Roav Bolt is available for less money.