During the past week, I've said "Hey Cortana" more times than I have over the past couple of years combined. I've been testing the Harman Kardon Invoke speaker, which is powered by Cortana and includes a custom version of Linux inside. The Invoke speaker will go on sale in the US on October 22. While I've played a bit with a family member's Amazon Echo Dot, I never bought a voice-activated speaker for use at home. I was curious if, after using the Invoke for a week to do everything from set timers, to add items to my calendar, to play music would change my mind and make me want one.
Microsoft is out to prove that Amazon's Alexa and the Google Assistant aren't the only virtual concierges worth inviting into your home. After first teasing its Cortana-powered speaker last December, Harman Kardon's Invoke will finally launch on October 22 for $199. Invoke's arrival along with similar high-end devices also marks a turning point for intelligent speakers. Potential buyers no longer need choose between high quality audio and having a smart assistant they can summon by voice. Early Internet-connected speakers, such as the first generation Echo and Google Home, provided good enough sound for casual listening.
"Of all the questions you could have asked…" That's how Microsoft Cortana, the digital assistant and female voice inside the new $199 Invoke voice-activated speaker from Harman Kardon, responded when I asked what she thought of Amazon Echo, the rival speaker it will inevitably draw comparisons to. It was Echo and its own chatty artificial intelligence-infused assistant Alexa, after all, that started what is rapidly becoming an increasingly crowded market for such intelligent cloud-connected speakers. The speakers let you use your voice to set alarms and timers, turn on lights, list appointments, deliver the news and play music. More: Google Home, Amazon Echo, Apple HomePod -- or all 3? How to choose a smart speaker Google's been expanding its lineup of Google Home speakers with the Google Assistant. Apple is readying a HomePod speaker with Siri for a December release.
Smart speakers are everywhere this year. So far, we've seen new entries from Apple, Amazon, Google and Sonos. Now, Microsoft is finally ready to join the party. The Harman Kardon Invoke is the first speaker to feature Microsoft's Cortana virtual assistant. Since it's coming from a brand known for audio gear, it promises better sound than the competition.
Harman Kardon's Invoke is a pretty good speaker, and Microsoft's Cortana is a pretty good digital assistant. Put them together and you have a smart speaker that costs as much, but doesn't sound as good--and isn't as smart--as the brand-new Sonos One, powered by Amazon's Alexa. The Invoke's cylindrical form factor looks slightly less like a peppermill than the original Echo, and its flared bottom make it less susceptible to falling over. You'll find all kinds of Echo accessories designed to keep the Echo upright, or to protect it from damage if it gets toppled. Like Amazon's Echo, the Invoke has a volume-control ring circling its top.
I was rehearsing a speech for an AI conference recently when I happened to mention Amazon Alexa. At which point Alexa woke up and announced: "Playing Selena Gomez." I had to yell "Alexa, stop!" a few times before she even heard me. But Alexa was oblivious to my annoyance. Like the majority of virtual assistants and other technology out there, she's clueless about what we're feeling.
The Sonos One wireless speaker, priced at $199, will be available Oct. 24. It will support multiple voice services, launching with Amazon Alexa, but will add Siri using AirPlay 2, and Google Assistant, in 2018. Sonos is upping the volume in the smart speaker race. Already well-known for its great sounding wireless home speakers, Sonos is bringing to market the first whole home speaker system with built-in voice control using Amazon's digital voice-commanded assistant Alexa. The new speaker, the $199 Sonos One, due out Tuesday, raises the bar for good-sounding smart speakers.
Intel and Amazon are partnering to combine the former's silicon and smarts with the latter's Alexa voice platform. The chipmaker has introduced the Intel Speech Enabling Developer Kit to provide a "complete audio front-end solution for far-field voice control," according to a press release. The idea is that Intel has done the hard work of designing the mic arrays and voice systems and that all developers will need to do is write applications for them. It offers algorithms for echo cancellation and beam forming, wake words, an 8-mic array and the company's dual digital signal processor. The development kit is up for pre-order starting today for $399.
If last year's Google Home was the speaker that proved Google Assistant is worthy Amazon competitor, the Google Home Mini is the one that will get people hooked. The smaller Google Home has all the same smarts as its larger counterparts, but at less than half the price. It's difficult to see how that doesn't shake out as a win for Google. Functionally, the $49 Google Home Mini is very similar to the original Google Home. The disc-shaped speaker is covered in cloth similar to what's on the base of the larger model.
Motorola has announced a new Moto Mod for its Moto Z smartphones that brings Amazon's Alexa voice assistant. Called the Moto Smart Speaker with Amazon Alexa, the new Moto Mod allows users to experience Alexa like they have an Amazon Echo speaker wherever they are. The new Moto Mod was promised by Motorola and Amazon earlier this year. Back in February during the Mobile World Congress, the two companies revealed that they were working together to bring Alexa to Moto Z smartphones as a Moto Mod accessory. The new Amazon Alexa Moto Mod is pretty much what most would expect.