A speaker isn’t worth its salt this year unless it’s got some AI smarts baked in, and Polk audio is taking no chances. Not only is it releasing the Alexa powered Command soundbar, it’s hedging its bets with the newly-unveiled, Google Assistant-led Polk Assist smart speaker, too.
Looking not unlike the first-party Google Home which kick-started the Assistant-powered craze, it’s a voice activated speaker that leverages the power of the search giant’s AI helper to play tunes, control smart home gear, answer questions and set reminders, among many other things.
Just about handheld in size (though not a portable, battery powered affair), it’s cuboid in shape with a sloping top edge that houses its button controls. A mic-mute button is also on the rear.
Along the top is also an 10-light LED array. This has multiple functions – showing volume level, flashing red when the mic is muted, and pulsing when it’s processing a task.
It’ll also be joining the LG ThinQ WK7 Google Assistant speaker in being one of the first devices to make use of the Android Things IoT protocol, which will make it more secure and receive updates more quickly than those reliant solely on Linux-based builds of Assistant.
Available in both white/silver and dark grey/black shades, it features a wraparound mesh grille. That’s been designed to be stain resistant and washable, with the idea being that it’s just as well suited to a messy kitchen worktop as it is a living room or bedroom.
Despite that wraparound design, what it isn’t capable of is 360-degree sound. Instead this is a forward-firing speaker, making use of a 1-inch tweeter and 3.5-inch midwoofer.
Google Assistant has a reputation for being the most responsive of the big three voice assistants (compared to Siri and Alexa), and that will remain the case with the Polk Assist. You’ll be able to throw most any question at the Polk Assist and, thanks to the power of Google’s search engine, be presented with a read-aloud answer.
What may prove a little more temperamental is the performance of the Assist’s microphone, which at times struggled to pick up the 'OK Google' trigger phrase during our short demo. With the speaker used for the demo affixed higher on a wall than Polk expect most users to place it, a Polk representative said to expect better performance from the mic when placed at lower level.
As for sound quality, we’d need more time with the Polk Assist to give a definitive answer. A quick listen to Simon and Garfunkel’s The Sound of Silence showed good detail in the highs, while Todd Terje’s Inspector Norse was lacking the low-level punch to really feel its groove. That said, its connected capabilities elevate it above similarly-priced Bluetooth speakers.
The Polk Assist looks set to be a solid entry point for Google Assistant in your home, particularly if you’re looking for a wipe-clean device to help with the cooking. Its form factor is unobtrusive, and it’s sound quality after a quick first listen seems at least on a par with a Google Home.
However, its mic performance seemed a little erratic, and if you’re looking for a deep, detailed sound you’re probably going to have to dig a little deeper in your pockets. Priced at £179 (around $240 / AU$315) We’ll be bringing you more on the Polk Assist in the run up to its July 2018 release.