Thus far, we’ve seen smart speakers from many companies, including from Amazon, Google, and Apple, and now we have one from Microsoft too. However, unlike the others, Microsoft is taking a different approach, instead of making its own voice-activated speaker, the company is having Harman Kardon build the device.
The result is the Invoke, a smart speaker that sounds amazing — many people will even argue that it has better sound than the one from Google and Amazon –, and it’s the first speaker that exclusively uses Cortana, which means a more natural interaction and sounding voice.
The Invoke is a large circular speaker that looks a lot like Amazon’s Echo. They’re virtually the same height, but the Invoke has a wider bottom, and there is a significant difference in the build quality. While the Echo is made of plastic, the one from Harman Kardon is tempered metal with a more premium feeling.
The top is touch-enabled and there is a frosted display that shows Cortana in listing mode and volume level. In addition, at the top of the device is where you’ll find the seven far-field microphone array allowing the device to hear you no matter where you are in the room.
In the back, there are only two buttons: one to mute the speaker and one to pair Bluetooth devices, and there is even a micro USB port for diagnostic next to the power connection.
Inside there are three tweeters and three mid-range drivers positioned in a way to offer 360-degree sound. In comparison, the Echo only has one mid-range driver and one tweeter.
|Harman Kardon Invoke tech specs|
||1.75" (45mm) x 3
||0.5" (13mm) x 3
|Power cable length
||47 in (1.2m)
||4.2 x 9.5 in (107 x 242mm)
||2.3 lbs (1kg)
|Supported audio formats
||AAC, MP3, Vorbis, FLAC, WMA, WAV
It’s tough to compare speakers when you’re simply looking at their design and specs, what’s more important is how they sound, but the Invoke gets the approval of awesome sound.
In order to set up the Harman Invoke, you’ll need to use the Cortana app on Windows 10, or the app for Android or iPhone. The voice-activated speaker will appear as a device in the Cortana settings, and the complete setup takes only a few seconds.
Once the device is connected, the only thing left to do is to say “Hey Cortana,” and start using voice commands, just like on your PC or phone.
You can ask things like the current weather, directions, news, definitions, and almost anything you like.
Where Cortana shines the most is tackling work-oriented tasks. For example, the assistant does a pretty good job adding new events to your Outlook calendar, creating reminders, and integrating with services offered by Microsoft.
Though, sending an email is not yet supported, Cortana integrates with Skype to make phone calls.
You can also control smart home devices through Cortana, as it works with Wink, Nest, Insteon, StartThings, and Hue.
However, since Amazon has a head start in the smart speaker area, it has already managed to lure developers to builds skills for Alexa, which now reaches over 20,000 skills. On the other hand, Microsoft has recently opened the Cortana skill set API’s, and currently there are less than 50 skills available.
At this point in time, the biggest downside of the device is the limited number of audio services Cortana can use. Since Microsoft no longer has a music streaming service, you’re left with Spotify, TuneIn, and iHeartRadio.
Pandora integration is not available, but Microsoft says that is working with the company to bring the service in the future. In addition, Microsoft is trying to bring other services, such as SoundCloud and Deezer, but it’s not clear when this is going to happen.
If you don’t want to use voice commands, you can also control any of the supported music services using their apps on your phone or computer.
There is no doubt that if you’re looking for a good voice-activated speaker that sounds great, easily fills up the room, and looks fantastic, the Invoke is the one to get, even more if you’re immerse in the Microsoft ecosystem.
The Harman Kardon Invoke is available now in Graphite and Pearl Silver, and it sells for $200, which is twice the price of the new Amazon Echo, and $70 more expensive than Google Home, but it’s cheaper than the $349 Apple HomePod.