“Hey, Cortana: What are you able to do for me that Alexa cannot?”

That is the opening query you may wish to ask the Harman Kardon Invoke ($199.95 at B&H Picture-Video), a sensible speaker that is the primary non-Home windows PC gadget powered powered by Microsoft’s Cortana digital assistant. Whereas Alexa is tops for sensible dwelling integration and buying, and Google House ($129.00 at Walmart) is finest for answering deeper AI-powered questions, Cortana — not surprisingly — finds her strengths with Workplace-centric duties akin to calendar queries and Skype calls. And because of Harman Kardon’s audio pedigree, this speaker sounds nice with music, too.

Harman Kardon Invoke in Graphite

Chris Monroe/Proinertech

The Invoke was introduced months in the past, however it’s lastly out there on Oct. 22 for $199. There is not any timeframe for UK or Australian availability, however that worth converts to about £150 or AU$255.

The fundamentals

Invoke’s design feels high-end, and that is excellent news for a speaker with a better price ticket than the Amazon Echo ($129.95 at B&H Picture-Video) and Google House. A metallic outer casing is available in Graphite and Pearl/Silver. On the highest of the gadget, a smooth-turning quantity management and touchpad act as consumer interfaces. Like Alexa, a round mild on the highest of the gadget lights up when it hears the wake phrase. On this case, that is “Hey, Cortana”.

Microsoft’s model of Alexa and Siri is on the market on Home windows 10 and as an app on Android and iOS units. Cortana can do all the things you’d count on, together with play music, reply questions, make calls and let you know about your day. Microsoft’s focus is on bringing skilled productiveness into the house. With Workplace 365 and Outlook linked, you’ll be able to ask Cortana about your calendar or set reminders that may seem throughout Cortana-enabled units. I linked my Outlook account and Cortana answered questions on assembly occasions, locations and members. However in case you’re not utilizing these providers, that performance will not work. Cortana could not acknowledge occasions that had been solely scheduled in my Gmail calendar. Studying emails aloud or combing via Workplace 365 paperwork for key phrases is not in Cortana’s present ability set both.

Invoke helps calls to cell phone and landlines by way of Microsoft’s Skype service. Within the US, which means Invoke get free nationwide home calling. As soon as you have linked your Skype account within the Cortana app, you’ll name anybody out of your Skype contacts, cellphone contacts or a neighborhood enterprise. Cortana makes use of Bing search expertise — sure, the Microsoft company household is all right here — that will help you discover native enterprise numbers. Join your cellphone by way of bluetooth and it is easy to provoke calls with Cortana instructions. I used to be in a position to name a fellow editor from my cellphone’s contacts, in addition to ask Cortana to name the closest pharmacy.

Strong sound high quality

Not like Amazon and Google, Harman Kardon has a protracted and revered audio lineage, and that is why we had excessive hopes for the Invoke’s sound high quality. The speaker has three compact “woofers,” three tweeters and two passive radiators. On paper, that is a extra formidable driver array than the $99 Echo and even the $399 Google House Max.

I discovered the Invoke’s 360-degree sound to ship fuller bass and cleaner treble than Amazon’s Echo line of audio system. However my colleague Ty Pendlebury in contrast the Invoke to the $199 Alexa-powered Sonos One, and located it nicely matched — although every speaker had its strengths and weaknesses:

Reverse the dark-sounding Sonos One, the Invoke had what it takes to take advantage of the epic “Yulunga (Spirit Dance).” Regardless of being a single, column-style speaker it stuffed the listening rooms with Lisa Gerrard’s hovering vocals. Even the acute left and proper shaker eggs appeared extra separated than on the Sonos. The Sonos did not sound dangerous, simply not as detailed or spacious.

Offered with one thing extra rock-oriented, nonetheless, the Sonos wiped the ground with the Invoke. The tight funk of Queens of the Stone Age’s “Ft Do not Fail Me Now” sounded just a little confused, distant and harsh in comparison with the Sonos. That is the sort of observe the place the Sonos shines.

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