Lenovo Marries Up Alexa Smarts and Harman Kardon Sounds
Voice-activated speakers like Amazon Echo and Google Home have become indispensable as smart assistants. As speakers, though? Not so much. Lenovo’s first foray into the field aims to remedy that shortcoming. Its Smart Assistant houses Amazon’s Alexa brains in hardware with Harman Kardon’s audio-expert approval.
These new devices manage to differentiate in both sound and style.
There aren’t any real surprises to what the Smart Assistant does; if you’re at all familiar with the Echo, it follows the same script, in the same way that two Windows 10 PCs are identical (at least, before the manufacturer-imposed bloatware takes hold). You can ask it the weather, tell it to play NPR, order a pizza with it, or hit up any of the thousands of skills Alexa has mastered. You can control it through the same Alexa app that the Echo uses, as well.
What you gain over Amazon’s hardware offering, though, is an upgraded design and presumably hardier soundscapes. The Smart Assistant still goes the “tall cylinder” route, but looks less like a monolith and more like a thoughtfully engineered Thermos. It’s an improvement. And while it doesn’t offer quite the rainbow of color options as Google Home, it does come in pleasant light gray, green, orange. It comes with eight 360-degree far-field microphones (the Echo has seven, for what it’s worth), with noise suppression and acoustic echo cancellation to help your commands ring true.
The base model costs $130, but lacks the Harman Kardon chops. For that—which includes an extra two-inch sound cavity for added clarity and depth, and all-black styling—you’ll wind up at $170. Both versions will be available this May.
Even beyond the souped-up sounds, Lenovo’s addition to the Alexa canon illustrates that voice isn’t just isolated to individual products. It’s a true platform, one that needs hardware partners beyond their originators to thrive. Amazon’s dabbled in third-party integration already. But in Lenovo, it’s found its most prominent co-conspirator yet. That these new devices also manage to differentiate in both sound and style is a welcome bonus.
Lenovo won’t be the last hardware partner Amazon lines up, and may not be the only major name at to hop on board this week at CES. Its Smart Assistant represents a major step forward for Alexa as an ecosystem, though—and gives smart-speaker shoppers some long-overdue choice.
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