Here’s our review of the Harman Kardon Invoke smart speaker. Is a Microsoft Cortana-powered speaker worth considering?
It’s becoming standard practice for tech companies with digital voice assistants to either build smart speakers internally or have another company do the job. For the first speaker on the market with its Cortana intelligent personal assistant built-in, Microsoft turned to one of the biggest companies in audio, Harman Kardon.
The result is the Invoke, a beautifully designed home speaker that even Apple fans should consider.
The Same ...
Here’s a little secret about smart speakers: for the most part, they all do the same thing. In fact, I’ll go as far as saying 90 percent of the tools found on one speaker are on the others too. It’s the final 10 percent you’ll need to consider before making a purchase.
With this in mind, understand that like the Amazon Echo (Alexa), Google Home (Okay, Google), and upcoming Apple HomePod (Hey, Siri), the Invoke has a wake word. In this case, it’s “Hey Cortana.”
Like other smart speakers, the Invoke is also compatible with both iOS and Android (hello, Cortana app).
And because the Invoke is a Bluetooth speaker, you can use simple commands to control all type of media with your voice even if a service isn’t officially supported by Cortana.
For example, music services available at launch include Spotify, TuneIn, iHeart Radio, and soon, Pandora. This type of support allows you to say things like: “Hey Cortana, play [song name] by [artist]” or “Hey Cortana, play Drake’s latest album.”
What if you have Apple Music instead? In this case, you can only offer commands like “Hey Cortana, pause/resume / next/previous” to control the tracks, “Hey Cortana, turn up the volume,” and ”Hey Cortana, turn it down.”
I’m not sure this difference matters to the average smart speaker user, but perhaps I’m wrong.
The Invoke also can control many of the most popular smart home products on the market, including lights, switches, outlets, and thermostats. Initial partners include SmartThings, Philips Hue, Nest, Wink, and Insteon, with more the way, including Honeywell, Ecobee, TP-Link, Johnson Controls, IFTT, Geeni, Iris by Lowe’s, iDevices, and others.
Finally, like other smart speakers, the Invoke can answer questions and provide information on news, traffic, weather, and idle chit-chat.
Sample commands include:
- “Hey Cortana, did the Patriots win their last game?”
- “Hey Cortana, how is traffic to my nearby Home Depot?”
- “Hey Cortana, tell me a poem”
Don’t these sound a lot the Apple Siri commands we all use and mostly love?
... But Different
There are many things that stand out about the Invoke that make it different than other smart speakers on the market. These include:
By partnering with Harman Kardon for the Invoke, Microsoft no doubt wanted a speaker that would produce excellent, not average, sound quality. Thanks to the inclusion of three woofers, three tweeters, and two passive radiators, the Invoke offers the best 360-degree sound among smart speakers at its price point currently on the market.
The Invoke also comes with Harman Kardon’s proprietary far-field voice recognition technology, Sonique. The speaker includes seven far-field microphones at the top of the device that allows it to hear you from any direction. Plus, it works exceptionally well even where there’s a lot of noise in a room.
Premium Design Quality
Another benefit of partnering with Harman Kardon: the Invoke comes in a premium design. Available in black and white, the Invoke looks good in any setting.
My favorite design feature is the speaker’s illuminated touch panel that changes colors between blue and white whenever you use the device’s wake-up command. The touch panel also serves as a manual way to adjust the volume.
Some Microsoft Love
Apple fans love to criticize Microsoft. But the truth is, many of us still use Microsoft Office products, including Outlook. Thanks to Cortana, the Invoke is fully immersed in the Microsoft ecosystem — even if you don’t use a Windows PC.
With Cortana, you can schedule appointments, reminders, tasks, and lists, just by using your voice. You can also set up alarms and timers with ease. For more advanced settings, use the Cortana app’s Notebook feature.
It should also be noted the Invoke is fully compatible with Microsoft’s Skype. As such, you can stay connected with hands-free Skype calling to and from mobile phones, landlines, and any Skype-enabled device, anywhere in the world. For Skype users, this type of integration is a big deal and shouldn’t be overlooked.
Alexa Skills are one of the reasons Amazon Echo speakers remain so popular despite the rising number of competitors. This tool allows third-party products and services to integrate with Amazon Alexa-powered products.
Cortana Skills is a similar product from Microsoft. Though the list of tools using Cortana Skills continues to lag behind Alexa Skills, this might not always be the case.
As Harman Kardon reminded me, there are 500 million Windows 10 users around the world and 148 million active monthly Cortana users. That’s a lot of users who could eventually be creating Cortana Skills. The arrival of the Invoke will naturally lead to an increase in this number too.
A Choice Worth Considering
When I first saw the words “Microsoft Cortana” next to the Invoke name, I was hesitant. Having reviewed lots of Harman Kardon products, I knew the speaker would look and sound great. The biggest unknown was whether I’d like Cortana.
With the Apple HomePod powered by Siri set to launch in December, there’s no doubt most Apple fans might discount the Invoke and other smart speakers, at least for now. However, not everyone can afford a $349 HomePod. Beautifully designed and offering premium sound, the Invoke is definitely worth considering for anyone in the market for a sub-$200 device.
You can purchase an Invoke at Best Buy, through HarmanKardon.com, and at Microsoft Stores.