Currently, there are a lot of smart speakers on the market; the Amazon Echo, Apple’s soon to be released HomePod and the Google Home systems. But now Microsoft’s Cortana, in collaboration with the audio company Harman Kardon, have brought us the Invoke system. With so many of this type of product available to us now, does this new Invoke stand out from the crowd enough to become the smart speaker system for you? Here we put Microsoft’s new gadget to the test to help you decide.
The Invoke is a cylindrical tower with a top ring that acts as a manual volume control, similar in looks to the Echo Plus. Also similar to other speaker systems, when speaking with Cortana the touch panel is lit in blue. The touch panel can also be used to see the volume level and to stop the speaker from playing music or sound. In comparison to other products, Invoke is relatively lower priced at $199. For reference the Echo Plus costs $149.99, the Alexa-enabled Sonos One is the same price, the Apple HomePod is $349, and Google Home Max will set you back $399.
If you are a regular user of Microsoft products and the Cortana system, you’ll be happy to know that the system will work across all your devices. So all notifications will be available to you whatever you are using. Things are a little less smooth is you are an iOS or Android user, unfortunately. You will need to download the Cortana app which is pretty easy to set up and use, but if you have a Gmail account, it currently cannot be synchronized with Invoke. So you’ll be missing out on using your calendar, which is a very useful feature of Invoke. Although Microsoft says a Gmail support update is coming, so hopefully this issue will be short lived.
Music and sound
Invoke can support three music systems currently – iHeartRadio, TuneIn, and Spotify. While the first two are free services, you’ll need to have Spotify Premium to access your account and playlists with Invoke. Pandora is set to become available on the Invoke system, but Microsoft is currently unsure when this will happen. When listening, it becomes clear that Harman Kardon is a high-end audio brand that provides 360 degrees sound with a full bass. When you’re in the same room, the system can pick up your voice excellently but becomes less responsive when you leave the room. This seems to be the case with all smart speaker systems. Cortana is also marginally slower to react than other systems but still works well.
Cortana is a good assistant system, with the ability to answer most questions correctly, identify music artists and can identify calendar overlaps. Sometimes Cortana runs into issues, and you may have to get used to wording questions slightly differently, but ultimately the system is up to par with the rest of the virtual assistants available on the market currently.
Invoke can connect to your Skype account and allow you to ring mobile phones, other Skype devices, and Landlines. Cortana helpfully makes sure to clarify between similar sounding contact entries and is also able to ring numbers that aren’t currently in your contacts. Other systems support hand free calling, but you cannot make worldwide Skype calls like with Invoke.
Overall if you are a Windows user, then the Invoke is a solid purchase for you and at a reasonable price. But if you are working on different operating systems, it’s probably worth hanging on until updates are released to see if this system can work well for you.