In­tu­itive style meets stel­lar sound

Plug - - REVIEW - BY ORLAITH COSTELLO

Smart speak­ers are a dime a dozen these days with mul­ti­ple choices on the mar­ket for au­dio­philes and gad­get lovers to choose from.

Polk is mak­ing a name for them­selves with their high­qual­ity sound­bars and speak­ers and their Polk Smart As­sist Speaker ($299) is no dif­fer­ent.

In­te­grated with Google As­sis­tant and Chrome­cast, the Blue­tooth Smart As­sist speaker offers good qual­ity au­dio and con­nec­tiv­ity.

In­cluded in its box are the speaker it­self, the power cord, a scant in­struc­tion book­let, and a war­ranty.

De­sign

The Polk doesn’t move away from the look and feel of most smart speak­ers on the mar­ket, but it does con­tain some iden­ti­fi­able dif­fer­ences that set it apart from the crowd.

The Polk Smart Speaker fea­tures zero frills and is neat in size mea­sur­ing just 7.5-inches in height, 4.7-inches in width and is rel­a­tively light weigh­ing only 1.3kg.

The top is slanted slightly mak­ing it easy to ac­cess con­trol but­tons. Such a sim­ple ad­di­tion, but very user-friendly. On the out­side, the speaker ap­pears to be de­signed to re­sem­ble other Google Home speak­ers, al­beit a lit­tle taller and wider than the Google Home with fab­ric mesh cover­ing the ma­jor­ity of the body of the speaker and a plas­tic top.

The slanted top hosts four but­tons: Talk but­ton, Play/ Pause, Vol­ume Down, and Vol­ume Up. Of course, if you have the mic on, you can con­trol all these func­tions with your voice alone.

There is a mic mute but­ton at the back of the speaker to­wards the base if you want to be able to chat with­out fear of Google hear­ing.

When a voice com­mand is given or when the voice but­ton is pressed, four LEDs light up and flash when the Google As­sis­tant is lis­ten­ing and search­ing for an an­swer. While not as ex­cit­ing as the Google Home’s rain­bow wheel, it’s a more sub­tle ap­proach.

These lights also in­di­cate the vol­ume level which can be changed ei­ther man­u­ally by press­ing but­tons or just ask­ing Google As­sis­tant to turn it down or up.

The Google As­sis­tant will alert you that the mic is off, and the LEDs will glow red.

Over­all, the Polk As­sist is a dis­crete, min­i­mal­ist com­pact speaker that will eas­ily fit into what­ever home en­vi­ron­ment you ex­pe­ri­ence.

Per­for­mance

The Polk Smart As­sist ar­rives ready to plug in and start work­ing.

In or­der to get the full ex­pe­ri­ence, you will need to down­load the Google Home app.

The process takes lit­eral min­utes and you’ll be guided to select which mu­sic providers you’d like to de­fault -if you have a pref­er­ence -- give it an ap­pro­pri­ate name (i.e. Liv­ing Room Speaker) or some­thing more amus­ing (e.g. Sassy Sheila). And get talk­ing.

The mi­cro­phone, in gen­eral, was great at pick­ing up voices from across the room, how­ever, it strug­gled at times if mu­sic was al­ready be­ing played. How­ever, those missed com­mands were few and far be­tween.

The au­dio is crisp and clear at higher vol­ume lev­els and while per­haps not on the same level as higher priced items in the mar­ket, it is bet­ter than its price would sug­gest.

The Polk As­sist has a two-way sys­tem which in­cludes a 3.5-inch mid/bass driver in ad­di­tion to a one-inch tweeter.

It offers warm mids and highs and hearty bass re­sponse.

The au­dio offers good enough clar­ity, re­gard­less of stream­ing ser­vice, of­fer­ing warm mids and highs.

How­ever, this is a small speaker, there­fore you should not ex­pect deep re­sound­ing bass, the au­dio is nar­row and self-con­tained. The bass is there, but this isn’t the type of bass you’ll feel in your chest.

For a more pow­er­ful au­dio ex­pe­ri­ence, you wouldn’t be look­ing at a smart speaker like this Smart As­sist.

The Smart As­sist not only is a solid smart speaker, but it also has Chrome­cast built-in, for wire­less news, mu­sic, and pod­casts. You can cast from com­pat­i­ble apps like Pan­dora, TuneIn, Google Play Mu­sic, and Spo­tify Pre­mium. I pri­mar­ily use ACast and it worked seam­lessly with the Polk As­sist.

It uses ver­sion 4.2 Blue­tooth con­nec­tiv­ity plus Wi-Fi sup­port­ing both 2.4GHz and 5GHz net­works.

Al­though in­te­grated with Google As­sis­tant, like many third-party smart as­sis­tant speak­ers on the mar­ket, the Polk Smart As­sist does not in­clude all of the same func­tion­al­ity of a Google Home. Most no­tably, it can­not make phone calls or send mes­sages.

It’s not a ma­jor set­back, but if that is some­thing you would want in your smart speaker, you might pre­fer to opt for the Google Home or Home Mini. How­ever, it can con­trol de­vices synced with the Google Home app and can be added to speaker groups to cre­ate a multi-room au­dio setup.

Value

At $299, the Polk As­sist is a solid smart speaker sim­i­lar in price and specs to the LG WK7 ThinQ Smart Speaker with Google As­sis­tant ($299).

How­ever, what sets it apart from its com­pe­ti­tion is its neat and mod­est de­sign that is in­no­va­tive, eye­catch­ing, and user-friendly.

It serves as a good up­grade over other Google In­te­grated de­vices, but, if you’re look­ing for a pre­mium Hi-Fi ex­pe­ri­ence, you might con­sider a Google Home Max.

How­ever, at the end of the day what it lacks in smart func­tion­al­ity it makes up for in ex­cel­lent au­dio play­back.

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