Cortana is Microsoft’s voice assistant. She’s been with us longer than Alexa and she’s also everywhere, too. Cortana comes loaded on every one of the 400 million Windows 10 PCs as that blue ring when you search for things in the taskbar. If you own a Windows Phone, you may remember her. Historically, she was ill-equipped to remind you to call people because of the limitations within the operating system.
Cortana has fallen behind in the race for new voice assistants to power every smart speaker, home gadget, and appliance, but Microsoft has partnered with Harman Kardon to create Invoke. The first time I heard Microsoft and Harman named their new speaker Invoke, it reminded me of a reference to professional wrestling. Microsoft provides one more opportunity for the company by reintroducing its voice assistant with Invoke. Microsoft hopes Invoke will provide an opportunity to redeem itself after failing on PCs and smartphones.
General partner, Harman Kardon’s Invoke does evoke memories of the Amazon Echo because it resembles a tube and has blue light at the top. However, the speaker is superior in many ways. The Harman Kardon Invoke is an amalgamation of elegance and convenience. This smart speaker comes with a classy aluminum exterior with hints of designer color in areas such as the camera and Cortana’s lighted touchpad which lights up blue or white when she can hear you, but turns red if something goes wrong. Just tap it to discover Cortana
The metal around the touchpad also rotates, much like with a guitar amp. Turning it to your desired volume changes Cortana’s light too so you know what percentage of its maximum you’ve achieved.
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Superb Sound … and Sonique?
A whole lot of smart speakers cross my desk nowadays, and the Invoke has a rich, balanced sound that beats the majority of them because it has three tweeters for high-pitch treble sounds, three woofers for bass, and two passive radiators (non-powered speaker boxes that also vibrate to help raise the bass). The Invoke sounds much better than most other small, home speakers. And since it can only be networked with one speaker (per my experience), the Sonos has an advantage once you want music in various rooms of your house Still, this speaker produces fantastic sound in 360 degrees. That’s a credit to Harman Kardon’s design.
Beneath the light-up touchpad are seven microphones that work together to pick up your voice. Harman Kardon claims these microphones allow it to hear well, using buzzwords like beamforming and marketing conditions such as Sonique Far-Field Voice Recognition to clarify it. After 8 weeks of use, Cortana hears me better than some Alexa and Google Assistant-enabled speakers. Sometimes I have to yell across the house for her to hear me. Whether or not she listens is another story.
Cortana worked as well as other voice assistants. She had a few witty sayings, could crack some jokes, and was helpful when we asked for the elements. However, she only plays music from Spotify, TuneIn,[and iHeart Radio], but hey, many Alexa speakers don’t have Spotify so at least the Invoke has one popular streaming service With so much Spotify integration, it should come as no surprise that the speaker can be found on sale at Amazon.
Cortana, Stop. Please!
All smart speakers are equally imperfect. No speaker I’ve tried has been able to do what I ask it to always and there’s no way of knowing which one will fail in which scenario. The Harman Kardon Invoke felt like the winner on that day when it had collected 10 songs and wouldn’t turn off despite my commands, but Cortana can For over five minutes, I yelled commands like Hey Cortana, Pause! And Stop, Please! and begged for it to stop.
We tried to turn it off with no success, so we ended up unplugging her. At the time I thought maybe a lightning bolt would hit and break the plug. One of the most worrying things on a smartphone is when it starts talking to you and won t obey. Luckily, Cortana hasn’t helped her overlord status (yet). After one incident where she stopped obeying my commands, she returned to track after being given time-out for not taking enough breaks. That was enough for me personally – I’m
Cortana cannot do much harm, but she lacks skills and is unable to connect with various smart home devices. Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant speakers have improved in these areas; they offer many small skills and the ability to hook up with a variety of home appliances. Cortana can make Skype calls and hook up to some devices, like Nest Thermostats and Philips Hue lamps.
Recently Microsoft made a deal with Amazon to partner and offer their assistants, but each product has its own skills and remains as it was.
The Invoke is Amazon s first voice-enabled speaker to feature Cortana. The $200 smart speaker can do a lot, but right now it only has Alexa.