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- Review Price: £179
- Google Assistant built in
- Chromecast built in
- Far-field microphones built in
- Multiroom playback
Polk Assist: An opening look at Polk’s answer to the Google Home
The Polk Assist smart speaker represents the company’s latest attempt to break into the growing market for voice assistants with artificial intelligence (AI), hands-free control and multiroom capabilities.
Polk has already made its first foray into this arena in the shape of the Polk Command Bar, a soundbar with built-in Amazon Alexa, but the company has taken an agnostic approach to smart assistants.
To that end it has also developed the Assist, a two-way speaker with built-in Google Assistant. Polk hopes to leverage off their audio experience, and build a speaker that offers the same benefits but superior sound quality when compared to Google’s own Google Home smart speaker.
Polk Assist – Price
The Polk Assist has a suggested price of £179.
Polk Assist – Release date
The Polk Assist will be available in July 2018.
Polk Assist – Design
The Polk Assist is a small bookshelf speaker that’s specifically designed for use in kitchens, bedrooms and family rooms. The Assist comes in a choice of Midnight Black or Cool Grey, and has a wrap-around grille. One of the most popular places for a smart speaker is the kitchen, so the grille is made from a stain-resistant fabric. Should it become dirty, the grille can be removed and washed, or even replaced entirely.
Polk considers sound quality to be an important aspect of this speaker, but despite appearances, it isn’t omni-directional. Instead, it uses a two-way design. There’s a 1-inch (25mm) tweeter and a 3.5-inch (89mm) woofer, which are driven by a built-in amplifier that can deliver 40W continuously and a peak of 80W. Polk claims the Assist can deliver room-filling sound that’s better than Google’s own Home smart speaker.
The top of the speaker is angled to ensure that the built-in far-field microphones can pick up your vocal instructions when on a table or kitchen surface.
Although the Assist is primarily designed for hands-free operation, there are four controls on the top: the Google button, play/pause and volume up and down. There are also indicator LEDs on the top panel to show when Google Assistant is doing something. Setup is simple thanks to the free Google Home app, which is available for iOS and Android.
Polk Assist – Specs
- Wi-Fi 2.4GHz and 5GHz
- Bluetooth 4.1
- 1 x 1-inch (25mm) tweeter
- 1 x 3.5-inch (89mm) woofer
- 120mm x 191mm x 120mm (WHD)
What’s in the box
- 1 x Polk Assist speaker
- 1 x power adapter with 10-inch (3m) cord
- 1 x quick-start guide
- External 22V/1.8A (40W)
- 80W (40W continuous)
- 45Hz to 20kHz
- 2 years
Polk Assist – First impressions
The main selling point of the Polk Assist is the inclusion of Google Assistant, which means you can use voice commands to play music from internet streaming services such as Google Play Music, Spotify and TuneIn. You can also use the AI assistant to answer questions, arrange meetings, set timers or alarms, and order goods online.
Since the Assist supports Nest and Philips Hue products, you can also control your entire smart home using voice commands. The smart speaker can form part of an integrated control system, offering vocal feedback combined with a voice user interface.
The Polk Assist has Google Chromecast built in, so you can even create a entire voice-controlled multiroom music system, in conjunction with other Chromecast-enabled speakers such as the Polk Magnifi soundbar.
These are all great features, but the success of the Polk Assist will largely depend on its sound quality. Polk feels its audio expertise provides it with an opportunity to deliver a superior level of sound quality when compared to competing smart speakers such as the Google Home and Amazon Echo.
So it was slightly disappointing that in my time with the Assist that it didn’t get a chance to shine. This was primarily due to the circumstances of the hands-on, with the speaker high up on a small shelf. As a result, the far-field microphones were at the wrong height to effectively hear my voice commands. This was clearly due to my limited stature, because a taller journalist had more luck.
The Assist is designed to be positioned at a lower height, on a table or kitchen surface, and at that level the commands will be aimed directly at the top of the speaker, ensuring the microphones can pick up your voice. However, the good news is that when it could hear the commands, the speaker and specifically Google Assistant worked very well.
Another problem with the demo was that the small shelf on which the Assist was sitting offered limited support, and there was no solid wall behind the speaker. The resulting lack of any boundary gain limited the bass response of this small speaker, and as a result there was little low-end presence.
Once again, I suspect that when positioned properly on a solid surface with solid walls behind the Assist, it would be capable of a better performance.
As it was, the Assist delivered a sound that retained a degree of clarity and detail, but lacked depth in terms of the bass performance. There was a reasonable sense of mid-range and the higher frequencies seemed well represented, but overall the sound was rather underwhelming. It was also struggling to sound room-filling in what was a fairly large space – but as I’ve already mentioned, this speaker was designed for smaller rooms.
On the plus side, the Assist felt solid and very well made in my hands, and the finish was excellent. There was an impressive attention to detail, and Polk has certainly delivered some superb speakers in the past.
This leads me to believe that the Polk Assist will sound very different when setup correctly and used in the conditions for which it was actually designed. We’ll find out, once we actually get in a sample for review.