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Harman Kardon Invoke Intelligent Speaker with Cortana
Review by Ernest Lilley
Harmon Kardon  ISBN/ITEM#: HK-Invoke
Date: 01 November 2017

Links: Harmon Kardon Invoke Press Release / Invoke Home Page / Show Official Info /

Microsoft has now joined the ranks of Amazon Echo and Google Home with the Harmon Kardon Invoke, which responds to "Hey Cortana." Or maybe just "Cortana. So, you probably shouldn’t play Halo around it. It sounds great, as a Harmon Kardon speaker should, and may just give the other brands some competition.

The unit was announced at the beginning of October, but it’s now November and units are available (see link above) in either silver or black for $199.95, or as we like to say, two hundred bucks.

We went down to the Microsoft store and played with a unit for a bit and came away generally impressed with the quality of the sound and the units good looks. That’s all on Harmon Kardon, and they should know how to make a decent speaker, so no surprise there. The AI portion is all Cortana, and unfortunately, she’s not the brightest bulb in the AI world, though she can do the basics, like tell you what’s on your (Microsoft) calendar and come up with a joke or two.

Like other units, we’re assured it’s only listening for it’s startup phrase, which appears to be “Hey, Cortana,” but the “Hey” is probably optional. If even that freaks you out though, you can select an option to turn off all listening and tap the device on top of its head to get its attention. Or, just go in the other room.

It works well with Skype, Microsoft’s communications platform, and in our demo provided impressively clear conference calling. The unit has seven microphones arrayed for 360 degree listening and “HARMAN’s beam forming, echo cancellation, and noise reduction algorithms to ensure Cortana can hear you clearly, even in challenging environments.” Seems to work well, even in the middle of a crowded mall.

Cortana was happy to turn on Spotify, or rather to direct its output to the Invoke, and the sound was perfectly satisfying. The unit must be plugged in to an AC Adapter, so it’s not as portable as it looks, but maybe someone will make a battery to take care of that.

The Invoke doesn't run as a standalone unit, but needs to be paired to a smartphone or computer, and although Google and Amazon have added the ability to recognize seperate users, the Invoke is locked into whatever Microsoft Account the device it's paird to is running. That's OK if you live alone and don't have a parrot, but otherwise it's a nuciance, since you can't access anyone's calendar and other accounts without logging out and in again.

The device works with many smart home services, but not all, so check to see if yours is in the pack or coming soon. The strength of the device is in the excellent sound quality and tight integration with Microsoft apps, but at a price nearly three times that of an Echo, that had better really impress you. 

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