With Amazon Echo, Apple HomePod, and Google Home stealing a lot of attention, Microsoft had been left alone without its own smart assistant enabled speaker to support Cortana. It thus made a lot of sense for Microsoft to partner with an established speaker brand, Harmon Kardon to support Cortana. The Harman Kardon Invoke is the first Cortana enabled speaker and is being heavily discounted for the 2017 holiday shopping season.
Samsung owns Harmon International which owns the Harmon Kardon brand, so technically this is Samsung's also first smart assistant enabled speaker which ironically doesn't support Samsung Bixby. However, Samsung has announced the Bixby Speaker also built by Harmon which like the Apple HomePod, will miss the 2017 season.
While Cortana comes in all Windows PC's and tablets, it still needs to be installed on your Android phone or iPhone to be used in your home. The Harman Kardon Invoke helps get Cortana into the home to act as a audio speaker and personal assistant without needing a PC or phone.
We purchased the Harman Kardon Invoke at the Microsoft Store at the Westfield Valley Fair Mall in Santa Clara, California. It was interesting that Microsoft was promoting its Microsoft Launcher App next to the Harman Kardon Invoke although there was no obvious connection between the two.
Oddly, in Dec 2017, Microsoft still displays 6 months of free Skype calling but there is also fine print that this needs to be activated in Sept 1, 2018 to qualify.
One of the main ways Harman Kardon Invoke tries to differentiate in a crowded market is style and design which starts with the packaging.
The Harman Kardon Invoke itself has curves and a smart use of LED to create an effect at the top of the speaker that makes it look like the round Cortana symbol. The top of the speaker also acts as a capacitive touch sensor where if you touch it, the Harman Kardon Invoke will talk to you about random fun facts. The top also acts as a dial which you can rotate to adjust the volume.
The Harman Kardon Invoke comes with a 38 watts (19 volts @ 2 amps) AC adapter and documentation.
The AC power connects to the very bottom of the Harman Kardon Invoke next to a USB micro-B service port.
The bottom of the Harman Kardon Invoke has buttons to mute the microphone and Bluetooth pairing button.
The Harman Kardon Invoke looks good enough to be placed anywhere in your home although you need to have access to an AC power outlet. The Harman Kardon Invoke has seven far field microphones that are sensitive enough to detect and understand your voice across a noisy room at home.
The Harman Kardon Invoke has 40 watts of output and a frequency response of 60-20kHz (-6dB), using three direct radiating woofers, three direct radiating tweeters, and two passive radiators for 360 degrees sound. While the Harman Kardon Invoke sounds great, Microsoft doesn't have its own music services unlike Amazon, Apple, or Google, and Microsoft needs to rely on third party providers like iHeartRadio, Spotify, and TuneIn.
Cortana is also late in developing a home automation and third party service ecosystem compared to Amazon and Apple but as of late 2017 did support Wink, Insteon, Nest, Samsung SmartThings, and Philips Hue.
One of the unique selling points of the Harman Kardon Invoke is the ability to use Skype (also owned by Microsoft) to make calls. Unfortunately, we found Skype to be difficult to use on the Harman Kardon Invoke given that you can't control what Skype names users choose which are often difficult for Cortana to recognize. Both the Skype and Cortana App make it hard to connect with important contacts who use landlines or mobile phones.
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