First impressions of the Harman Kardon Invoke

Microsoft will start selling the first-ever Cortana powered smart speaker, the Harman Kardon Invoke, this Sunday. Ahead of the release, Harman Kardon sent us a review unit of the Invoke, which I received just about 2 hours ago. Here are some very early first impressions.

Harman Kardon Invoke comes in a premium packaging where you find the speaker, some manuals, and the charger. The box is quite big as it houses the speaker itself, and you will be welcomed with a guide that will walk you through the setup process. You will need to plug in the device and Cortana will start up a few seconds later. From there, setting up the speaker and connecting it to your Windows 10 device, or Android/iOS smartphone is very easy. It only took me less than a minute to setup Cortana via the Cortana Device Setup in Windows 10, and the setup experience was seamless.

Invoke’s size compared to a Coca-Cola can

Once the Invoke is setup and connected, you can say “Hey Cortana” to start interacting with the speaker. All the commands that are available on Cortana in other devices are available on the Invoke. So basic things like “what’s the weather” and “set a reminder” will work without any problem. Invoke does have some unique feature, however.

For one, you can use the speaker to make audio calls via Skype and you can also listen to music via Spotify, iHeartRadio, or TuneIn. I am a Spotify Premium subscriber and I have to say, the Spotify implementation here is very neat. You can say things like “play Arctic Monkeys” to listen to music from a specific artist, or you can say things like “play my discover weekly” or “play my release radar” to listen to your personalized playlists on Spotify. Invoke also works with Spotify Connect, which means it will show up as a device when you open up the Spotify app on your PC or phone — from there, you can play any song you want or control the playback using your phone. And when you change the volume of the music, the built-in top display of the Invoke will also display the volume changing in real-time which is a very nice touch.

In terms of the audio quality, you are getting premium sound quality here. The speaker is built by Harman Kardon, so the premium audio quality shouldn’t be a surprise. The company has built in three 1.75-inch woofers into the device, along with 7 microphones and three 0.5-inch tweets into the device which enables the premium experience. Cortana is able to hear you through all sorts of background noise, when you are on a Skype call, or when you are listening to music — all thanks to Harman Kardon’s Sonique technology.

The display on the top of the Invoke is also pretty cool. You can tap it to get a random fact, or to stop the ongoing task. There’s a dial on the top of the speaker which you can twist to control its volume, but that can also be done using a voice command via Cortana. I do have a little problem with the Invoke — when you activate it using the “Hey Cortana” voice command, there’s no feedback that tells you whether Cortana actually started listening to you. When Cortana is activated, the top display lights up with the Cortana animation, and you will have to look at it to find out if Cortana has started listening to you. It’s a bit annoying.

Just like most other virtual assistants, if you have the hotword for Cortana enabled on other devices, Cortana will start listening on all of your devices when you say the “Hey Cortana” hotword. In my case, whenever I activated the virtual assistant, it started listening to me on the Invoke as well as my Windows 10 PC. The only way of working around this issue is to disable Hey Cortana on your PC, but I do wish there was an option that would disable Hey Cortana on my PC when I’m close to an Invoke.

I am still very impressed by the high-quality experience of the Invoke. Right from the unboxing to the setup experience, everything was seamless. The sound quality of the speaker is awesome as well, and Cortana doesn’t have any problem listening to your commands regardless of whether you are listening to music at the highest volume. I will be testing out the Invoke over the next week, and I’ll be back with a more detailed review of the device later this month. For now, here are some more pictures of the Invoke:

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