Tech writer Hadyn Green trials two Alexa-enabled devices - the Harman Kardon Allure and Amazon Echo Show - and finds both come with issues.
I love having Amazon’s Alexa in my home. I just say “Alexa play me music from the 90s” or ask for a favourite playlist and away we go. However, because my Alexa devices are so small, the sound they make can lack the “oomph” I’m after.
Harman Kardon (HK) and Amazon have solved this problem by launching bigger Alexa-enabled devices that offer decent audio quality – but, annoyingly, they both come with their own issues.
Alexa is a virtual assistant, in the same vein as Siri and Google Assistant. While there is an Alexa app for your phone, it’s mostly found in other devices, like Amazon’s range of Echo speakers, and in a few smart TVs. You ask Alexa questions or give it commands and it responds, usually by speaking back to you (you can select various accents). Ask it for the weather forecast and it’ll tell you; link it to your calendar and it’ll inform you of upcoming appointments; or use it to call your friend’s device.
I use my Alexa devices to control my internet-connected devices, give me news updates, and most importantly, play music.
The Allure ($429) is a semi-cone-shaped speaker. It has a smooth design that will fit most people’s décor (or at least be easily hidden).
The top is translucent and lights up. At first I thought this would create cool effects and change colours like other speakers I’ve reviewed. This wasn’t the case, it just glowed a soft blue when active, or white when receiving instructions.
The sound quality was much better than my regular smart speaker, the music was crisp and clear and able to play at high volumes without distortion. The only downside was the bass was bit too powerful and rattled the shelf I kept it on. Handily, Alexa is smart enough that you can ask it to turn the bass (or treble) up and down.
I also didn’t have to speak as loud to the Allure as I did my other devices. This is due to a 4-microphone array with built-in noise cancelling, which means the audio it collects is clearer.
My main problem with the Allure was that it didn’t play nice with my other Alexa devices. While it showed up in the app, I couldn’t combine it with the other speakers to create a group. Groups are used so you can say “Alexa play music on [group name]” and have music come out of only those speakers. It’s a quick way to fill your home with song, but if you can’t add your biggest speaker then that’s a problem.
I had a bit more luck with the Amazon Echo Show ($400).
The Echo Show is not only a bigger and better speaker than its Echo siblings, it also includes a touchscreen. The screen allows for visual feedback as well as audio, so when you play music, it displays the album art, song title and artist.
It also makes other functions more interesting. On other Alexa devices, news updates come in the form of radio-style snippets. The Echo Show can give you video news clips from TVNZ and other news sources which you add through Alexa skills. What it can’t do is YouTube, which is a major downside.
When not in use, the screen cycles through images (you can upload your own if you want) and displays your upcoming calendar appointments and the weather.
What I found most annoying was the lack of functionality with the Echo Show, despite the promise. The screen sometimes shows suggested instructions such as “Alexa, show me vegetarian recipes”, but trying this gave only an error message: “Sorry I can’t do that”.
The Echo Show feels redundant in rooms where you have other screens, so I kept mine in the kitchen. This is helpful when you need to ask for weight conversions.
Overall, the Echo Show is slightly better than the Allure, but they serve different purposes. I wouldn’t want the Echo Show in my living room, where I already have a lot of screens; I just want a good speaker there, so that’s the perfect place for the Allure. Both products deliver undeniably better sound than other smart devices and are excellent ways to smarten up your home.
These speakers were loaned to the writer by Harman Kardon and Amazon.