While early examples like Amazonâs original Echo prioritised smart features over audio performance, balance is being brought to the galaxy with the Apple HomePod, Sonos One, Ultimate Ears Megablast and more.
Panasonic wants in on the action and is finally releasing its Google Assistant-powered GA10, first touted in autumn last year, labelling it a âSmart speaker meets Hi-Fiâ with room-filling sound and rich bass.
Confusingly, could it be Pana have overstated the audio prowess and underplayed its smart characteristics? Read our review to discover why the chicken or the egg argument may not have been settled quite yet.
Panasonic GA10: Design
The GA10 is a vertical-standing cuboid and manages to look different to nearly every other smart speaker without being particularly striking.
Standing 11 inches (28cm) tall overall, the bottom third is a brushed aluminium base housing its power and 3.5mm auxiliary inputs. The other two thirds make up the main speaker, wrapped in a fine fabric mesh.
On top are touch sensitive controls with embossed symbols for everything from volume to source selection. Selected modes are denoted by white LEDs and an ever-increasing strip of light when engaging with Google Assistant.
Itâs a remarkably lightweight speaker at just 1.7kg, compared to the heavier Google Home, Sonos One and Apple HomePod. Unfortunately, this is tempered by the sort of AC power adaptor found on the end of a laptop.
The GA10 is available in black or white finishes. It feels undoubtedly premium and understated enough to suit any room and most interiors.
Panasonic GA10: Features
Aside from the stylish design, Panasonic plugs three key features at the heart of the GA10 Ââ high quality expansive sound, built-in Google Assistant and a newly designed Panasonic Music Control app.
Weâll focus on sound quality further down, but there is no shortage of streaming sources to pick from through the Google Home app.
Choose from Spotify, TuneIn, Deezer and Google Play Music, plus a host of podcast, news, playlist and radio options. For example, the GA10 made light work of cueing up BBC 6 Music, something the HomePod canât handle.
Chromecast multi-room and Bluetooth are also built-in and everything is Android and iOS compatible. The GA10 is a comprehensive streaming nerve centre.
Panasonicâs implementation of Google Assistant is the unlikely star of the show. Next to a sluggish Siri it handled requests with Sonic-like speed and no misunderstanding.
Dual microphones, similar to the Google Home speaker, do a decent job at close quarters but the struggle becomes slightly real over greater distances and volumes.
Alongside the Google Home app is Panasonic Music Control. Here you can play music stored on other devices, find firmware updates, mess around with the EQ and toggle other options, such as a D.Bass feature for more depth.
Panasonic GA10: Smarts
Googleâs 1,500 or so compatible smart devices canât compete with the 4,000-plus playing nicely with Amazonâs Alexa, but that doesnât leave the GA10 short of options.
Devices from Hue, Nest, Wemo, Tp-Link, IFTTT and Lightwave are all supported and after a scout around the house, a Canary Flex camera and LIFX lights were added with minimum fuss.
If youâre someone who has been limping along with Siri, voice operating my security camera alone felt like an exciting new world had opened.
The GA10 works like any other Google Assistant speaker, including the Google Home, when dealing with devices and general voice requests, and thatâs good news.
Essential reading: Essential Google Assistant commands
While Alexa admittedly has a greater âskillsâ set, enabling âactionsâ with Assistant simply feels more natural, for example when ordering an Uber or making a restaurant reservation with OpenTable.
Google Assistant also comes into its own when searching for information (not a surprise really). For a simple request like asking for âlast nightâs NBA scoresâ, itâs virtually instantaneous every time compared to its other AI rivals.
Other than having the might of an all-encompassing search engine behind it, you also benefit from the synchronicity of its other services, like getting directions on Google Maps for that restaurant youâve just booked.
Then thereâs the bit you never tell your pals about when youâre desperately lonely and bored â asking Assistant to tell you a joke, read a story or play a quiz. Okay, so this is handy when youâre with friends and family too.
Panasonic GA10: Sound
Given sound is something the GA10 hangs its hat on, letâs get under its skin. The 40-watt speaker carries two 2cm soft dome tweeters and a specifically designed silk diaphragm.
Both tweeters are front-facing, which puts the GA10 in the bracket of a speaker you want backing into a corner or onto a wall rather than on say a kitchen island centrepiece.
An 8cm dual voice coil woofer deals with signals from the right and left channel amps separately. Panasonic says this offers powerful and robust bass, along with a reflex port at the back for further low-end refinement.
This all links back to the D.Base setting on the Music Control app that aims to add depth to any track. You can also pair two speakers for stereo sound.
Fresh from the box the GA10 wasnât in the same stratosphere for sound quality compared with the superior Sonos One or Apple HomePod. Things improved over the time we spent with the device, after the speaker started to break in properly, but flaws remained.
Ploughing through some lossless audio of Bjork, Chemical Brothers, BeyoncĂ© and Run The Jewels, mids and highs were punchy and crisp, but things became muddied at volumes its rivals would lap up.
For all its âbass in your faceâ posturing, the GA10 didnât quite deliver here either and finding a Goldilocks-level of glowing low-end took plenty of grappling.
At this price point and the fact itâs being sold on its Hi-Fi credentials I expected more.
Panasonic GA10: Rivals
At ÂŁ230 the GA10 sits somewhere between the more expensive Apple HomePod and the marginally cheaper Sonos One, Ultimate Ears Megablast and Sony LS-F50G.
As music-driven smart speakers that quartet should be considered the GA10âs true competition, but for ÂŁ100 less the Google Home offers much the same smart functionality and voice operation options.
- Quality build and materials
- Swathe of connectivity
- Google Assistant works wonderfully
- Sound doesnât quite deliver
- Cheaper rivals offer better value
- Design too understated for some