Polk Assist review

An upgrade on the regular Google Home

Polk Assist
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There's no way you're undercutting the budget Google Home Mini, so most smart speaker makers looking to add Google Assistant to the mix have chosen to go slightly higher end.

So too the nifty Polk Assist, which sits just higher than the original Google Home in price plus a bit bigger in size.

Read this: Google Assistant missing manual

Essentially, this is the sort of speaker we're going to see a lot more of – an Assistant powered speaker that's worth the money for the upgrade in sound. The Polk Assist makes a great kitchen speaker and thanks to Chromecast built-in, it can also be used as part of a larger Google Assistant powered mutli-room audio system. So just what are we dealing with?

Polk Assist: Design and setup

Polk Assist review

Available in Midnight Black and Cool Grey colourways, the Polk Assist will take up more room on your sideboard or kitchen counter than the Google Home; this looks like a 'proper' speaker and it isn't designed to blend in as much. It weighs 1.36kg and its dimensions are 19.05 x 11.94 x 11.94 cm.

Up top, there's a panel with four buttons – Google Assistant/Action, play/pause, and volume controls. In the middle, there's a disappearing display where you'll see four white LED dots when Assistant is activated and up to ten white dots when you adjust the volume up and down. There's also a mute button round the back at the base. No 3.5mm port here.

The top is also slanted downwards which is handier than you'd think for seeing whether the AI assistant is ready to take your voice command. Because unlike on an Amazon Echo, say, there is no light ring that goes around the entire speaker here.

Setting up is as simple as any smart speaker we've used. Just plug it into the mains – this speaker needs power – and then open up the Google Home app on your smartphone. The Polk Assist will appear as a card in the main screen, then just follow the onscreen instructions, give it a name and assign it to a room if you want to. Also handy – that power cable is 3m long so it'll wind behind furniture if you want it to.

Polk Assist: Google Assistant smarts

Polk Assist review

In testing, we found the Polk Assist had no problems picking up our "OK Google" and "Hey Google" wake words, followed by whatever we asked of it.

That said, while it does the basics – music voice controls, smart home voice controls, queries from the web – exactly as a Google Home would do, there are a few features that third-party speakers will be waiting for. One big one, for instance, is that Wi-Fi calling is missing. So if you're plugged into the Google ecosystem and you want the latest features as soon as they're available, you'll need to make sure at least one of your devices is built by Google itself.

Polk Assist review

Google Assistant itself is evolving. It's still quite far behind Alexa in the number of compatible devices and skills/actions, but Google's head start when it comes to software and knowledge is apparent in day to day use, whether that's trivia, calendars or directions. Interestingly, the Polk Command Bar uses Alexa as the voice assistant so we'd be curious to see if Polk will turn the Assist into a multi-assistant smart speaker, like Sonos with the Sonos One.

More importantly, you can also use the Polk Assist as both a Bluetooth speaker and a Chromecast built-in speaker which lets you join up multiple Google speakers, from all different brands, into one connected, multi-room audio system with both app and voice controls. It's pretty cool.

Polk Assist: Sound

Polk Assist review

We said the Polk Assist is a worthwhile upgrade in sound from the only so-so Google Home and it is – Polk says it designed the tweeter, woofer and amplifier specifically for music streaming apps. But that doesn't mean this is the most powerful, room-filling speaker you can get.

It'll certainly fill a small to medium sized room, which is why we recommend it for kitchens and smaller lounges, but any larger and the Polk Assist might struggle. If you're having a party, you'll need to spend more on a larger, louder, beefier speaker like the Google Home Max, JBL Link 500 or even the Apple HomePod.

That said, for this size and price, the Polk Assist is a good bet for a warm and crisp sound with plenty of clarity, all packaged in a non-intimidating design. And – as we did – you can also link it with another compact, bookshelf speaker with Chromecast built in to add more oomph to your music playback.

Polk Assist
The Polk Assist is here to rival the original Google Home – and rival it, it does. If you want to nudge up the audio quality without breaking the bank, this is well worth considering. The Assist will work in multi-room setups, and the only things you're giving up are the very latest features like free Wi-Fi calling. The Polk Assist is compact, reliable and easy to get along with.
  • Impressive sound for price
  • Does multi room
  • Bluetooth too
  • No Google calls
  • Not the loudest
  • No 3.5mm jack

TAGGED    smart speakers    google home

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