When you look at smart speakers, the primary use for most users seem to be streaming music. There’s no shortage of options that deliver excellent sound quality, but some of them are big, bulky, and expensive. Polk Audio is a renowned audio brand, and the company has recently debuted its first Assistant speaker, and it delivers a whole lot for its small size and affordable price…
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SOUND QUALITY |
The biggest selling point of the Polk Assist by far is its audio quality, so let’s start off by talking about that. Put simply, it’s absolutely fantastic. Polk is well-known for putting out products with killer audio quality, and this smart speaker is no exception.
Polk has designed this speaker with a 3.5-inch mid/woofer at the core, and a 1-inch tweeter up above. Together, this setup produces some great sound, especially considering the footprint. For obvious reasons, you shouldn’t expect this to beat out something like the Home Max or HomePod, but it’s definitely the best smart speaker I’ve heard at this size. I wouldn’t go as far as to say this is well ahead of competing options at this general size, but there’s a clear difference to my ears.
Given the size, the best comparison is to the standard, original Google Home. While Google’s option has stronger bass, Polk Assist has cleaner quality, bass that doesn’t overpower the mids and highs, and it’s also notably louder at its highest volumes. Regardless of the genre, you’ll find yourself enjoying the audio from this speaker for sure.
My sole complaint when it comes to the audio is that it’s very directional. You’ll definitely be able to hear this speaker anywhere in a large room, but if you’re not on the same side as the actual drivers, there’s a notable drop off in volume and quality.
GOOGLE ASSISTANT |
Outside of the sound quality, Assistant is the biggest selling point here. Polk has already brought a unique Alexa-enabled soundbar to the market, but the Assist is its first proper smart speaker, and it opted for Google Assistant.
As usual with Assistant integration, you’re getting just about everything from a typical Google Home. You can ask questions, assign tasks such as timers, set reminders, and more. The Assist even supports recently added features such as Continued Conversation. That, of course, includes integration with popular music services such as Spotify, YouTube Music, Pandora, and more. These all work brilliantly on the device as well.
However, like most other third-party Assistant speakers, there are some limitations. Most notably, this includes the lack of support for calling which is a real shame.
Finally, there are the microphones. This is a key part of any smart speaker, and some certainly fall short. Luckily, the Polk Assist isn’t one of them. This speaker picks up my voice just about every time, with a success rate pretty close to the standard Google Home or Home Max in my experience. The one note I do have, though, is that you’ll need to keep the top of the device clean to avoid the mics being blocked by dust build-up.
As for performance while music is playing, though, things are a bit more hit or miss. Sometimes the speaker picks up “Hey Google” commands without skipping a beat, but other times the beat blocks it from hearing you at all. It’s a common problem with these speakers, and really only the Home Max has seemed to figure it out.
Polk has a very signature design language, and it’s here on the Assist as well. The majority of the speaker is covered in a fabric material which, on my unit, comes in a subtle grey color. That’s accented by black plastic portions on the top and bottom. It’s a good look overall, but it definitely doesn’t stand out or demand attention (not that that’s a bad thing).
Build quality is great here as well. The materials don’t feel cheap by any means, and the device has a notable heft that you don’t find on Google Home.
Up top, the Polk Assist also has a selection of physical buttons. These include a play/pause button, Assistant button, and volume controls. In the center of these buttons, there’s a smaller cluster of LEDs which indicate when the device is listening, as well as volume. There’s also a mute switch on the back side of the device, just like on the standard Google Home.
One annoying little tidbit I’ve got to mention, though, is the size of the power brick. It’s unnecessarily massive if you ask me, meaning you can’t plug it into a power strip easily or even a wall outlet.
FINAL THOUGHTS & WHERE TO BUY |
Smart speakers are becoming more and more prevalent, and options are becoming available for everyone to fit their exact needs. In the case of the Polk Assist, I think the best use case here is someone who wants the same form factor as the standard Google Home, but simply wants improved audio without forking over $399 for a Home Max. For $199, it’s a really good option for that.