My Review of the Harmon Kardon Invoke

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The device itself is really nice to look at. It’s a little bigger than I expected it to be, but seeing as how I’m used to an Amazon Echo Dot, that’s probably not surprising. It has a nice, very slightly tapered look which gives it its own, unique look compared to the cylindrical shape of the Amazon Echo or the slightly sloped look of the Google Home. I think the Invoke looks much nicer than the others.

The power supply is much bigger than I expected although given the power that’s probably needed to drive the six speakers in the Invoke. It has a power brick like you’d expect to find for a laptop. The cable that goes from the power brick to the wall is a little shorter than I’d like, but the part from the brick to the Invoke is more than long enough. Honestly, I feel like the two cable lengths should have been reversed.

The sad part is that as beautiful as the Invoke looks, Cortana falls a little bit short. It can do most of the things I want, but not as easily as I would like. A few examples might help explain what I mean. 

Let’s start with playing music. Out of the box, Cortana works with three services: TuneIn, iHeartRadio and Spotify Premium. (And, yes, it has to be premium; it doesn’t work with a non-paid account.) Weirdly, you have to choose one of the three.

I started by choosing TuneIn. If I said “Hey, Cortana, play music by artist Night Ranger” she got really confused and started playing some random station. My wife said “Hey, Cortana, play Christmas music” and she started a Dutch radio station. It did play Christmas music, but every now and then it’d slip in a song that wasn’t in English. I think TuneIn works best if you know an actual radio station you want to listen to. 

I switched it to iHeartRadio using the Cortana app on my phone. It didn’t seem to take effect right away because when I tried playing a station based on an artist it still didn’t work. When I tried it a few days later and said “Hey, Cortana play artist Styx” she started a station based on Styx. One annoying thing: the first few times I tried creating a station, I got an annoying ad where Cortana replied with something along the lines of “I work better with a Spotify Premium subscription.” It doesn’t do that anymore so I assume it’s something that only happens the first few times you ask her to create a station. The ads in Windows have never bothered me but the pushing of Spotify Premium was annoying on my Invoke.

Two things are obviously missing: Groove integration and Pandora. While Microsoft has killed off Groove Music subscriptions, I wish it would at least recognize my music stored in OneDrive along with my playlists. And Pandora is great if I just want to listen to some music based on my tastes/favorite artists, such as my Night Ranger station (amongst a bunch of others). One thing you can do, though, is use it as a Bluetooth speaker, so you can in a way use Pandora or whatever service you like. Kind of defeats the purpose of a smart speaker, though. I could have easily just bought a Bluetooth speaker. 

The other thing that I use my Echo Dot for is some smart home stuff. I have a SmartThings hub and two light bulbs. I just started my smart home journey a few weeks ago when my wife and I decided it’d be nice to be able to turn on a light for our dog (let’s call him “Rex”) when we are already out, the sun has gone down and we still won’t be home for a while. Seriously, that’s why I looked into it. 

Right now, I have two bulbs in our front room: Rex Light 1 and Rex Light 2. With Alexa, I can create a group in the Alexa app and put both lights into that group (named “front room”), say “Alexa, turn on the front room” and both lights automatically come on. With Cortana, I can’t do that. Instead, I have to turn on each light individually: “Hey Cortana, turn on Rex Light 1. Hey, Cortana, turn on Rex Light 2.” (The strange thing is that in the SmartThings app I can create a group, but even Alexa doesn’t recognize them. I have to create a group in the Alexa app as well. Cortana doesn’t allow me to create groups at all, which is why I have to ask to turn on each light individually.) 

I believe that Brad on an episode of First Ring Daily noted that Cortana is slower than Alexa when it comes to turning on and off lights, and I completely agree. I assume that can be improved and it’s certainly not a deal-breaker. It’s pretty amazing I can control lights with my voice. I’m also going to assume that the groups will be added sometime – if Microsoft doesn’t abandon Cortana or Harman Kardon doesn’t abandon the Invoke. Given Microsoft’s track record in consumer tech, I worry about it, although since Cortana involves the cloud, my guess is Harman Kardon will give up on the Invoke before Microsoft gives up on the cloud.

When it comes to skills, there certainly is a dearth of skills when compared to Alexa. This wasn’t surprising to me but it is worth noting. I also found it weird to integrate with SmartThings. In the Cortana Notebook there’s a “Connected Services” option. I couldn’t find SmartThings there. Then I saw that there was a “Connected Home” option below labeled “Connected Home”. That’s where you connect your SmartThings (or Wink, Insteon, etc.) account. Where would I have put it? Underneath the Skills option in the Notebook. When you select that, though, you get a screen that says “Manage Skills” and all that’s there is a link that says “Learn more about how to start using skills and discover what’s available.” Tapping that takes you to a web page that lists the various skills available. Tap on a skill and it tells you how to use it. In general,discovering and connecting skills just doesn’t seem very well laid out or user friendly. 

In short, while this speaker looks and sounds fantastic, Cortana just falls short. As someone who used Cortana on his Windows Phone (R.I.P) and loved it, it’s disappointing. The Echo seems to be a little easier to use, especially for non-technical people. I’m not disappointed in my overall purchase because I knew what I was getting. I’d have a hard time recommending it to most people, though. 

Comments (19)

19 responses to “My Review of the Harmon Kardon Invoke”

  1. Avatar

    seapea

    as you did, i found iHeartRadio worked much better for me than tuneIn and i'm disappointed Pandora+ is not available.

    The cord from the brick is about 3.5ft , the brick is long but thin and light. kind of strange shape actually, 4"L, 1.25"W,2"H


    (and why can't i give the post an up vote?)

  2. Avatar

    jimchamplin

    There's a lot of circumstantial evidence that the Invoke is running bog-standard Windows 10 IoT Core configured to boot straight to Cortana, with drivers for the custom display and audio hardware. Anybody been digging deeper?

    • Avatar

      snow.steve22

      In reply to jimchamplin:

      Jim,


      I thought after the time of the announcement there were indications that it was running some flavor of Linux at heart. Seemed to indicate that they chose Linux to escape MS's insistence that if it ran Windows (any flavor?) it would need a display included.


      I'm not sure Windows 10 IoT would have worked for this but it would be my choice since Cortana is already baked in and didn't need to be re-invented to run on Linux, though co-operation from MS would probably mitigate this since they would have a leg-up getting to see the source code to Cortana on Android...

    • Avatar

      Dan

      In reply to jimchamplin:None of what you wrote displaces the problem that Cortana and Microsoft’s consumers products are always multiple generations behind of the market leaders. Microsoft has momentum in the enterprise but consumers dont purchase their consumer products. Xbox is last in sales and has never been a profit center, music has fallen on deaf ears, the phone is a has been. Its time for them to cut their losses and sell or get rid of all the consumer businesses and focus on the enterprise and that’s it.

      The MS fanboys (I really can’t believe there are many at this point with all the MS layoff’s going on right now in Windows and the Xbox Division) may not like it but life goes on and its called progress. Windows isn’’t the dominant OS anymore and lost its lustre, no one likes to use Windows, they just tolerate it at work and use iOS or Anroid at home now.
      • Avatar

        jbinaz

        In reply to Dan:

        I disagree that "no one likes to use Windows". I enjoy using Windows. I also enjoy using Android. I tolerate MacOS - I can't decide if it's because I'm so ingrained in Windows and don't like to change my workflow.


        And Windows is still the dominant OS for desktop computing but it is also becoming a legacy product.

  3. Avatar

    Brad Sams

    Thanks for sharing this, appreciated.

  4. Avatar

    seapea

    want to add a couple of things:

    i got better sound from the Invoke's Cortona after powering down the Invoke and starting it again 15 minutes later.


    hopefully it won't do this 3AM , the Invoke will pro-actively let me know that the wireless and/or internet connection has been lost. Not by looking different but by saying so.


    it is very good at setting alarms. I do not have to tell it AM or PM .


    my Cortona's "notebook" interface with Invoke has , unfortunately, gone downhill.



  5. Avatar

    graple

    I purchased the Cortana Invoke the day it came out and have not regretted it a day since. I use it everyday. I use the free version of TuneIn and it works fine for me. I downloaded the TuneIn app from the Microsoft Store, set the app up, and chose the stations, sports, news, podcasts, etc. I like and Cortana plays them very well. I also have it connected to my Fitbit and it works great.

    I just got into the Smart Home front in the past couple of weeks. I have the Phillips Hue Lighting system and it was so easy to set up using the Phillips Hue app from my Android Phone with the Invoke, and it works perfectly. I have 5 lights connected and I am thrilled with its operation. I find no delay when the lights come on or off after command.

    I also love the integration with my email and calendar, reminders, alarms, timers, etc. Cortana was surprisingly more conversational than I thought she would be, and she really has a good sense of humor, lol. You just have to be very specific with the commands you give her to get the results you want. Example: "Hey Cortana, ask Fitbit how many steps I took today." or "Hey Cortana, ask TuneIn to play 101.5". Plus she can hear me from any room in my home. I come home from being away and say "Hey Cortana, I'm home" and I am amazed at her responses. It is almost like talking to a human, lol. I have really enjoyed the device.


    I just wish she was more tightly integrated with the Groove Music or from OneDrive regarding playing music. Looking forward to additions with her skill set, and I hope MSFT will continue with her development. The speaker is awesome with deep, resonating, clear and crisp sound. I would highly recommend purchasing one.

  6. Avatar

    ponsaelius

    Seems very version 1.0 whereas Amazon and Google have had a year or so head start.

  7. Avatar

    jrswarr

    I have a premium subscription to Spotify - and find that the Invoke works very well with it. It is worth making Spotify the default music app. With the newest version of Spotify you can connect to the invoke and control the app from your phone or Windows 10 tablet or pc. I bought a second Invoke for my office and as I walk around the house I can switch between my office and kitchen.


    So now If a say "Hey Cortana play some blues." she responds with "Playing blues on Spotify." and builds a blues list based on my preferences. Works well...


    If I say "Hey Cortana play the sports hub" she responds with "Playing 98.5 The Sports Hub on TuneIn" (Of course this will vary depending on where you live.) You can also use either the stations call sign or frequency - saying "Play WBUR" or "Play 90 point 9" has the same effect.


    I have no interest in the home automation stuff.


    Curiously , my second Invoke came with a totally different power brick than the first. The first brick is as described in this post - the newest is a brick with a flip down AC plug on the brick - and what I think is a too short power cable for the Invoke.


    Still all in all - I am happy with the Invoke.

  8. Avatar

    SilentHero117

    I have had great experiences with Cortana and Spotify Premium. They seemed to be made for each other, much more so than with Alexa. To be fair, Alexa works amazingly well with Amazon Music especially displaying lyrics on the Echo Show. I share the same experiences with the lights being a tad slow for Cortana and I hope that this gets improved over time. There is potential (this is way overused) with Cortana on the Invoke, but I have to say that the lack of an update, no matter how incremental, from either Microsoft or Harman Kardon is not inspiring confidence in this product or Cortana given the history of Microsoft's recent failures with consumer products. This should have been planned to demonstrate some form of commitment especially this time of year. Promising something is one thing and we all know how that works: "It's coming soon.....very soon.....real soon.....any minute!"


    Has anyone notice that there was a image showing the Invoke and another product with a screen during the Cortana setup process with the Invoke? If there will be a Cortana-based product with a screen, that would make it much more attractive for me because of Skype and other things that I've grown to appreciate with the Echo Show.

  9. Avatar

    seapea

    2 weeks later and the internet hasn't melted down.

    Anyway, I've been using for almost 2 months now. While I am very disappointed that the Amazon integration has not happened, the Invoke is now my go-to device for general music listening. I still use Alexa for Pandora as the Invoke does not have it. The Invoke music quality is very good and the 360 degrees of sound does actually work.


    As for other things, well there really is not much else. The Cortana software interface is, imho, awful. On the other hand, I do like how well the Invoke integrates with Cortana when it comes to handling reminders and scheduling events. I also like how it does not seem to be an "all knowing" Cortana device. I'd rather not have a device that is an omnipotent butler valet.


    If I had paid $200 for this , I would not be happy. But at $100 , I'm still willing to give the Amazon integration time to come through. If it turns out that the integration does not happen, I'm not sure what my attitude towards the device would be. If HK keeps the device running, I'd probably would keep my Invoke running and perhaps move an Echo to my car.


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