Lenovo today announced its first smart speaker, the Home Assistant. Based on Amazon’s Alexa technology, the Home Assistant is sold as an accessory for a Lenovo family of tablets, which differentiates it in an interesting way from other smart speakers.
So let me just get the first wrinkle out of the way. Yes, Lenovo, one of the biggest PC makers in the world, has chosen Amazon’s personal digital assistant technology over Microsoft’s Cortana. And when I first heard about this a week ago, I found that to be somewhat alarming. But since then, Microsoft and Amazon have announced a digital personal assistant partnership, so I’m less concerned by this decision.
But Lenovo’s choice of Alexa isn’t the only interesting twist here. As it turns out, Home Assistant isn’t a standalone smart speaker like all of its competition. Instead, the device is sold as an accessory for the firm’s family-focused Tab 4 tablets, which includes the Tab 4 8, Tab 4 8 Plus, Tab 4 10, and Tab 4 10 Plus.
This has some interesting ramifications.
First, and most obviously, it means that the Home Assistant will always have a screen, unlike most smart speakers. It looks like the tablet docks right to the side of the speaker, so you get a nice heads-up view, and I assume you can view search results, recipe steps, and other information right on the screen while you use the two together.
Second, this makes a Lenovo Tab 4 tablet a bit more valuable too. Equipped together via the Home Assistant Pack, you get a Home Assistant app, a three-watt speaker, and far-field voice detection with two mics added to the speaker for a reasonable cost of just $69.99.
I sort of assume that Lenovo will introduce a standalone smart speaker at some time, too. But by making this a kit that requires a tablet, Lenovo can quell any worries over in Redmond while expanding its own ecosystem of products in a way that will benefit its own customers. Could be a win-win.