Though Amazon Echo and Google Home are two of the most popular smart speakers on the market, other premium speakers that offer superb audio quality such as the Apple Home Pod, Google Home Max and Alexa-enabled Sonos One have been on the rise this year.
On Tuesday, Bose added its top-tier Alexa-enabled Home Speaker 500 to the list. Then high-end audio company Harman Kardon followed suit with the equally terribly named Citation 500, which uses Google Assistant.
But things are just getting warmed up. Thursday Netgear, the company behind the popular Orbi mesh Wi-Fi system, partnered with Harman Kardon to create the Orbi Voice. It's a premium smart speaker with full Alexa support. It also works as a satellite station to extend your home Wi-Fi -- something no other smart speaker does.
There's a catch though: To use this Orbi Voice, you need the Orbi Wi-Fi mesh router. If you already use an Orbi system in your home, this speaker will work fine. But if you don't, Orbi offers a kit that includes the speaker and the Wi-Fi router. This kit should appeal to people looking to both upgrade their home Wi-Fi to a mesh network and add a premium smart Alexa-enabled speaker. The kit costs $430 or £430 (which converts to AU$585) while the speaker alone costs $300 or £280.
With Alexa, the Orbi Voice can stream music from Spotify, Amazon Music and Pandora, as well as play podcasts, set timers, control smart devices, play games (like the Alexa Westworld game) and pretty much do anything else that can be done with an Amazon Echo.
With four microphones onboard, you can use voice commands to control the Orbi Voice, and if that doesn't suffice, there's a slick light-up touch interface for controlling volume. It's clever how the ring of light around the top of the Orbi Voice mimics the light on an Amazon Echo while also changing colors like an Orbi Wi-Fi satellite station.
Clad in gray fabric and small enough to sit on a bookshelf or side table, the Orbi Voice has a tailored, sophisticated look. It's slightly shorter than the Amazon Echo Plus and has a curved oblong design that's similar to the shape of an Orbi Wi-Fi mesh router.
On the back are a DC power port and two gigabit ethernet ports for connecting wired devices. It's this last feature that really sets apart the Orbi Voice from other smart speakers. With this setup, you can plug devices like a PlayStation 4 or an Apple TV 4K to share an internet connection with, all while extending your home Wi-Fi network's reach.
Like the Orbi mesh Wi-Fi system, the Orbi Voice has a dedicated 5Ghz channel solely for communicating with an Orbi router. This means you won't have to use up available internet bandwidth for the satellite mesh units to negotiate connections with the router. It's worth noting that when the Orbi mesh Wi-Fi system first launched in 2016, it was one of the fastest mesh Wi-Fi systems CNET tested and reviewed. It will be interesting to see how the speaker does in the same tests.
The Orbi Voice speaker has a 3.5-inch front-facing woofer and a 1-inch tweeter. My first impressions of the audio have been positive. I heard a few songs on it in a hotel room including Wu-Tang Clan's C.R.E.A.M. and Come and Be a Winner by Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings and the audio sounded clear and full.
IFA 2018: The key announcements from summer's biggest tech show
Bang & Olufsen Google Assistant speaker: Premium smart speaker that also works with Apple's AirPlay 2