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Ubi review: Ubi brings voice control straight to your smart home

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MSRP: $299.00
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The Good Unified Computer Intelligence Corporation's Ubi integrates easily with Belkin WeMo products, SmartThings, Nest, Ecobee and more so you can automate your home hands-free.

The Bad Even commands and questions borrowed directly from the "things to say to your Ubi" support section tended to trip it up on a regular basis.

The Bottom Line Ubi is intriguing, but it's definitely geared more toward voice-control enthusiasts interested in the emerging beta-esque tech than someone looking for a finished, fully functional product.

Visit manufacturer site for details.

6.5 Overall
  • Features 6
  • Usability 6
  • Design 8
  • Performance 6

Review Sections

The $299 Unified Computer Intelligence Corporation (UCIC) Ubi, short for "ubiquitous computer," is a smallish square device built on an Android platform that's packed full of microphones, speakers and sensors. (While not available in these countries yet, directly converted that's roughly £190 in the UK and AU$350 in Australia). Not surprisingly, this Wi-Fi-and-Bluetooth-enabled gadget's core functionality focuses on voice control -- it's always at the ready to respond to your commands and questions after the requisite trigger phrase, "OK, Ubi."

Much like Apple's Siri or Microsoft's Cortana, Ubi is supposed to help you set calendar reminders and schedule alarms, answer general questions and even automate products from Belkin WeMo , SmartThings , Ecobee and more. While it did a passable job with basic admin ("Remind me to start a load of laundry in 15 minutes.") and home automation, most of my interactions with Ubi were a struggle. It often took more than one attempt to get and answer and sometimes even then the response didn't come close to matching my original inquiry.

If you're determined to get a voice control gadget, I prefer Ubi to the poorer-performing Ivee Sleek , but just know that "ubiquitous computer" feels like a pretty big stretch.

Jumping right in

The most interesting Ubi feature is its "utterance" section. You can find it only on the Ubi Web portal (it's optimized for Chrome) or on the UbiCC Android app (it requires 4.0 and higher); there is currently no iOS app, but co-founder Leor Grebler told me it was a possible future addition. This is where Ubi transcribes what it hears you say and what response it gives.

As mentioned, Ubi is designed to be a sort of personal-administrative-assistant-hybrid, setting calendar appointments, wake-up calls, reminding you to take your medicine and even turning on your Belkin WeMo Switch-connected desk lamp or adjusting your Nest or Ecobee3 thermostat at your behest. It's also supposed to be able to respond to general questions that you might stick in a search engine, like the current weather condition, how many calories are in a cheese pizza, what is the capital of Texas, and so on.

That suggests a sort of Siri-or-Ok-Google-style ubiquity; it may not get it right every time, but it generally knows what you're asking. That was simply not the case with Ubi. And that's where the utterance section comes into play.

ubiuspresident1.png
Screenshot by Megan Wollerton/CNET

I asked Ubi "Who was the first US president?" It responded, "Wilbur Wright." I asked again 8 minutes later and it responded, "George Washington was a famous 18th century North American Hemp cultivator. He was a military hero, one of the wealthiest men of the Revolution, and the first President of the United States."

ubiuspresident2.png
Screenshot by Megan Wollerton/CNET

But, before I asked either of those questions I asked Ubi, "Who was the first president?," forgetting to add in a specific country and it replied, "It depends on what sort of President you are talking about. Presumably you mean the United States remember, other countries have Presidents too. Thank you."

This is part of what made Ubi so fun to test. Just when you think it's only pulling out key words from phrases and trying its hardest to get to answer right, it comes back with a super accurate response that almost makes you think it's understood everything all along and is just messing with you (I did forget to specify the US after all). This sort of snooty delivery punctuated many interactions and had the whole office laughing on more than one occasion.

And after Ubi named Wilbur Wright as the first US president, it answered a string of questions flawlessly. Go figure.

ubilucid1.png
Screenshot by Megan Wollerton/CNET

As endearing as Ubi's unpredictable responses turned out to be, very few folks will want to drop $299 on something so consistently inconsistent. So, I returned to the pre-approved list laid out on the Ubi Web portal and tried again. I asked, "How many calories are in macaroni and cheese." Ubi responded, "More than a million." Cheeky.

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