A year ago most people wouldn't know what is a smart speaker, and now they're all the craze. Cortana- and Siri-assisted devices are coming soon (and we reckon Bixby devices too), for now the market is dominated by Amazon's Alexa and the Google Assistant inside Google Home.
Actually, Amazon still has around 70 percent of that market. It makes sense, given that its Echo devices were available much earlier than those housing Google's Assistant. But that's not necessarily a good thing, because (in our opinion) Google Assistant is significantly smarter than Alexa.
While Alexa has more skills, the Google Assistant is much happier to accommodate any random request (which is all part of the fun), and it does a better job of understanding natural language. You will get a satisfactory answer far more often from Google Assistant than you will Alexa, with the latter very likely to tell you it doesn't know how to help you with that.
What's all this got to do with Sony, you ask. The company has today at IFA 2017 unveiled its snappy-sounding LF-S50G, a smart speaker that has Google Assistant built-in - and, so Sony says, better audio quality, waterproofing, NFC, motion gestures and a clock.
In our book the combination of cool consumer electronics brand Sony, decent sound and Google's Assistant make this device well worth a second look. You can read on for all of the facts, or check out our Sony Smart Speaker hands-on review for our first impressions of the device.
When is the Sony smart speaker release date?
The Sony speaker will go on sale in mid-October, according to the company. It will be available in white or black, and Sony has confirmed it will come to the US, UK, Germany, France and elsewhere.
How much does the Sony smart speaker cost?
Sony says its LF-S50G will cost $199, which is likely to convert to more or less £200. With the Google Home costing £129 - actually just £99 until 5 September - that's double the price. Still, it's a lot cheaper than the upcoming Apple HomePod, which will cost $349 when it goes on sale in December.
What does the Sony smart speaker do?
With the Google Assistant inside the Sony smart speaker does everything Google Home can do.
First and foremost it can play your favourite music, streamed from a phone over Bluetooth or via online services. (The Sony has NFC to aid pairing.)
But the LF-S50G can also answer search queries, tell you the news or weather, play games, stream content to a smart TV or over Chromecast, integrate with smart-home devices to become your smart remote control, check your calendar, and more.
Like the Google Home the Sony smart speaker supports multi-room audio.
What is the difference between Google Home and Sony's smart speaker?
Primarily, audio quality. Though the two have a very similar cylindrical design, the Sony LF-S50G promises enhanced audio that can fill an average sized room. It offers 360-degree sound thanks to a 48mm full-range driver and 53mm subwoofer, plus a two-stage diffuser and bass reflex duct.
Sony's smart speaker is also intelligent enough to automatically adjust volume to counter background noise.
The device is IPX3-rated splashproof, unlike Google Home, and given that it's very likely to end up setting up camp in your kitchen that could come in useful. Sony says you can take off the cover and run it under the tap if necessary.
Sony's smart speaker additionally supports motion gestures for controlling music playback, something we're not entirely convinced by until we've tried it - this is supposed to be a voice-activated speaker after all.
Finally Sony adds a clock, since glancing at the device is still faster than asking Google what's the time. If you don't like this feature you can dim it or turn it off altogether.
Sony smart speaker specifications
|Audio||Monoaural, 48mm satellite speaker, 53mm subwoofer|
|Connectivity||Dual-band 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.2, NFC|
|Power consumption||8W (less than 0.5W in off mode)|