It seems that every tech company that has an intelligent personal assistant is also releasing a lineup of smart speakers. The trend began in 2014 when Amazon introduced the first-generation Echo, which uses Amazon Alexa.
Two years later, Alphabet announced the Google Home powered by Google Assistant. Siri will also make a move before the end of 2017 when Apple launches the HomePod.
Another large player in technology is also hoping to make a splash in the smart speaker market. In October 2017, Harman Kardon released the Invoke voice-activated speaker. It’s the first wireless speaker of its kind powered by Microsoft Cortana.
In this article, you’ll learn more about Invoke, including its features and compatibility. From there, you’ll have a better understanding of whether this smart speaker is right for you.
Even though Microsoft Cortana controls the Invoke, you don’t need a Windows-based PC to use it. System requirements for setting up the speaker include only one of the following:
- Windows Creator’s Update or higher
- iOS 9 or higher
- Android 5.0 (Lollipop) or higher
As an Apple user, I had no problem setting up my Invoke using my iPhone and the free Cortana app for iOS.
The Invoke is one of the most beautiful smart speakers to arrive on the market. It reminds me of a higher-quality first-generation Amazon Echo with an attractive speaker grille and chrome bevel that’s tapered at the bottom.
Like most smart speakers on the market, the Invoke has been designed to work without physical contact. Instead, it strives to operate and communicate wirelessly.
There are physical controls on the device, of course. On the top, you’ll find the speaker’s illuminated touch panel that pulsates blue and white whenever you use the device’s wake-up command, “Hey Cortana.” This circle turns red whenever you mute the speaker and white when you adjust the volume.
The touch panel is also where you’ll find Invoke’s seven microphones (allowing it to hear from any direction) and volume control ring. As you turn the volume ring left and right, the touch panel light gets darker or brighter, depending on the turn’s direction.
Near the bottom of the device, you’ll see a microphone on/off button, Bluetooth pairing light, and factory reset button. The Invoke power cable connects at the bottom through a hole on the side.
Inside the Invoke are three woofers, three tweeters, and two passive radiators, to offer 360-degree sound.
Other important hardware specifications include:
- Bluetooth version: 4.1
- Power supply: 19V/2A
- Power cable length: 1.2m
- Wireless network: 802.11b/g/n/ac (2.4GHz/5GHz)
- Dimensions: 107mm by 242mm
- Product weight: 1kg
- Supported audio formats: AAC, MP3, Vorbis, FLAC, WMA, WAV
What It Can Do
Being a Harman Kardon product, the Invoke’s main feature is its ability to play to music. Thanks to the built-in Microsoft Cortana, it can also manage schedules, set reminders, create lists, make and receive hands-free calls with Skype, and control other smart home devices.
The Music Makes the Difference
At launch, Invoke integrates with three music services: Spotify Premium, TuneIn, and iHeartRadio. A fourth, Pandora, will also be available soon. You can select or change your default music provider at any time using the Cortana app for iOS and Android.
Sample music commands include:
- “Hey Cortana, play [song name] by [artist]”
- “Hey Cortana, play Adele’s latest album”
With Spotify, once a song is playing, you could say things like:
- “Hey Cortana, what song is this?”
- “Hey Cortana, what album is this?”
- “Hey Cortana, follow this playlist”
Keep in mind, because it’s a Bluetooth speaker, the Invoke will also play other audio content too, including podcasts and video from other sources. You can even use “Hey Cortana” commands to get started, such as:
- “Hey Cortana, pair Bluetooth”
- “Hey Cortana, pause / resume / next / previous”
- “Hey Cortana, turn up the volume”
Beyond music, the Invoke also allows you to place hands-free Skype calls to and from mobile phones, landlines, and any Skype-enabled device anywhere in the world.
If you don’t already have a Skype account, one is provided at setup. From there, you can sync your Skype and phone contacts so you can make calls right away.
Calendar and Other Options
The Invoke allows you to keep track and maintain your appointments as long as you use an Outlook.com calendar. You can add Office 365 and future schedules through Cortana’s Notebook feature either on Windows or iOS/Android.
Once you provide Cortana access to your calendar, it can help manage and remind you of upcoming calendar events.
Sample Calendar commands include:
- “Hey Cortana, what’s on my calendar for today?”
- “Hey Cortana, what’s on my calendar for today?”
- “Hey Cortana, what do I have between 3 and 5 on Friday?”
- “Hey Cortana, what is my next meeting?”
Besides allowing you to keep track of your calendar, Cortana can help you keep track and maintain lists and reminders too. Cortana also integrates with the popular third-party Wunderlist application. You can even say “Hey Cortana” to set up timers and alarms.
A Smarter Home
By definition, smart speakers typically play a role in a smart home environment, and the Invoke is no exception. At launch, the speaker is compatible with many smart home devices and services.
Cortana works with lights, switches, outlets, and thermostats from significant providers including SmartThings, Philips Hue, Nest, Wink, and Insteon. They are also working with additional providers such as Honeywell, Ecobee, TP-Link, Johnson Controls, IFTT, Geeni, Iris by Lowe’s, iDevices, and more.
Once you connect your smart home devices to the Invoke, you can say things like, “Hey Cortana, turn off my bedroom lights” and “Hey Cortana, set the temperature to 68 degrees.”
More to See Here
One of the reasons Amazon’s Echo products have maintained their popularity over the years has been the implementation of Alexa Skills. With this SDK, third-party providers can integrate their tools and products with Amazon Alexa.
For example, thanks to Alexa Skills, you can ask Alexa about today’s news from the Associated Press or last night’s scores from the NBA.
Microsoft’s Cortana Skills work very similar to Alexa Skills and are available through the Invoke smart speaker. It’s here where the Invoke’s list of features is almost certainly going to grow over the coming years.
Already, Invoke users can use Cortana Skills to ask questions like:
- “Hey Cortana, ask Capital One, how much did I spend last weekend?”
- “Hey Cortana, ask OpenTable to reserve a table at…”
The Harman Kardon Invoke, like other smart speakers, works best when its microphones are on. After all, without the microphones, you can say “Hey Cortana” until the end of the world, and nothing will happen.
In addressing Cortana and privacy, Microsoft explains:
“Cortana is transparent about data collection and use and you can always turn Cortana off, putting you in control of Cortana. It lets customers view and edit information (interests, reminders, quiet hours, inner circle, and favorite places) in the Cortana notebook. It gives you the option to understand how or why Cortana is proactively recommending something, for example, identifying your work address.”
For more information, see the Cortana and my privacy FAQ.
Invoke Joins a Growing Lineup
The Harman Kardon Invoke hopes to make a splash in the ever-growing smart speaker marketplace. At launch, it offers many of the same tools found on existing products, except in a more beautiful design. Inside, instead of finding Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant, the Invoke is powered by Microsoft Cortana.
First announced in early 2017, the Harman Kardon Invoke is available in graphite (black) and pearl/silver (white). At launch, the speaker is only available in the United States.