NEW YORK—Samsung made its long-in-the-works Bixby-powered smart speaker official at an event in New York City on Thursday.
The device is called the Galaxy Home, and at first blush it appears to be Samsung’s take on the rising trend that has seen the likes of Amazon, Google, Apple, and Sonos release home speakers with built-in digital assistants.
Samsung’s reveal was more of a teaser than an official introduction: the company didn’t make mention of a price or release date and instead committed to detailing the Galaxy Home further at the Samsung Developer Conference, which is scheduled for early November. Samsung CEO DJ Koh previously told The Wall Street Journal he wanted the company’s eventual smart speaker to be “more premium,” though, so it’s likely to be pricier than an Amazon Echo or Google Home.
Samsung did provide a few early details worth noting today. The design, for one, is certainly different: it’s a squat, circular, modestly sized speaker coated in cloth and held up by three metal legs. There are a set of touch controls for pausing, changing tracks, and adjusting volume on the top, as well as a ring of light that glows to indicate when Samsung’s digital assistant is activated. The command “Hey Bixby” is used to address the assistant.
There’s an AKG logo on top of the device as well; Samsung says the speaker takes its sound processing from its Harman Kardon division, of which AKG is a part. The company says the Galaxy Home contains eight far-field microphones for recognizing voices, six built-in speakers, and a built-in subwoofer for bass. Samsung is also pushing a feature called “SoundSteer” with which users can ask Bixby to direct music toward wherever they are located in a particular room. Samsung says the device also serves as a Samsung SmartThings hub, allowing it to control various compatible smart home devices.
The natural question with the Galaxy Home will be how well Bixby can stand on its own as the focal point of a device. The assistant started out as something of a disaster and generally lacks significant advantages over more mature alternatives like the Google Assistant or Amazon’s Alexa (which continue to have plenty of sore spots themselves). The company unveiled a “Bixby 2.0” update aimed at making the assistant more personalized and capable of understanding more conversational requests, but how effective that will be in practice remains to be seen.
Similarly, Samsung and Spotify announced a new partnership on Thursday, so it seems safe to expect the Galaxy Home to support voice commands for that music service. Beyond that, a full list of supported services isn’t yet known, and Samsung did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Regardless, Google and Amazon for now have the advantage of their assistants being on a wider variety of devices and software than Bixby, which remains sheltered on Samsung’s own hardware.
There is still much more to learn about the Galaxy Home before we can pass any definitive judgments. At first blush, though, it appears to be a closer analog to Apple’s HomePod. That device aspires to be a premium home speaker more than a do-everything digital helper that would truly threaten the Echo or Google Home devices that currently dominate the smart speaker market. Here, we should find out more in the coming months.
Listing image by Samsung