Samsung Galaxy Home initial review: Still shrouded in mystery

Samsung’s Galaxy Home was first announced at the Galaxy Note 9 launch last Summer, but while we know more about the smart speaker now, we still don’t have a launch date or price – although maybe we will at the Galaxy S10 launch next month. The lack of even a ballpark price is a little irritating because it’s difficult to compare the Bixby-powered Galaxy Home to what’s already out there. It’s a premium-looking device so it’s not going to be cheap, but it’ll be interesting to see where it fits in terms of the GBP199 Sonos One with Alexa (or Google Assistant, coming soon) and the GBP319 Apple HomePod with Siri.

Pocket-lint

We believe that Samsung may also have a smaller Galaxy Home in the works, perhaps to compete with Amazon Echo and Google Home, although this is currently speculation.

We sought out the Galaxy Home in a corner of the Samsung stand here at CES 2019 and, while it wasn’t exactly secret, Samsung was being cagey about access to the speaker. The one working device (all the others were simply placed on a shelf) was heavily chaperoned although requests were made and music was able to be played from Spotify.

Design

  • Fabric covers most of the speaker
  • Light ring on top, volume buttons
  • Distinctive metallic feet

Design-wise Galaxy Home sure looks distinctive from its rivals. It’s also massively heavy, quite surprisingly so.

There’s a textured fabric covering around the outside which we like the look of. However, the top is a bit too plasticky-looking for our taste. That’s where the light ring is and volume controls.

Pocket-lintSamsung Galaxy Home initial review: Still shrouded in mystery

There’s also an AKG logo on top – Samsung now owns the US company Harman that’s behind audio brands AKG, Arcam, Harman Kardon and JBL.

The power cord does take away a little of the magic from that stand and it’s a shame this wasn’t able to be incorporated into one of the legs.

Galaxy Home and music

  • Spotify Connect-enabled
  • Sound Steer tech enables you to direct sound towards you
  • Could it support AirPlay or Google Cast?

The speaker is Spotify Connect-enabled, while Bluetooth can also be used. With Apple AirPlay coming to Samsung’s smart TVs we guess it’s possible that Galaxy Home could support that, too, although the Samsung rep couldn’t be drawn on that. Likewise, Samsung could also opt to support Google Cast.

Samsung has a partnership with Spotify, so that will be the default music service – though surely others will also be supported. We knew previously that there were six speakers and a subwoofer inside, while the speaker will also use an AKG technology called Sound Steer so you will actually be able to ask Bixby to direct the sound towards you. We also now know that will be able to connect up to 10 Galaxy Homes together to form a system although obviously, we didn’t see that in action.

In our limited demo, the sound was certainly loud – as you’d expect from so much audio hardware inside. It was hard to assess the clarity of the audio though, thanks to the Galaxy Home sitting on one of the busiest parts of Samsung’s CES stand near other Galaxy devices.

Let’s talk about Bixby

  • Bixby may be improved pre-launch
  • Could other assistants be coming?
  • Samsung SmartThings hub included

When you put in a request to Galaxy Home, a while light ring swirls on the top to let you know the request is being actioned. So far so Alexa – it’s very similar to the blue light ring on Echo devices.

There are eight far-field microphones to pick up your voice. Galaxy Home can also act as a Samsung SmartThings hub, so you can control devices such as lights or thermostats

Pocket-lintSamsung Galaxy Home initial review: Still shrouded in mystery

We know that Bixby needs work and it does sound a lot less natural than, say, Alexa but it can perform simple requests fine – in that sense it’s probably a good comparison with Siri on the HomePod. It could well be that Samsung is waiting for a new version of Bixby to debut before releasing Galaxy Home – perhaps we’ll hear more at the Galaxy S10 launch on 20 February.

We do wonder whether Galaxy Home will support other voice assistants. Samsung’s 2019 smart TVs support Alexa and the Google Assistant – albeit in a limited way via external devices – and it’s a sign that Samsung’s Bixby-only stance is softening as the other voice assistants grow in prevalence and power.

Pocket-lintSamsung Galaxy Home initial review: Still shrouded in mysteryFirst Impressions

There’s still much we don’t know about Samsung Galaxy Home and its price point will probably dictate whether it’s a credible smart option. As such, it’s hard to know where it sits.

However, due to the audio tech inside the Galaxy Home we reckon the price will be approaching that of the HomePod. While Bixby is limited in scope, it’s enough to play music and fulfil basic commands. And despite device makers continually talking about more complex commands, how many people actually use them is up for debate.

Beyond Bixby, we really are looking forward to hearing Galaxy Home in a home environment and assessing how it compares to rivals – hopefully it will get a launch date soon!



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