Voice Assistants, SmartHome and AI driven products came into prominence in 2018. Yet, these are products ‘on a promise’ as few offer any more real functionality than novelty value right now.

Alexa, OK Google, Siri, Bixby, Cortana et al. all make many promises they cannot deliver on. Not to say they will not deliver in the future but there is no such thing as a voice assistant that can replace all but the simplest manual tasks.

That is despite how much money you throw at it or how effusive their bovine-excrement department is. On that matter, we sometimes get daily releases about what Alexa or OK Google can do today that it could not do yesterday. Little news value, so the release goes in the electronic waste bin.

The fact is that everyone who bought a smart speaker or SmartHome device in 2018 expecting something epoch-making was conned.

Hell, the media was so conned it sheep-like reported on what it should do, not what it does do.

As reviewers we found the reality – it is damned hard to get a voice assistant to answer more than fundamental questions, tell jokes, set alarms/reminders and play music. Let alone control the TV by voice,change inputs to the Blu-ray or set-top-box and control a sound bar all at the same time. I know – I tried for days!

Most of what you have already bought will have a limited life as AI (artificial intelligence behind all smart things) will need more and more power or features than a dumb speaker dressed up as a smart one can deliver. Our best advice is to wait until another year of hyperbole is over, and some standards have emerged.

These are going to come from major players like Samsung, LG, Google, Microsoft and Apple – not from bit players trying to sell you stuff online or gather as much personally identifiable information as possible.

On the bright side – voice assistants and SmartHome devices portend the future. We look at Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa and Apple Siri in 2018 and its not about what is best. It is about which ecosystem suits you.

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OK Google, what can you do?

I won’t go into detail – the Google Assistant site does that well. What I will say is that Google Assistant is simply a way to voice interact with Google services like search, maps and the world.

While that sounds good, voice gives such a limited subset of results. If I search for Smart Speaker reviews on a PC, I get 171,000,000 results in Google Search and can manipulate that by region, date and more.

If I ask “OK Google, Search for smart speaker reviews” it offers one from YouTube (a Google company) and hijacks my Chromecast (Google product) enabled Android OS TV and soundbar.

I have managed to get Philips Hue lights working via the Hue Bridge, and it has become more of a party trick than a necessity. “OK Google, turn on Lounge lights (Hue) and Christmas Tree (courtesy of a Belkin Wemo smart switch).

Yes, many new security cameras, especially Nest (Google owned), will seamlessly connect and I can cast their video to a device. But, I have tried countless products from smart vacuum cleaners to washing machines that have a major reduction in features when using voice.

Soon Samsung SmartThings (Smart hub and smart devices) will be readily available to all Australians, and we may see more things working with OK Google. To be fair OK Google does support almost any voice-enabled device!

Google Assistant speakers this year (Prices from JB Hi-Fi but shop around)

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  • Google Home Mini ($49)
  • Google Home ($129)
  • Sony LF-S50G ($199) – has a digital clock too
  • LG WK7 ThinQ ($199) – the best sound for a mono speaker
  • JBL Link 10 ($149) – IP67 and Bluetooth
  • JBL Link 20 ($199) – IP67 and Bluetooth
  • JBL Link 300 ($349) – IP67 and Bluetooth with great bass
  • Panasonic SC-GA10 ($249 each) – stereo pairing
  • Google Max ($499) – huge sound and stereo pairing
  • Sony SRSXB510G ($399) – not yet reviewed – portable, IP65, Extra bass
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Max bass, max speaker

You can see individual speaker reviews at the following link – “And the winner is – see our shootout here“.

“OK Google Show Me the money.”

Voice commands need an extra dimension, and that is where OK Google speakers with a screen come in.