When it comes to agnostic smart speakers, devil is in the detail
The home Wi-Fi speaker is one of the most useful new pieces of mainstream hi-fi tech to come around in the last few years; allowing you to get high quality music from a variety of sources to devices of all shapes, sizes and levels of portability, using your phone, tablet, PC, voice or even buttons (how old school!).
And while speakers made by Google, Apple or Amazon can streamline things for those wedded to their respective ecoystems, it’s also great to see more agnostic devices that support your choice of services. The only problem is that few of them truly support them all, so you really need to do your homework.
I’ve been using the $499 Bose Portable Home Speaker; a premium and beautiful Wi-Fi speaker with a handy cloth-covered handle that makes it easy to carry from place to place. As the speaker’s name suggests this is not designed to be an on-the-go kind of device, rather it’s a smart speaker that can move with you from room to room within your house, or even out to the patio or garden. (If you do take it out of range of your Wi-Fi you can tether it to your phone via Bluetooth, but you’ll lose all the smarts.)
There’s great clear 360-degree sound with ample bass as long as you don’t need things extremely loud, and impressive automatic calibration that prevents things getting too noisy if you put it in a corner or underneath a chair. It also has very sensitive microphones for hearing your commands, and the best part is that brand agnosticism; both Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant are displayed equally on the packaging.
However when setting up the device with Google Assistant I was surprised to see the Google Home app suggest only Spotify as a default music service. It turns out that while the Bose does support Google Assistant for all your trivia searching and smart home controlling needs, it doesn’t support the Assistant’s native Google Play or YouTube Music apps.
Since I generally favour Google Play, my next move was to open the app and try to Cast some music to the Bose, where I had my second surprise: the speaker doesn’t support Cast at all, which is unusual for a Wi-Fi speaker.
Of course unlike most people I have accounts with most services and a lot of extra phones in my drawer, so I was able to test a few different setups and found that, for most people, this speaker will work great. It supports Apple Airplay 2, so most apps (not Google’s) can send music to the Bose directly from an iPhone, iPad or Mac with no troubles at all.
If you’re on an Android phone and exclusively use Spotify or Amazon Music your experience should also be mostly seamless, but Google fans will be completely out of luck, despite the Assistant compatibility and big Google logo on the box. To get most Android apps or Google music services on the Bose you’d have to just avoid Wi-Fi altogether and use Bluetooth, somewhat defeating the purpose of the device.
Bose isn’t strictly at fault here, as it’s up to prospective buyers to do their homework and find out exactly which services and technologies each speaker works with (not that it’s always easy if you’re strictly looking at marketing materials). But as smart home devices and smart speakers become more ubiquitous and households are forced to pick sides, it pays to be extra vigilant with devices that claim to bridge the gap between ecosystems.