Samsung's Galaxy Home smart speaker promises to play catch-up – CNET

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Sarah Tew/CNET

Foldable phones aside, Samsung had plenty to say about its artificially intelligent voice assistant Bixby at the company’s annual developer conference this week. That included an update on the odd-looking Galaxy Home smart speaker, which seeks to give Alexa, Siri and Google Assistant some new competition by bringing Bixby straight into your living room.

The problem? We still have no idea when the Galaxy Home will arrive, or what it will cost.

That’s a little surprising given that Samsung initially pitched the three-legged Galaxy Home as a late 2018 release. Now, with the holiday buying season already underway, it seems unlikely that we’ll see it this year at all. The Korean conglomerate need look no further than Apple in order to understand the potential pitfalls of such a delay — that company’s Siri-powered smart speaker, the Apple HomePod, saw its release pushed back from late 2017 to early 2018, and has since struggled to capture a significant share of the smart speaker market.

The Galaxy Home will face even harder headwinds when it arrives, given that the category continues to mature at a rapid pace, but Samsung remains bullish on its odds of catching up, and touts Bixby’s smart speaker as “a gateway to your connected life.” For now, here’s everything we know about it thus far.

It’ll ‘steer’ sound towards you

The Galaxy Home features Harman speakers and subwoofer hardware on the inside, but it’s Samsung’s software that might really help set the thing apart from the competition. Namely, a feature called “sound steering” will aim to figure out where you are relative to the speaker whenever you ask it to play something. From there, Samsung will aim the audio at your exact position.

Samsung says that this makes for better clarity, and that it lets you hear audio the way it was intended to be heard — but how will that work if multiple people are listening?

It can make and receive phone calls*

*Provided you’re using a Samsung phone, of course. Samsung also says that you can ask the speaker to make your phone ring if you’ve misplaced it.

It’ll play nice with Spotify

Something else Samsung touted at its developer conference — a partnership with Spotify that seeks to deliver “the most fully featured Spotify experience” from a smart speaker. We didn’t hear much about what, exactly, that means, but given Spotify’s popularity, that might wind up as one of the speaker’s stronger selling points if there ends up being anything to it.

It’s open to developers

New “Bixby Developer Studio” software will allow third-party developers outside of Samsung to craft new uses for Bixby, including ones that work on the Galaxy Home.

Samsung is also opening Bixby’s software for controlling media playback, so don’t be surprised if some of that ends up translating to coordination between the Galaxy Home and Samsung’s lineup of smart TVs, similar to the way you can use Amazon’s Echo devices to control Fire TV streamers.

It does look weird, yes

There’s been no shortage of cauldron jokes since Samsung first showed us what the Galaxy Home looks like — and yes, it is a little weird-looking with that trio of metal feet propping the device up.

I’m withholding judgment until I get a chance to hear the thing, though — elevating the bottom of the device off of your countertop might actually help with the clarity of sound, since you’ve got more of an unobstructed speaker surface to work with. If that’s the case, audiophiles and casual listeners alike might be willing to forgive the Galaxy Home’s appearance. (And for the record, I wouldn’t go as far as to say the thing is ugly… at least I think not? Again, I want to see it for myself before passing judgment.)

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Sarah Tew/CNET

So what will it cost?

That, along with “when will it get here?” are the big, current questions. Right now, we don’t know, and Samsung isn’t saying. Our pros on the CNET audio team suspect that it’ll sell for at least $ 200, but we’re still forced to speculate at this point.

At any rate, we’ll keep an ear out for updates and let you know as soon as we hear anything. And, of course, expect a full review as soon as we get our hands on one. Stay tuned.

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