Polk Assist smart speaker review: Sound quality above all else

Google has its own set of Google Home smart speakers, but they’ve also opened up Google Assistant to other speaker manufacturers to essentially craft their own unique, Assistant-powered speakers to compete with Google’s own lineup. The results have been a mixed bag, with some speakers offering excellent takes on the smart speaker market, while others are a little more disappointing or basic copycats.

Today we’re going to dig into the Polk Assist smart speaker, built by a company that’s very well known for making excellent speakers and less known for smart technology. But Google handles most of the tricky software stuff here, so let’s find out if this is a winning combination of audio company hardware and Google AI.

Design

First thing you’re going to notice about the Polk Assist is that it’s much more speaker-y than a Google Home. Most smart speakers try to blend into your home decor, but nobody’s going to mistake the Assist for anything other than a high-powered speaker.

It’s taller and wider than a regular Google Home, and significantly more boxy. It’s also covered in speaker cloth from top to bottom with a bold Polk logo on the bottom.

Like the Google Home you’ll find a mute microphone, but the top features a slightly different control layout. There are four buttons for calling up Google Assistant, a play/pause button, and physical volume control buttons. No touch screens here.

Performance

After setting up the Assist up just like any other Google Home device, you can start yelling at it to start timers, answer questions, and play music. It’s a pretty big, powerful speaker with some excellent microphones, so you’ll get performance that’s nearly identical to the regular Google Home. I almost never had situations where one speaker would work and the other wouldn’t, so Polk’s staying competitive in that aspect. We’ll come back to that one later, though.

But this speaker is more expensive, so you’d expect a higher quality sound out of it, right? No worries on that end, either. Polk delivers.

Side by side the Assist delivers a richer, fuller sound than the Google Home. It’s not a significant difference, but there’s enough extra thump and clarity over the Google Home’s very decent speaker. That’s probably not going to justify the bigger price tag, but if you’re planning on really cranking this speaker it’s a night and day difference.

With the volume wide open the Polk Assist delivers a much louder sound than the Google Home, and it avoids almost all of the Google Home’s crackling and distortion that plagues the smaller speaker. It’s definitely loud enough to irritate some apartment neighbors and can easily fill a large room with sound. Great for parties and jamming out during the day, but if you’re looking for something that shines at lower volumes the Polk might be a little much.

Normally loud, great sounding speakers are simply better, but when you’re dealing with smart speakers things change just a bit. I generally never have problems with the Google Home hearing me yell out requests even with the volume turned way up. Since the Polk gets louder and just sounds bigger, though, it can actually get in the way of using it as a smart speaker. When really pushing the speaker I either had to get really close to the speaker to give voice commands or hop over to the Google Home app to change songs or turn the volume down. It almost completely eliminated the casual usefulness of a smart speaker by making across-room voice control useless, so keep that in mind if you’re planning on keeping this thing loud.

Worth it?

The Polk Assist really is an excellent speaker that can fill a variety of roles. It’s not going to be as loud and powerful as a Google Home Max or HomePod, but it’s a marked improvement over the regular Google Home and a lot of other Google Assistant speakers on the market. It’ll fit right at home in a large bedroom or living room and would absolutely be great for parties, but the lack of waterproofing or a battery do cut down on some of that versatility.

But if you’re less of a loud music enthusiast and are just looking for something that delivers a better sound experience with all of the Google Home’s convenience and features, the Polk Assist may be overkill in all the wrong ways. Plus it’s $199, so you’re dropping some serious change here.

It does go on sale and at the time of writing it’s actually only $149 on tons of websites, keeping it much closer in price to the regular Google Home.

Personally, if you want the best of both worlds my advice would be to use the Assist as a complement to smaller smart speakers. I have a regular Google Home by my couch and a Google Home Mini in the kitchen, so I kept the Polk Assist in the back of the living room. Even if the Assist was blaring and drowning out voices there was pretty much always a smaller speaker nearby to hear me control the rest of the speakers. That’s obviously only going to work for someone that’s already invested in other speakers, but if you think you’re going to want more than one at some point, keep it in mind.

Buy it now: Amazon


About the Author: Jared Peters

Born in southern Alabama, Jared spends his working time selling phones and his spare time writing about them. The Android enthusiasm started with the original Motorola Droid, but the tech enthusiasm currently covers just about everything. He likes PC gaming, Lenovo's Moto Z line, and a good productivity app.