Google has provided the brains for its Home virtual assistant, and now Polk is giving it some brawn. Announced in May, the Polk Assist (See it on Newegg) takes the very capable Google Assistant and pairs it with the audio expertise that the company is known for, creating what is essentially a more powerful Google-powered smart speaker. This model isn't meant to compete with the larger and pricier Google Home Max, but instead offers an alternative to the base Google Home for those who desire more from their speaker and are willing to pay extra for it. At $200, the Polk Assist is $80 more than the Google Home but is priced the same as the Alexa-powered Sonos One, which is expected to be Google-compatible some time in the future.
Polk Assist – Design and Features
At its core, the Polk Assist functions just like any other speaker that utilizes Google Assistant. Voice commands can be used to stream audio through the speaker, control smart home devices, cast media to a television with the help of a Chromecast, or answer a wide range of questions—and that's just a quick overview of some of its capabilities. The differences between the Polk Assist and Google's own offering is in the hardware, both in terms of its form and function.
The Polk Assist is about two inches taller, an inch wider, and a bit boxier than the Google Home. Unlike the discrete and inconspicuous appearance of the Home, the Assist makes no attempt to cover the fact that it is a speaker. I prefer Google's clean look, but there isn't anything overly offensive about the way Polk's product is designed.
A speaker grill covers a vast majority of the Assist and on the top of the device are physical buttons to control volume, pause audio, or manually initiate the listening feature of Google Assistant. A pair of microphones can also be found on top, in addition to a collection of LED lights that are used to display status information such as volume level or to let users know that it is listening for a command.
The Assist doesn't include any audio input or output ports, so this is strictly a wireless affair. Those with the Google Home app on their phone can easily set up a connection from the same Wi-Fi network as the speaker, or you can choose to link them via Bluetooth.
The Assist's 40-Watt speaker is equipped with a 3.5-inch woofer and a 1-inch tweeter, as well as Polk's knowledge of how to deliver quality audio. For comparison, the base Google Home comes with a 2-inch driver and dual 2-inch passive radiators.
Polk Assist – Performance
First and foremost, a smart speaker needs to be able to hear and interpret your commands and inquiries. When in an empty house, the Assist was easily able to pick up me saying "Ok, Google," followed by questions about the weather, even when I spoke in a normal tone some 30+ feet away or around a corner. That's pretty good for a smart speaker.
With music playing at a moderate level from my home stereo between myself and the Assist, I had to speak up for it to catch what I was saying, although I was far from shouting. With the music turned up, or when I was using the Assist for music at louder volumes, it had a much tougher time hearing me at all. This behavior isn't uncommon for smart speakers I've used, however.
What separates Polk's Assist from Google Home is how well it handles audio. After a week of talking to my virtual assistant and requesting it to play various Spotify playlists, it's clear that Polk's speaker performs better than the base model from Google, although only in certain situations.
In general, the Assist pushes out well-balanced audio, with both highs and lows delivered at acceptable levels. When listening at a moderate volume, there wasn't a huge difference between the two speakers—which isn't a bad thing. In my review of the Home, I noted that Google's speaker sounded better than the Alexa-equipped Amazon Echo.
Polk's well-established history with speakers is far more apparent with the volume turned up. The Assist can get noticeably louder than the Home and music doesn't sound distorted or noisy in the process. EQ levels remain balanced even with the volume all the way up and a nice dose of bass was introduced as well.
Despite its small size, the Assist should easily be able to provide the soundtrack for your next get together or when hanging out at a backyard BBQ. A dedicated speaker system would obviously fare better, but for something that can be stashed wirelessly anywhere in your house or office, the Assist is quite good.
The Polk Assist has an MSRP of $199, and that's the same price it is going for on Newegg:
- See it on Newegg