Huawei recently announced the creation of its first smart speaker. But this speaker has a twist. Not only does it perform the same functions as other smart speakers, such as Amazon’s Echo, it also doubles as a home Wi-Fi router, through the insertion of a 4G LTE SIM card.

Another company, Netgear, has developed a similar product. Partnering with Harman Kardon, an audio company, they’re introducing a smart speaker that also serves as a Wi-Fi repeater. Dubbed the Orbi Voice, the speaker was made available to buy beginning in September 2018.

Huawei’s new item is called the AI Cube (though it is cylindrical in shape like most other smart speakers on the market). It has yet to be publically released for purchase, but the company said that it would be available in Europe by the Christmas season.

It seems like a no-brainer to roll these two functions into one, consolidating the number of gadgets you need in the home. But, for now, it’s uncertain whether or not this idea will catch on.

The AI Cube

After their first glimpse of the Cube at this year’s IFA trade show in Berlin, many tech writers have remarked on how the Cube is well….surprisingly not cubical. Instead, it looks like a slightly taller version of a Google Home. But misnomers aside, the object works much like other smart speakers on the market and is powered by Alexa.

The device weighs 900g and boasts four microphones to receive user voice input. However, with only a single speaker, it’s unlikely that the Cube is going to offer amazing sound quality. As an audio speaker, it’s specs do not seem any more impressive than other options out there. Yet Huawei touts it as a "groundbreaking" wireless 360-degree speaker with a powerful sound system.

The coolest thing about Huawei’s Cube is its ability to serve as a 4G LTE router. Its success, however, will depend on other factors.

Ultimately, the 4G speeds in your location will influence how fast your Wi-Fi will be. The Cube can handle speeds of 300Mbps but actual speeds are likely to be much slower. The number of people utilising an area’s 4G network will also have an impact. A further drawback is the (often) prohibitive cost of using data. Accessing the Internet over the 4G LTE data network typically comes at a higher price. So while the Cube’s router capabilities are certainly a new and exciting innovation, there may need to be some kinks worked out if it’s going to grow popular among the public.

The Orbi Voice

Netgear’s contribution to this new tech is the Orbi Voice, and it may be one that has more potential. Comparatively, the Orbi Voice looks a fair bit more impressive and unique against the Cube. Not only does it have the Wi-Fi repeater factor, which allows it to integrate into a mesh wireless system, but its audio by Harman Kardon also hints at very high-quality sound.

The Orbi Voice allows users to extend their Wi-Fi signal, giving a boost to any space where the speaker is located. This is perhaps a better integration than the Cube’s, which relies on a 4G LTE SIM to supply Internet. And for those who use mesh Wi-Fi, the Orbi Voice is an obvious addition to the home, simply magnifying an existing network. Orbi products are already well-known for their superior mesh routers and the Voice should accommodate 2.2Gbps Wi-Fi speeds.

It’s important to note that you do need an Orbi hub unit for the Orbi Voice to work. Yet together, it could create a well-connected network of devices.

Overall, it remains to be seen how these devices will adapt to our homes and offices. But the ability to consolidate multiple gadgets into one certainly seems a cost-effective measure to reduce clutter and simplify our digital lives.

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