Like Google Assistant with Google Home and Amazon Alexa with Amazon Echo, Microsoft Cortana with the Harman Kardon Invoke comes down to skills or functions which can be performed. The keyword to get Cortana to listen from your Invoke is “Hey Cortana”, the same command that you can use on your Windows 10 PC if you have it enabled or the Cortana app when it is open on your Android phone. The list of skills that Cortana has is growing rapidly and you’ll find that there are many skills already available to give you news, information or to allow you to interact with services. The complete list of skills can be found on the Cortana Skills site and I recommend readers bookmark it as it is constantly being expanded.
Like Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa, in order for services to work where you are getting personalized data or making purchases, you will have to authorize those skills in the Cortana app on your phone or PC. For example, one of my favorite skills is with Fitbit. I can say, “Hey Cortana, ask Fitbit about my activity summary” and Cortana will read back to me my activity for the day from Fitbit. For this to work, I have to sign in with my Fitbit account in the Cortana app and authorize it.
As you would expect, there are several service skills available like Fitbit, OpenTable, Expedia, Progressive Insurance and others as well as other productivity skills like HP Print, reminders of when you are at a location to complete a task (buy milk at the grocery store for example) and add things to your Outlook calendar. Equally as important, you can order a pizza from Dominos!
When it comes to home automation, Cortana has a few skills but not to the extent of Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa. Phillips Hue lights are there as well as Nest and Samsung SmartThings. I have several Wemo devices which work with Google and Amazon but are not available to me on Cortana – not yet at least. If you have a lot of home automation, be sure to check the skills list prior to purchase to assure it will indeed work with the Invoke & Cortana.
Having used the Invoke these past few weeks as my primary smart speaker over my Google Home, I have been very pleased with the general performance of it. The microphones are excellent and even when speaking at a lower-than-normal voice, the Invoke easily picks me up and completes my Cortana command. This is something that I am hit-or-miss with on the Google Home. I generally don’t like to have to raise my voice to get one of these devices to respond to me. I should be able to talk to it “normally” in my mind and with the Invoke, I can do just that.
When it comes to audio playback, the sound is crisp and clear. Cortana information is easy to understand even when the volume is low. Music playback is absolutely stunning. I have played a wide range of music on the Invoke during the past two weeks – from Enigma to Deadmau5 to Rammstein – and the high and low tones are exceptional. It absolutely crushes the Google Home when it comes to music playback and Home isn’t a slouch. But then again, this is what you would expect from a Harman Kardon product.