Huawei has jumped into the smart speaker arena with a new Alexa-powered device that also doubles up as a 4G router.
Unveiled at the IFA tech show in Berlin, the Huawei AI Cube sports a minimalist design with the familiar Amazon Echo-style blue circular light that illuminates when you give a voice command.
While the speaker supports Wi-Fi, it can be used as router for the home, but you’ll need to plug in a 4G SIM card.
Like the Amazon Echo, the AI Cube’s built-in Alexa functionality gives users access to more than 50,000 Alexa skills including everything from games to the latest weather reports.
“By combining Huawei telecommunications technology with Amazon Alexa, the Huawei AI Cube is a compelling product that will surely strike a chord with consumers,” said Richard Yu, CEO of Huawei Consumer BG.
Despite what the name might suggest, the AI Cube isn’t shaped like a cube. Instead, it looks similar to the slightly conical Google Home speaker, without the slanted top.
A matte white body is combined with a seamless mesh base for a slick design that will blend into your home decor. All the ports are hidden under the base, so that the power cable runs neatly from underneath.
Top-mounted controls are limited to a mute button, volume control and a home button which can be used to activate Alexa without a voice command.
The speaker weighs around 900g, with a diameter of 116mm and a height of 218mm so it won’t take up too much space.
The speaker boasts four microphones along with Far Field Voice Recognition to enable it to pick up voice commands from around the room. We found that it struggled a little to pick up voice prompts when we tried it, though it was in a particularly busy demo room, whereas a home environment would have much less interference.
The mains-powered device currently only has Alexa on board, though Huawei did reveal that it would be open to working with other AI voice assistants, opening up the possibility of Google Assistant functionality in future.
The on-board 15W mono speaker is combined with a 400ml sound cavity designed to deliver the best sound possible, while Huawei’s proprietary Histen technology aims to maintain the original sound quality. We found that the audio quality was decent – similar to that of the Amazon Echo – but it did start to sound a little harsh when the volume was pushed up to the limit.
While Huawei declined to give any indication of price, the size, design and build quality of the speaker suggest that it will have a price tag close to the Amazon Echo 2, rather then the pricier Apple HomePod.
Alongside the Huawei AI Cube, the company also revealed the new Kirin 980 AI chip which offers a 20% speed improvements and 40% power reduction compared to the previous offering – the Kirin 970.
“Last year, we showed the world the potential of On-Device AI with the Kirin 970, and this year, we’ve designed an all-round powerhouse that not only features outstanding AI capabilities, but also brings cutting-edge raw performance to consumers,” said Mr. Yu. “Equipped with all-new CPU, GPU and Dual NPU, the Kirin 980 is the ultimate engine to power next-generation productivity and entertainment applications.”
The first Kirin 980-powered device is set to land in October.
While the company hasn’t yet announced a handset featuring the new chip, it did unveil the rumoured Huawei Mate 20 Lite – the first phone to launch from the upcoming Mate 20 series.
Aimed firmly at selfie fans, the phone features four AI-powered cameras and an impressive 6.3-inch HD display.
Available in Sapphire Blue, Black and Platinum Gold, the Huawei Mate 20 Lite will be available at Carphone Warehouse, Vodafone and EE from October with a price tag of £379.
Huawei also unveiled two new striking gradient finishes for the P20 series – a Pearl White colour, and a ‘Morpho Aurora’ blue option with a hue of purple, the latter being inspired by a rare Brazilian butterfly. However, the two new finishes will not be making it to UK shores in the foreseeable future, says Huawei. The company also showcased two new leather finishes in tan and black leather.
The Chinese tech firm also unveiled the Huawei Locator, which is a small tagging device that supports GPS and well as other satellite positing tech including Russia’s GLOSNASS, the EU’s Gallileo and China’s BeiDou.
The dust and water resistant tag can be used in a number of ways, to locate luggage, children, pets and more.