Once a maker of only routers and switches, Netgear is getting more hip with each new product launch. Today, the company is unveiling the Orbi Voice Smart Speaker, a router that includes a mesh Wi-Fi system based on its Orbi WiFi extension networking technology, a built-in Amazon Alexa smart speaker, and high-quality Harman Kardon audio.
The Orbi Voice Smart Speaker can link to any Orbi WiFi System, expanding the wireless networking coverage in a home to 4,500 square feet with performance up to 2.2 gigabits per second within the home. It has a built-in Amazon voice assistant in an Orbi Voice Satellite unit, and it has premium audio from Harman Kardon. It ships in September for $300 to $430.
The San Jose, California-based company showed off the new networking device at the IFA tech trade show in Berlin. With the Orbi Voice Smart Speaker, you can ask Alexa to do anything, like playing music from the most popular music services, setting alarms, controlling internet of things devices, checking traffic, getting the weather, accessing sports scores, and more. And you don’t need a separate Amazon Echo device. The device is built on the Qualcomm mesh networking platform, and Qualcomm noted that this is the first in a line of products that logically connects both a networking function and a client device.
Orbi Voice has a built-in four-microphone array and far-field voice recognition, enabling Orbi Voice to hear you from across the room. To easily adjust the volume and equalizer controls, you can simply use the Orbi mobile app to adjust the treble and bass emanating from the 3.5-inch front-facing woofer and 1-inch tweeter.
Netgear product manager Amit Rele said in an interview with VentureBeat that the tri-band Wi-Fi and Fastlane3 tech built into the Orbi enable fast Wi-Fi networking within the home, at a longer range than traditional routers can do. As a result, mesh Wi-Fi systems have grown 59 percent in the U.S. since 2016, according to market researcher NPD. Smart speakers with Alexa have also been growing quickly.
“People are putting voice assistants, smart speakers, and internet of things devices in different parts of the house,” Rele said. “They buy a smart speaker and realize they need better Wi-Fi in the bedroom.”
Harman Kardon offered its expertise on how to design the smart speaker, like how big to make the speaker elements, how much power to put in each frequency range, and how to tune it to make it sound right, Rele said. The device has a 3.5-inch woofer, a 1-inch tweeter, 35 watts of peak power, and 63-20KHz response. I listened to a bit of “Billie Jean” by Michael Jackson on the device, and it was pounding out the bass like it should.
“It’s not just a marketing thing,” he said. “It’s about designing it right.”
The Orbi Voice has a sleek, modern design. You won’t be embarrassed to display it on a bookshelf, side table, or kitchen counter. It’s a little fatter than an Amazon Echo, but maybe slightly smaller than an Apple HomePod. Still, combining a voice service, high-end audio, and high-performance Wi-Fi in one device eliminates the clutter of three individual products to deliver the same features.
“If a bunch of people are coming over for dinner or a barbecue, you want to be able to put this where the people are going to be, and that’s not always where you have strong Wi-Fi,” Rele said.
With Orbi Voice, you can ask Alexa to play music from the most popular music streaming providers, including Spotify, Amazon Music, Pandora, iHeartRadio, TuneIn, Deezer, and other services. You can also turn to Orbi Voice and ask Alexa to play audiobooks from Audible, podcasts, radio stations, news briefs, and more.
The new Orbi System is ready right out of the box and will work with current internet service providers. Setup for an Orbi System is easy using a mobile device through the free Orbi app. It offers easy network management and helps to keep the device current with automated Orbi software updates for new features and Wi-Fi enhancements. Through the Orbi app, you can set Circle Smart Parental Controls on Netgear to manage content and time spent online on a per-child or per-device basis.
Each Orbi Voice Satellite has two Gigabit Ethernet ports for connecting wired devices for even faster file transfers and reliable connections.
An Orbi Mesh WiFi System (RBK50V), consisting of the Orbi Tri-Band WiFi Router plus one Orbi Voice Smart Speaker and WiFi Satellite, will be available later next month for $430.
For those who already have an Orbi WiFi system, the add-on Orbi Voice Smart Speaker and WiFi Mesh satellite (RBS40V) by Netgear will be available this fall at ecommerce sites and major retailers for $300.