It used to be that homes started their entry into IoT by way of a connected lightbulb, but that’s changing. In 2018, the arrival of connected smart speakers with voice assistants are now for many, the first device and it ends up being the primary interface to control the rest.
With Google Assistant built-in, Sony’s LF-S50G 360 degree speaker is vying for your attention and your hard earned, so after spending a couple of weeks with it, its time to see how it stacks up.
The speaker looks elegant, purposeful and designed to integrated with any home decor. The device is a medium-sized cylindrical shape with a gentle curves at the base and top. These curves, combined with a fabric cover over the top 7/8ths of the device, makes the speaker friendly and appealing, so kids will love it as well.
A fairly unique feature is the display that shows through the mesh cover, these LEDs display the current time. They also reveal a animated row of LEDs to let you know the speaker has heard your wake command. Unlike Alexa, there’s response sound to wait for before following with a command, you simple wake and use the device.
Designed to deliver sound in all directions, the speaker can be placed in any location, but most of us have power outlets on walls, so other than an island bench, its likely this will end up near walls or corners. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but when the speaker is shown in many of the promotional material as sitting in locations like your coffee table, its important to remember, most of you won’t ever put this speaker there, due to the power cable.
The lineup of features on this device is fairly impressive and when you contrast that with the price tag and competition, this speaker really stacks up well.
Use your voice to play music, get answers and control your smart devices. If you already have IoT devices in your home, you can say commands to control your lights, heating, appliances and more from a range of home automation partners. To drive this experience, you’ll need to grab the Google Home app on your phone (available for Android and iOS).
If you’re like me, you’ll use audio apps like Pocketcasts that are Chromecast enabled. This means when playing the content you love, you can get it from your phone, to a Chromecast-enabled device with 2 taps. Tap the Chromecast button in the app, then choose the speaker you wish to stream it to. From that point the stream is sent to the device to go get from the web itself, this means unlike Bluetooth streaming, your device is no long required for the experience. This means you could leave the house and the audio experience continue, great if you’ve sent a music playlist for a party and get tasked with grabbing another bag of ice.
Thanks to good old built-in Bluetooth technology, you can simply connect your phone to the speaker and beam audio to the speaker. For an even easier connection, enable NFC on your phone and hold it next to the speaker for one-touch NFC pairing. The pairing process is fairly straight forward, just hit the Bluetooth button on the back left and connect to the device from your device. From there you can start playing audio to the speaker like any other, but given not all smart home assistant devices allow this, its actually a massive plus for simplicity and usability and may actually swing some potential buyers in this direction.
Touch-free gesture control
If you’re cooking and have this device in your kitchen, you can interact with it using gestures. While most of the time its faster to use your voice, there may be times where you’d rather not. This feature is unique, but does take some learning. Once you watch the ‘How gesture control works’ video on the Sony site, its easy, but approaching the speaker with no guidance is confusing.
As someone who’s used to controlling other devices by tapping capacitive touch buttons, naturally my initial thought was this worked in the same way. It doesn’t. Credit where credit’s due, touch-free interaction is better, particularly in the kitchen where you may have food on your hands, it’d just be nice to see a gesture sticker on top when you open the box to let you know things are different (better) on this device.
To change the volume without touching the speaker, you point your finger down and move it like you were winding a clock, clockwise for up, anti-clockwise for down. To pause or play you move your hand across the top of the speaker away and then back towards you. To skip tracks you wipe left to right for next track or right to left for previous.
For the most part, voice is the real feature unlocked by adding this device to your home, so I suggest you use that wherever possible, its honestly a lot faster.
The LF-S50G features water protection by the way of a IPX3 rating. Basically this means its splashproof, so you can safely have it on the kitchen bench, or next to the sink in a bathroom and feel comfortable the device is safe. If things get really crazy, you can even take the cover off and rinse it under the tap, dry it off and place it back over the device.
There may be times where you’re having a super sensitive conversation and you absolutely want to be sure its not being heard, then you’ll be after a mute button. Thankfully the Sony speaker includes one. Its located on the rear of the device, is easy to find for those times you need it.
Overall there’s not a lot of issues with this speaker, its a solid offering, works as advertised, but there’s always room for improvement in future revisions. One feature that is missing is the lack of support for Spotify Connect. That means if you’re a Spotify user and in the Spotify app, you want to send your playlist to a speaker from within the app, currently at least, you can’t choose the LF-S50G and that’s unfortunate given the fairly simply implementation.
Another mild complaint is that there’s no battery inside to power a mobile experience. This is fairly common in speakers of this size of the internal speakers and power requirements of being always connected, it really means you’re likely only getting a couple of hours of mobile use anyway. If you’re looking for one speaker to service both permanent and temporary needs (without a cable), then you’ll have to look elsewhere.
In placing the speaker in different locations around my home, I found the power cable length to be an issue, particularly in locations like an outdoor table. Of course you can use an extension cord, but just an extra half metre would make a big difference.
The final point is the lack of a 3.5mm jack. While it may seem old-school in the connected wireless world of today, there is still the occasional time you’d love to connect this speaker (smart or not) to another device, like PC in the office perhaps.
Speaker type – Monaural
Speaker size: 48mm, Sub Woofer: 53mm
Size and weight: 162mm high, 110mm
Price and Availability
The Sony LF-S50G is available now in 3 colours, blue, white and black. It’ll cost you A$249.00. At that price, its $50 cheaper than the SONOS One, and its half the price of Apple’s Homepod. Compared to the giant in the industry, the Echo (2nd gen) it is more expensive than the current A$119.00 price tag.
If you’re all in on Google Assistant, then your basis for comparison is likely the Google Home which costs A$199, which makes the Sony $50 more expensive, but the sound quality and design easily account for that difference.
The device is available from Sony Australia direct, or from electronics retailers like JB-HiFi and Office Works. Right now Sony are giving away a free LIFX Mini Colour bulb, valued at $69.99 when you purchase the LFS50GW.
At the end of the day you’re spoilt for choice with home assistants right now and the space is only going to get more crowded into the future. The Sony LF-S50G comparatively is a great speaker, while it won’t challenge the HomePod for outright sound quality (at half the price, that’s not surprising), for the size, weight and value on offer here, it should absolutely be on your short list.
Before now, Sony didn’t really have a play in this market, but with the implementation of Google Assistant, combined with their long history in home (and professional) audio, they’ve rocketed their product offering into the 21st century with this speaker.
I think it looks better than the Google Home and while SONOS say they’re adding Google Assistant to the SONOS One (which will ad to Alexa), right now that’s not available, so we have to judge based on that.
Ultimately if you’re already settled on Google Assistant powering your smart home, then this speaker is definitely for you. If you’re not yet settled on a provider, then Amazon’s incredibly array of skills still rein supreme, but that’s changing rapidly.
For almost every serious function you’ll want to do, it’ll be available on either Google Assistant or Amazon’s Alexa platforms. If this isn’t your first IoT device, its likely the other devices in your home may be the determining factor and $50 difference isn’t going to be a deal breaker, you just want a single platform to use, rather than the outright cheapest price.
Without Google Assistant, this speaker would be fairly unremarkable, but a thanks to the inclusion of a microphone that does a great job of hearing your commands, this connected speaker is one that’ll light up any home it lands in.