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Huawei AI Cube review: Hands on with Huawei’s smart speaker mashup

Huawei’s all-in-one device adds 4G capabilities to the smart speaker mix

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The Huawei AI Cube is a rather odd list of contradictions. The firm’s first smart speaker, launched at IFA 2018 alongside its latest smartphone chip, the Kirin 980, apes the Google Home in its design, yet it supports Amazon’s Alexa digital assistant.

It’s called the Cube but is about as far from a cube as it’s possible to get. The device further complicates matters by adding a series of unusual extra features into the smart speaker mix, including cellular connectivity.

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Huawei AI Cube review: Specifications and release date

  • Smart speaker with 400ml sound cavity and passive radiators to reinforce bass
  • Amazon Alexa support
  • Smart home control
  • Far field voice microphones
  • Cat.6 4G support built in (up to 300Mbits/sec download)
  • Dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi
  • Price: Will be announced on release
  • Release date: End of the year in Europe

Huawei AI Cube review: Key features and first impressions

Those first two paragraphs sum up Huawei’s first stab at a smart speaker pretty neatly. With its tapered cylindrical design, white soft-touch plastic top half and fabric-covered bottom half, the design has clearly been influenced by Google’s smart speaker.

The AI Cube is available in red and white and grey and white, both of which look lovely. Behind the fabric covering is a single aluminium driver coupled with a pair of bass radiators to help reinforce the low frequencies.

Huawei’s smart speaker isn’t a direct copy of Google Home, though. The top panel, which plays host to the speaker’s controls and far-field microphone array, is flat rather than set at an angle. The status LED also surrounds the top of the circular panel in one continuous loop, just like an Echo speaker, instead of being set beneath the surface like in the Google Home.

At the rear of the speaker, a set of three LEDs indicate power and connectivity status with a power button sat below them. Set into the base are power and Ethernet connections.

So far, so ordinary, and the speaker works much as every other smart speaker you can think of. It responds to the key phrase “Alexa” both from up close and across the room, thanks to that far-field microphone array.

What makes the Cube different from the competition is the connectivity that lurks inside. The speaker can not only connect to your home network’s Wi-Fi – like an Amazon Echo or Google Home – but it can also create its very own connection to the internet with support for Cat.6 4G.

Add a SIM card to the speaker and you’ll be able to use the smart functions anywhere you happen to be. The speaker can also give other devices access to its 4G connection, so it can work as a mobile wireless router.

Alas, the speaker can’t be entirely shorn of wires since there’s no battery inside – a bit of a missed opportunity, to my mind – so you’ll still have to locate a mains socket if you want to use the AI Cube on the move. Also slightly disappointingly, there’s no sign of a 3.5mm input and Huawei didn’t mention Bluetooth connectivity at all during its presentation either.

Still, it’s at least Huawei’s approach is something different in what is rapidly becoming an avalanche of smart speaker devices.

Huawei AI Cube review: Early verdict

The 4G connectivity certainly gives the Huawei AI Cube a unique appeal but smart speakers with Alexa support are ten a penny these days. Its success will hinge on two far more prosaic elements: sound quality and price, neither of which I know much about right now.

A large hotel briefing room full of noisy journalists is far from the ideal place for sound testing and the price won’t be announced until the speaker’s release date at the end of this year.

If the Huawei AI Cube falls short on either of these fronts, the speaker is likely to be an ‘also ran’. However, if Huawei can match Amazon and Google’s cut-price tactics and the sound quality is decent, we could have an interesting contender on our hands.

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