Amazon looks set to take over the world with its Alexa voice assistant, which continues to pop-up in a multitude of third-party products. The Amazon Echo Show – which combines the Alexa voice assistant with a touchscreen for additional presentation and interaction – is a prime example of where the tech is headed.
And it hasn’t taken long for an interesting reimagination to arrive in the shape of the Lenovo Tab 4 with Home Assistant: a tablet which can clip onto a small Echo-like Home Assistant speaker to become, in essence, an Echo Show-like device (albeit minus the calling functionality, as that’s not currently open in the Amazon API).
Only it’s not an Amazon product at all, it’s a Lenovo one. And a really interesting one, because, conceptually speaking, it’s far more versatile than the rigidity of Echo – given it can be used as a standalone tablet minus the Alexa aspect of things. The Lenovo is also visually more arresting than the blocky Echo Show, which gives it another edge over the first-party product.
Problem is, clever as the Lenovo Tab 4 with Home Assistant looks and sounds, it’s not fully realised – at least, not yet, not in the pre-release form we saw the device in at Lenovo’s pre-IFA conference.
Why? A couple of things: the way the tablet clips into the speaker section via a USB-C port is clumsy, as it’s fiddly and takes too long if it doesn’t go right first time. Without a hardline power source Alexa also won’t work, so you can’t roam around the house without the speaker portion being fully powered (the tablet can’t do this).
Functionality wise, too, the Home Assistant just isn’t quite there. Lenovo tells us that there are two far-field microphones used to interact with Alexa from up to four metres away, but in the tests we tried and witnessed it wasn’t possible to interact with Alexa without pressing-and-holding a virtual button on screen. We would rather than Alexa was always listening.
As a speaker, the small scale of the Home Assistant – which contains two 3W speakers – isn’t going to blow your socks off, but it’s practical at this smaller scale. There are no controls on it, however, with the tablet assuming command of volume adjustment once docked.
The concept of the Lenovo Tab 4 tablet mated with Home Assistant is a great alternative to an Amazon Echo Show thanks to its Alexa integration. In its current state however, it doesn’t leverage the right level of usability to be deemed as a better alternative.
Perhaps future software changes and tweaks will see this improve, as we can see heaps of potential in what the Lenovo Home Assistant could be – especially if it didn’t need to be plugged into the mains at all times or docked with a Tab 4 tablet to provide full functionality as a voice assistant.