Alexa, the powerful AI assistant currently found in Amazon’s Echo speakers and Fire TVs, may be the future of computing.
She’s smart enough to parse conversational speech, and Alexa’s connection to Amazon’s cloud brain makes her stunningly quick to respond. But so far she’s been stuck in Amazon products, which may not be the most convenient form factor for every person.
The Triby is a new, $199 speaker from Invoxia meant for the kitchen. It is the first device to take advantage of the Alexa Voice Service, Amazon’s program to let developers build the AI into other devices. But instead of a sleek cylinder, the Triby is a colorful little square with plenty of functions beyond a speaker.
Here’s what I’ve found in my testing of the Triby.
Your Echo doesn’t do this
The biggest difference between the Echo and the Triby is the screen on the new device. While it’s a simple e-ink screen, bringing the time, date and temperature to users visually has its benefits.
And the screen also serves as a pseudo-whiteboard. You can use the companion app to type or draw messages that show up on the display. Since the Triby is connected to WiFi, you can send notes to your kitchen from anywhere, reminding your kids to take out the trash or just letting them know you’re on your way home.
When you send a message, the Triby plays a little noise and a physical flag pops out the side of the device. After someone reads the message, they can push the flag back in and the sender will get a notification that their message was read. They can even react with an emoji.
The WiFi connections also allow for a few more neat features. The Triby has a built-in call function to replace your landline. Just push one button and the Triby starts a voice call to a custom contact. Again, this is a benefit for those with kids, who can just punch the button to call mom or dad, but also makes it easy to call someone from the kitchen and remind them to pickup milk.
It isn’t a traditional call though; instead, it’s completed through the Triby app. Right now, that means it’s only available for iOS users, but Android support is coming later this year. Users can also program internet radio stations or Spotify playlists through the app, which can be quickly accessed with two more buttons on the Triby.
These features help the Triby stand out from the monotony of the Echo lineup, even with the two newest additions. But Alexa may still be the most compelling reason to pick up the speaker.
Alexa should be in every speaker now
Adding Alexa is what really makes the Triby great. With the built-in magnets on the Triby, the kitchen is an obvious home for the little speaker. And with Alexa’s ability to convert measurements and set timers on the fly, adding her to the cooking routine is a no brainer.
Plus, her ability to access the entire Amazon Prime Music library makes setting a soundtrack to your kitchen adventures a breeze.
But the Triby is also battery powered, meaning you can take it with you throughout the home. And it retains the voice activated Alexa powers even on battery. Now, Alexa can take down your shower thoughts as to-dos or provide a back track for you vocal stylings. That’s a big step up from the Amazon Tap, the portable version of the Echo that requires you to hit a physical button to access Alexa.
However, battery life is much shorter than your standard Bluetooth speaker. I had to throw it back on the charger every day and a half or so. But taking Alexa room to room is still a great option. And the sound is as good as any portable speaker I’ve used, with plenty of range and volume for use throughout the house.
Alexa on the Triby also benefits from some good mics. Just like the nine-microphone array on the Echo, the Triby can hear you from across the room, even when music is playing through its speakers. Sure, there was the errant false activation while watching TV, but I never had to repeat myself more than once to wake up Alexa.
Still a 1.0 product
There are definitely still some pain points with the Triby, though. The e-ink display may be the most obvious problem. It’s very slow to react, leading me to press buttons multiple times when I thought the first press didn’t register.
The Triby’s Alexa integrations also show the limits of Alexa Voice Services. For example, Spotify Connect, the service that allows speaker makers to stream Spotify tracks directly from the internet, is built into the speaker, but it can’t be controlled through Alexa’s voice commands. While Amazon added Spotify support through the Echo earlier this year, that appears to be a device-specific integration, not an integration with Alexa as a whole.
Bluetooth support is also lacking in part because Alexa can’t control your phone. With the Echo, you can ask Alexa to skip to the next track or pause your music, but asking the Triby for that results in Alexa saying “Bluetooth is not currently supported on device.”
However, the Triby still seems like a great use of Alexa outside the Echo. I don’t expect Amazon to try too many new things with Alexa after the disaster that happened when they experimented in the smartphone world. But by allowing outside developers to build Alexa into their hardware product, Alexa may be the brain of tomorrow’s weirdest gadgets.