First smart speaker in Russian! A review of Yandex.Station
According to the predictions the analysts provide, by the end of 2018, the market of smart speakers would go up twofold compared to 2017 and continue growing: by December, 100 m users would have already bought such devices. One of the facts ensuring this certainty is the release of the Russian gadget Yandex.Station. This is the world’s first smart speaker with Russian localization. By the way, this device exposes more prospects on the market than imported gadgets.
Yandex.Station’s analogs are smart products from Amazon, Google, and Apple that haven’t gained popularity in the Russian Federation since they cannot recognize Russian. That’s why the local market comprising millions of households is still embraced by Yandex.Station. Judging from the results of the first sales, the demand is overwhelming: the pilot batch of the smart speaker went off like hot cakes within a day; dozens of thousands of people have already made a preorder.
How did the first Russian smart speaker enter the market? Does its success lie in the absence of an alternative, or it’s really a user-friendly and modern gadget? Read our review to find out more!
What can smart speakers do?
Smart musical speakers are gadgets that recognize verbal commands and can solve any tasks, not only connected to music. These devices set particular tracks, find and run a video, read news and weather forecast, search on the Internet, turn the alarm on, call emergency services, order products online, etc.
A brain of every such device is a voice assistant, an AI-driven app capable of voice recognition and commands running. Each manufacturer of a smart speaker has its own patented virtual assistant: for Apple, it’s Siri, for Amazon – Alexa, for Google – Assistant responding to “Okay, Google”. Such assistants are also used in smartphones, tablets, Internet browsers, and even home robots.
The Russian smart speaker Yandex.Station uses Alice, a voice assistant developed by Yandex. Commands are recognized on servers only, so with no Internet connection Yandex.Station becomes a usual bluetooth speaker.
The possibilities of smart speakers are constantly growing due to new apps created by partner developers. Amazon gadget has tons of them, mainly in terms of products and services. Yandex.Station emerged not so long ago, that’s why it offers a remarkably limited range of possibilities.
Smart speakers are some kind of an access hub to all the company services from one point, so the competition here is fierce. For example, Google and Amazon are tough competitors because not only buyers but active users of the ecosystem are on the line.
Functions of Yandex.Station
What can Yandex smart speaker do?
- play tracks from Yandex.Music;
- work as an organizer: set an alarm, a timer, memos;
- find and run films and series from KinoPoisk, ivi, and Amediateka;
- find and run YouTube videos;
- read the news (Yandex.News);
- find answers to questions in Yandex Search;
- play word games — for example, Cities or I-doubt-it;
- provide weather forecast, currency exchange rate;
- inform about traffic (Yandex Maps);
- turn the alarm on (integrated with Gulfstream safety system);
- order various goods and services from partners. The section is being improved.
According to users, the gadget is good in terms of multimedia: for music, and unlike other speakers, it can connect to a TV set so that you are able to watch series and films. However, Yandex.Station is not currently a perfect base for a smart house since some services (for example, Yandex.News) are not user-friendly. Updates may improve such services.
What is Alice like?
Foreign manufacturers of smart speakers are also contemplating the Russian market, which may push Yandex.Station back someday. Google and future Chinese-based brands would become fierce rivals of the Russian service. It’s difficult to predict the functions of imported smart speakers with the Russian localization though you can now compare Alice with other assistants.
According to users, Alice appears more talkative than Alexa or Siri because it tries to continue the dialog even if it doesn’t understand a command. That’s not a useful feature for smart speakers: people want to solve a particular task, not chatter. However, Alice can understand several commands at once if they come one after another. It’s Alice’s advantage over Alexa that supports a Q&A mode only.
As reported by users of the Russian assistant, Alice tends to bullyrag (particularly, when it doesn’t know the answer and tries to joke away). It was also taught to flirt, which is inappropriate for a smart speaker. Besides, Alice has a much computer voice for long sentences.
A couple of words about hardware
What confuses music lovers is that Yandex.Station has a protective case making the device stylish and tamperproof. This detail considerably distorts the sound quality. The speaker sounds almost perfect without the case though its look is not that beautiful. Instead, you’ll see some kind of a semi-knockdown device recalling a central processing unit without panels.
For the further description of the sound, Yandex.Station has two passive radiators, two small Hi-Fi speakers, and one subwoofer at the center of the case. Distortions can be heard only at maximum volume when high pitches sound worse. Total audio output is 50 W, enough for areas of up to 100 m2.
You can use your voice or install an app for a smartphone or a PC to control this smart speaker; the case has a volume regulator and two buttons to activate Alice and turn the microphone off.
If the microphone is on, the speaker automatically hears a user and waits for commands to start working (a password: Alice or Yandex). What is more, Alice is good at voice recognition even when it’s too noisy indoors.
Yandex.Station does not go with a battery, only network connection powers it.
Conclusion: Yandex.Station and its rival
Currently, Yandex.Station looks like an intelligent media center: its software and hardware are tooled for audio and video files, which makes the speaker competitive. However, this version lacks functions for purchases and a smart house. If other smart speakers recognizing Russian crack the Russian market, the product of Yandex will be pushed back. Fans of music and films will be its target audience. Notwithstanding, updates and partnership with new partners would change the current situation.