Bose meets Alexa in the Home Speaker 500

Mala Bhargava | Updated on January 23, 2019

Rich, deep sound from the company’s first smart speaker, but it comes at a price

Historically, you wouldn’t have thought to pair Bose and Amazon for any good reason. But such is the sweep of personal assistants that every company is jumping on to the bandwagon, including, very recently, Bose. The audio giant’s Home Speaker 500 is positioned as an Alexa-integrated smart speaker, though one hears Google Assistant is to join the party sometime. But why, in a world populated with more-than-enough Echo speakers, would you look at the Home Speaker 500? That’s easy. Sound quality. Except that it’s too expensive. All the same, here’s what it’s like.

Giant cigar tin

Shaped like a giant cigar tin, it has a nice, stylish form and would fit in elegantly in any room. You can get the device in black or silver and personally, I think the black is more understated and un-flashy.

Noticeable right up front is a tiny screen, reminiscent of the old iPod, perhaps. This is where you get to see some information about the speaker’s status, Alexa responses and album art. It’s nice to not have to ask which song is playing and just know from glancing at the screen, but Bose could have made this screen brighter, crisper and more attractive. Well, be that as it may — it’s better there than not.

On the top of the speaker are a bunch of touch sensitive buttons. The usual power, play, pause, volume, etc, but also a button to trigger Alexa manually and mute her, and aux and Bluetooth buttons. On the bottom half of the speaker, going all around, is the grill, or rather little dot-sized holes for the sound. The device is overall quite heavy, which is how you know it’s not going to have lightweight sound either. It’s portable in the sense that you can pick it up and take it to another room without much effort, but not portable as in being an on-the-go device. In any case, it needs to be plugged into power to be used, as well as on a WiFi network for Alexa to work.

To set up the speaker, you need to download the Bose Music app — not to be confused with any of a number of other Bose apps around.

App control

The app leads you through the set-up process, also connecting to your Amazon account so you can get to Prime Music.

Unfortunately, I had a tough time getting the device to remain properly set up on my network. At one time Alexa would work just fine but not play music from Amazon Prime, saying “Sorry, that device is offline” and at others it would work both on voice command and the Prime Music app but would inexplicably cease to do so the next day. There was also the possibility that the Bose speaker wasn’t getting along with my WiFi router and the number of other connected speakers I have, but that doesn’t explain why it worked sometimes. In the end, the cause of its inconsistent behaviour couldn’t be discovered and I decided to have a colleague try it out at another location. It behaved better there after a full factory reset and obeyed voice commands to play music. The only problem was if it was ever unplugged from the power source, one would have to open up the Bose Music app and get it going again, though thankfully not through a fresh install.

Loud, full sound

When the speaker did work, however, I did think it sounded pretty good. The sound is loud and full-bodied. It does indeed fill the room, as advertised, and anyone within earshot would comment on how it sounded nice. Alexa, with all her skills, worked fine on the Home Speaker 500 — when it was up and working. But the one thing that did not work is a multi-room set-up with Amazon Echo speakers. If commanded to play music on the ‘Everywhere’ group that included the Amazon speakers, it would go ahead and do so but exclude itself as there was no way to add it to the group in the Alexa app. This feature may work between multiple Bose Home Speaker 500 units, but for it to work with Echo speakers, it would require Amazon’s permission.

Currently, the Bose app doesn’t play Prime Music, though the Prime Music app itself did and so did voice commands — again, only when the speaker was overall working for me. On the top of the Home Speaker 500 are six numbered buttons, which can be used to preset music to play subsequently. Pressing the button down fixes a specific TuneIn station to play, for example. This isn’t yet working for Prime Music playlists.

Having had a less-than-successful experience with the Home Speaker 500, I obviously can’t recommend it, but if you’re a fan of Bose products and would really like to consider their first smart speaker, ensure that they install it for you in working order. Else, buy an Echo Plus with Amazon’s sub-woofer and look at the album art in the Prime Music app.

Price: ₹39,000

Pros: Rich, deep, expansive sound, good form factor, trendy shape, fits nicely into a room

Cons: Too expensive for what it offers and considering competition, feature set not yet complete, unexciting display, needs simpler set-up, no Google Assistant support

Published on January 23, 2019

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