Hands-On With BRAVEN's Villa Connect Smart Speaker - CES 2018

BRAVEN Audio decided to follow suit with the majority of the industry and took the latest iteration of the Consumer Electronics Show as an opportunity to announce its first smart speaker with native support for the Google Assistant, having unveiled it in the form of the Villa Connect. The offering comes in a relatively traditional-looking case whose front is covered in a premium fabric, with all of its controls being situated at the top for straightforward access. On the other hand, the positioning of physical controls isn't as important given the Villa Connect's Google Assistant integration which provides you with the option of verbally instructing the device, telling it to change the volume, track, or answer any question you might have.

In practice, all selling points of the regular Google Home apply to the Villa Connect, with the speaker being able to serve as your smart home hub and allow you to voice-control your lights, TV, locks, security cameras, and any other compatible Internet-enabled device in your household after saying "Hey, Google." The Salt Lake City, Utah-based company claims the Google Assistant support of the Villa Connect is just as effective as the one boasted by the first-party offerings from Alphabet's subsidiary and the demo units that it's showcasing this week in Las Vegas were able to attest to that, being quick to respond to any queries from curious visitors.

Multi-room audio over a Wi-Fi connection is also part of the package here, being one of the most recently introduced selling points of Google's artificial intelligence ecosystem; setting up a house-wide audio system is as simple as plugging in your speakers, making sure they're connected to the Internet, and adding them to room-based groups in the Google Home app for Android and iOS devices. The units demoed at CES 2018 sounded much better than any mid-range (smart) speaker in the sub-$150 category but the official specifications of the Villa Connect are yet to be disclosed. Only the white model of the device has been showcased and confirmed so far.

Despite its broad range of features and capabilities, BRAVEN decided against pricing the Villa Connect out of the mid-range segment of the market, though the product still isn't cheap, with the manufacturer targeting a price of $199.99. While that's noticeably more than what the regular Google Home costs, it's also half the price of the Home Max while still offering much more than 50 percent of functionalities of Google's ultra-premium device. Given the lack of competition in this particular price segment, the Villa Connect may be able to position itself as the best of both worlds, boasting many high-end features at a relatively affordable price. A much less optimistic scenario is the one in which the market ignores it for sitting on the fence between two categories, though the general novelty of the smart speaker concept should still be strong enough to minimize that risk and allow BRAVEN's first intelligent audio product to find a sizeable audience. The device doesn't have a firm release date attached to it, with the company only stating it's planning to start retailing the Villa Connect in the second quarter of the year. Besides BRAVEN itself, the Villa Connect will also be offered by a number of the firm's distribution partners.

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Dominik Bosnjak

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Dominik started at AndroidHeadlines in 2016. He’s approaching his first full decade in the media industry, with his background being primarily in technology, gaming, and entertainment. These days, his focus is more on the political side of the tech game, as well as data privacy issues, with him looking at both of those through the prism of Android. Contact him at [email protected]