My eight-year-old is a digital native in every sense of the term — the sort that is looking for a revert button when something goes wrong as he’s painting on paper. But he is also a voice native. Compared to his old dad, he can be much more instinctive when it comes to asking a small speaker for the result of a mathematics sum or a what the weather is going to be like. For me that is an added feature, something I remember to use more as an afterthought.
But his world is going to be become simpler as the year progresses. Almost every speaker worth its salt now has at least one voice assistant plugged in. Take the case of Sony, which is packing Alexa into everything from headphones to sound bars and regular speakers. Its latest SRS-XB402M is a portable speaker that can connect independently to Alexa and play the music you want using voice commands. Yes, you can do the old fashioned Bluetooth streaming too. But then you will be old fashioned doing that.
The SRS-XB402M has a stylish fabric finish design, with speakers that fire both towards the front and back. The top is rubberised and holds all the buttons you will need to switch on, adjust volume and skips songs. As is the vogue in the Sony bouquet these days, there is LED lighting. After all, who does not want to party.
The SRS-XB402M needs the Sony Music Centre app to connect to Alexa. The process is quicker if you already have the Alexa app logged in your phone. Once that is done, the device can do everything a regular Alexa device does. The LED lights up blue when it hears you voice commands, even if the lights are switched off.
The audio quality of the SRS-XB402M is pretty good and, as I mentioned before, it throws music all around the room. There is a Live mode if you like a more spatial feel. Yes, the speakers are a bit partial to bass as you would expect from Sony. But I used the settings in the app to switch to the clear audio mode, which was really perfect for me.
I heard a lot of vocal heavy songs on the speakers, while my son kept interrupting with his requests to Alexa for songs like Old Town Road and Believer. But the switch from Iktara to Believer did not bother SRS-XB402M one bit and it was capable of adapting to all types of music. The audio quality improves and becomes more full-bodied as you increase the volume.
The SRS-XB402M can work just on battery if needed and this is among the few Alexa speakers now that work on battery.
The one issue I felt was that it struggled to connect to Alexa on my iOS device and then I switched to an Android where it worked quite easily. Also, the LEDs can be distracting, especially when you are hearing Carnatic or Hindustani which just does not go with these lights. Thankfully, you can switch them off in settings.
At Rs 19,990, the Sony SRS-XB402M is a very impressive smart speaker. At the moment it is cheaper than what Bose has to offer and offers better sound that most of Amazon’s Alexa range. And Sony has made the offer sweeter for early adopters by offering the MDR-XB450AP headphones worth Rs 2,490 free till August 18. It might be a smart decision to buy this speaker.