Hands-on review: Triby Family smart speaker with Alexa
Image credit: Invoxia
Alexa is everywhere. Now she’s in Triby Family, the voice-controlled smart speaker from French tech company Invoxia. Finally you can shout at the radio and actually get an intelligent response. We had a chat with the newest member of Triby Family.
Invoxia originally launched Triby Family as a “family hub” smart internet radio, Bluetooth speaker and digital messageboard. It’s slim body, tactile rubber bumper strip and big carrying handle made it an easy pleasure to move and place around the house, while the three heavy-duty magnets built in to the back of Triby guaranteed it would stick to any metal surface without fear of sliding down or falling off.
It was a neat idea, although you couldn’t help feeling that it needed something more. Now, beginning in April 2017, Triby Family additionally comes with Amazon’s Alexa voice-controlled AI built in. This service is currently available in the USA, the UK and Germany. Now you’re talking.
Invoxia envisages Triby Family as ideally suited for the kitchen - this being the room at the heart of most family homes - so the fridge door is the obvious natural location for it, hence the super-strong magnets. They certainly work: we’ve watched a secondary school-age child struggling to pull Triby off the fridge door. Triby ain’t going anywhere, unless you want it to.
As an internet-connected radio, you can set up Triby’s two dedicated station buttons for instant access to your favourite stations, with the ellipsis button (...) allowing scroll-through access to as many more as you care to add via the accompanying smartphone app.
It's immensely enjoyable to be able to stumble bleary-eyed into the kitchen of a morning, stab at the #1 or #2 button and have your music of choice becalm your troubled mind. Being internet radio, the choice of stations available to you is also ridiculously vast and changing the preset buttons is simple work in the app. Obviously Triby has to be connected to a WiFi network at all times for the radio to work, so while Triby is designed to be portable; just remember not to wander out of WiFi range (depending on how big your house is, naturally).
As a Bluetooth speaker, Triby works like any other: pair it with your smartphone or tablet and blast away. If you happen to subscribe to Spotify Premium, you can also directly stream your playlists to Triby from within the Spotify app. Sweet.
The sound quality of Triby is surprisingly good for what from the outside appears to be a relatively compact unit. Given the amazing audio technology available today, we should probably stop acting surprised that small speakers can sound so big. They can, end of story. As long as a company pays attention to what’s possible, almost anything is possible.
Crucially, Invoxia hasn’t skimped on Triby’s speakers, a smart speaker literally being only as good as it sounds. The ‘In Vivo Acoustic’ technology “delivers state-of-the-art sound processing” through Triby’s two built-in speakers and passive radiator, all managed by 3D algorithms that promise to “create immersive soundscapes with profound bass and clear treble”.
Subjectively speaking, we compared Triby’s sound quality to that of our incumbent kitchen radio, a Pure One Evoke Mio, which itself sounds very decent. Perhaps the Pure One had marginally more pleasing rounded sonics across the register than Triby, but there really wasn’t enough to choose between them. Chalk and cheese, this was not. More like subtle flavour differences between two types of Cheddar?
Invoxia also talks about Triby using an array of speakers (i.e. more than two) to create a spatial effect, projecting the sound around the room, avoiding the necessity for the listener to remain in a fixed-position 'sweet spot' for the best sound. This is a key area for some audio companies, conscious that static speakers need to perform better these days as consumers become more demanding. A similar 3D-sound spatial concept is explored over at Orbitsound which uses its proprietary AirSound technology in its own audio products. For a product like Triby, likely destined to remain (literally) stuck in one location, the ability to better project its sound is a real plus point.
This spatial audio effect is in evidence with Triby and you’re never noticeably 'out of frame' as far as listening to the music as you move, waft, sashay or frug around the room (according to your mood). Stereo separation of the music is also palable: considering the speakers are so close together, you’d be forgiven to expect everything to sound as if it were recorded in mono. That’s not the case here. The psychedelically playful use of stereo panning throughout Jimi Hendrix’s 'Electric Ladyland' album is always a great test subject for establishing stereo width.
Triby can also be used as a speaker for hands-free telephone calls, at which time those spatial/stereo spread capabilities again come into play. On a three-way group conversation, the voices of the two incoming callers are helpfully panned to the left and right enabling you to more readily determine who is speaking and what they’re saying.
The listening algorithms in Triby have been designed to accurately pick up the sound of the human voice, which in conjunction with four microphones help pick up the voices of people in the room and create a ‘listening beam’ directed at a person speaking clearly, above general background chatter or even music playing.
This ability to detect and determine conversation and specific requests in the room is, of course, essential now that Triby has Alexa on board. This is arguably the biggest selling point for Triby now, boosting its status from an oversized, internet-powered, Bluetooth fridge-radio magnet to all that, plus helpful AI personal assistant.
With Alexa Voice Service built into Triby - just like an Echo or a Dot - you have access to all of Alexa’s services. Ask Alexa to play music from Prime Music, iHeartRadio or TuneIn or call out any of your favourite skills: questions, jokes, news, sports results, weather, alarms, recipes, request services, control smart home devices etc - anything that exists as an Alexa skill can be asked of Triby.
Alexa on Triby can be set either to be 'always on' (a battery drain), meaning she's permanently listening out for voice instructions, or you can set Triby via the app to only trigger Alexa when you press the large square button on the side. We preferred this option. When you press the button, the play/pause button on top of Triby blinks blue and a short chime announces that Alexa is now all ears.
On the subject of battery status, this is displayed on the e-ink screen, along with the current time and basic weather information for your locale. A nice touch if you happen to wear an Apple Watch is that Triby will ping you a notification when its battery is getting low, so you’re reminded to plug it in to recharge. We ran Triby unplugged on the front of our fridge for several days at a time, listening to the radio for a few hours a day, before it needed recharging each time. You can, of course, keep Triby permanently plugged in if you prefer.
The one disappointing aspect of the e-ink display that surprised us is that if you are listening to a radio station, the screen displays the station name - and that’s all. You can’t listen to the radio and keep the 'home' clock/weather screen on display, which would be a much more preferable state of affairs. We hope Invoxia fixes this in the next software iteration.
The e-ink display is also used for the messaging side of Triby. The idea is that families can send each other emojis, doodles, messages and reminders that then appear on Triby’s screen, like a digital family noticeboard. The set-up process for this is kind of clunky, requiring everyone to download the Triby app and then be added one by one to a group that the primary Triby user creates.
In use, it is cute - especially the physical old-school yellow “message received” flag that pops out of the side of Triby to alert you that you have a new message waiting - although we found that after the initial flurry of silly messages, outsider-art doodles and “memos to self”, everyone in the group largely stopped using this feature and just went back to texting each other directly on their phones instead, as you would. Perhaps families with very young children might enjoy the simplicity of the messaging system, either just for fun or as an occasional aide-memoire during those hectic early years.
All told, there is much to like with Triby Family and not much to dislike. Even a feature such as the e-ink messaging that you might never use, well, it’s always there if you ever feel like using it. The addition of Alexa really kicks Triby Family up a notch, making this little internet-driven, rubber-bound, chatty, smart speaker a genuinely helpful addition to your kitchen. Triby Family might easily become a permanent fixture in your life - and not just because of those powerful magnets!