(Pocket-lint) - The beauty about Google allowing its voice-controlled Assistant to be added to third-party speakers and headphones is great for multiple reasons: it widens the market with more than just one choice; meaning you'll be able to get the sound and design you're looking for, without compromising on the smart home assistant.
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The original Google Home and Google Home Mini hardly offer the best sound around, and with the expensive Home Max's availability being limited to the US, we're glad that more traditional tech manufacturers are getting their hats in the ring. And the Panasonic GA10 is one of the first to hit the market.
- 100mm square base, 284mm tall, 1.7kg weight
- LED lights volume display
- External power brick
For those who don't like the "air freshener" look of Google Home or Canvas-covered "macaron" aesthetic of the Home Mini, the GA10 will come as a breath of fresh air. It's a far more traditional audio design than any of Google's offerings... which might make it look too retro for some.
Rather than the modern trend of creating a rounded or cylindrical speaker, Panasonic has opted for completely flat edges and right angles in the GA10. It's also surprisingly tall: at roughly one foot, it towers over Amazon Echo and Google Home.
The company has gone to great lengths to ensure that every side is as flat as possible, even on the top control panel where there are touch-sensitive controls, all marked by subtle icons clearly illustrating what each function is. Here, you can change the audio source, play and pause the music, adjust the volume, switch the unit on or off, or mute the microphone.
One of the more important visual elements is the row of LEDs that sit between the transparent trim at the front of the top edge. These eight LEDs only illuminate white when you're adjusting the volume. The four central ones light up orange and stay on permanently when you have the microphone muted. Lastly, there's a smaller, more subtle LED next to each of the input "buttons" so you know which is selected.
If there's any downside, it's that the power adapter takes the form of a hefty power brick, which sits externally to the speaker. That means it's not the most convenient thing to plug in, as you've got to ensure there's somewhere for you to hide this brick.
On the whole it's clear that Panasonic doesn't care too much about this speaker matching the pots holding your succulents, or camouflaging with your chalk-white painted recovered timber shelving. It's more at home next to your old, pre-existing AV kit than it is being disguised in a bookshelf.
Features and sound
- Bluetooth 4.2 wireless
- 3.5mm input jack
- 1x 8cm woofer
- 2x 2cm tweeters
- 20W per channel (40W total)
- Wi-Fi 802.1 ac/a/b/g/n
Apart from its design, the other advantage of the Panasonic GA10 over the bog standard Google Home is that there's a much bigger focus on sound quality.
If you could look inside the GA10, you'd find a three speaker system, comprising one 8cm woofer and two 2cm tweeters. All three combine to offer 40W of power and a sound that's loud, clear and relatively full - especially given its size.
Unsurprisingly, when compared to the Google Home, the Panasonic sounds much louder, clearer and fuller. Even at 50 per cent volume it's comfortably loud enough to fill a medium-size lounge. At its maximum volume it's too loud for almost any room - unless you live in some epic hall - so we rarely had it above the halfway point.
The embedded woofer means you get rich bass depth that's not overpowering or droning, while the tweeters ensure the top-end is clear. After initial setup, it sounded a little bit tinny, giving too much prominence to the treble. However, thanks to the Panasonic Music Control app on Android/iPhone (which lets you customise the EQ, including presets such as Voice), we soon had the speaker sounding more balanced for our tastes.
Your default method of listening to music might be using streaming services, like Spotify or Google Play Music, which is no problem for the GA10. It can be used as a Bluetooth speaker or plugged in via a 3.5mm jack, covering all the simple bases.
What's more, if you have two GA10's there's the ability to pair them as stereo speakers, so you can place them apart and get a wider soundstage.
- Google Assistant built in for voice control
- Chromecast Audio function (multi-room capable)
- Pair with another GA10 for stereo
Google Assistant is the company's voice-controlled smart home assistant. You ask it a question and it answers. It can control third-party products (say, lighting or thermostat) as part of a smart home network. It can even tell you a joke. The one feature it doesn't have yet is the ability to make calls (this is only a recent update to Google Home, so that's hardly surprising).
As with any Chromecast or Google Home product, once you plug the Panasonic G10 in and power it up, it automatically shows as a device that you can setup within the Google Home app. This automatically then appears within the Panasonic Music Control app, which makes things nice and easy. As well as all your usual Google Assistant capabilities, you can use your voice to control the speaker's elements. You can play, pause or skip tracks just by saying "Hey Google, play/pause/stop/next song/skip". Similarly, you can change the volume by saying "turn it up/down", or you can specify a level either by using a percentage, or a level between one and 10. For instance, you can say "turn it up/down to 35 per cent" or "turn it up/down to level five".
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Since the GA10 can use Chromecast Audio, you can include it in any multi-room Chromecast groups, too, making it part of a house-wide audio system, just as you would with any Google Home or Chromecast Audio product.
The Panasonic GA10 is like a Google Home for people who want decent audio quality. Because it just sounds so much better. And while audio quality is front and entre, this is as much a living room speaker as it is a smart assistant.
While it isn't designed to camouflage into its surroundings like its Google-made competition, it is a classic enough design that could look good on most shelves or surfaces. It's loud enough to fill big rooms with sound, too, and can be used as a regular speaker via Bluetooth or wired connection if required.
Alternatives to consider
Amazon Echo Plus
Amazon's Echo Plus may not have the same audio performance as the Panasonic, but it does offer one thing that the GA10 doesn't: Alexa. Amazon's assistant is currently leading the charge when it comes to smart home speakers, plus it's compatible with more services. It's also much cheaper than the GA10.
Read the full review: Amazon Echo Plus review
Google Home Max
Google Home Max is Google's own big-and-expensive smart speaker. It's an impressive listen and is very easy to setup. While its audio chops are impressive and its design inoffensive, it's currently restricted to the US market.
Read the full article: Google Home Max review