"If you can't say something nice," the saying goes, "don't say anything at all." If I stuck to that, this would be a really short review.
Issuing voice commands to your mobile devices is all the rage these days with everything from smartphones to thermostats hanging on your every word. But as the Ok Google-Siri-Cortana marketing grudge match has illustrated, not all electronic ears are created equal. Especially not the new smart clock from Ivee, a company which was just revealed to be one of Nest's new partners. Trust me: you might as well be talking to your toaster.
The Ivee Sleek is billed as "the first Wi-Fi voice-activated assistant for the home that answers questions, obeys commands and controls other Internet-connected devices," according to its creators. It's designed to function as a tabletop clock with the added benefit of 33 voice-activated functions. It's supposedly capable of controlling a number of other home automation devices like the Nest thermostat, Hue Lights, or WeMo-enabled devices. At least they got the clock part right.
The Sleek's physical form-factor is quite nice. I was very impressed with the build quality — especially for a former kickstarter project — and design. It's, as the name implies, a very sleek looking device with a minimal number of buttons and dials, and a large, easily read LED display. And that just about does it for the unit's redeeming qualities.
Setup is a goddamn nightmare. After you plug in the unit, you'll have to connect it to your home Wi-Fi network, which involves scrolling through an unintuitive UI using the exterior volume and brightness toggle switches to input the network password. Next you'll have to set up a user account at Ivee.com and pair the device with your account. After that, you can grant the clock access to your various other IoT devices. All of these steps entail saying "hello Ivee" to activate the unit before issuing a verbal command like "Pair Hue," "set alarm 1 to 7am," or "radio off." Or at least that's how it's supposed to work.
Unfortunately, the Ivee Sleek's voice recognition software is laughably incompetent. Remember how awful that very first public release of Apple's SIRI was? This is magnitudes worse. You have to be within 3 and 10 feet of the unit for it to even pretend to listen to you — making it fairly useless outside of studio apartments. The literature suggests speaking to the clock as though it were another person. The literature, however, fails to mention that this "person" is both stone deaf and wilfully ignorant.
And it's not like you can speak softly either. If, say, you wake up in the middle of the night, can't find your glasses and want to know what time it is, you can't groggily whisper "hello Ivee, what time is it?" No, you gotta project from your belly like you're addressing an auditorium full of disinterested high schoolers for the unit to respond — exactly the sort of technological interaction I'm going for at three in the morning.
When issuing a command you always have to 1.) preface it with "hello ivee," 2.) state your command then 3.) wait for the system to realise you're talking to it, respond to you, and try to figure out what you just said. Every command must be prefaced with "hello ivee." Every. Single. Command. It's not like you can say "hello Ivee, turn the radio on to station 107.7 and turn the volume up." It's gotta be "Hello Ivee, radio. Hello Ivee, tune radio to 107.7. Hello Ivee, volume up." This winds up being a whole lot of buildup for the Sleek's invariable response, "I didn't understand that, please repeat" at which point you have to start over at "hello Ivee." The process typically requires between two and seven attempts to get right, which is awesome when all I want is for you to do is turn on the goddamn radio.
And let's talk about that radio. It's FM only, which eliminates AM sports and news programming (i.e. no Giants post-season on KNBR) thereby limiting you to the top 40 garbage that generally dominates the FM dial. And while you can turn the radio on with a voice command — "Hello Ivee, Radio" — you can't turn it off that way because the voice recognition system is so janky that it doesn't differentiate your voice from the broadcast. You'll have to turn the unit off by hand — same with the volume. Changing the station verbally has a roughly 50 per cent success rate.
If only the device pairing worked half as well as that. During the course of this review test I spent no less than 90 minutes shouting at the Ivee in an attempt to get it to pair with my Hue bridge. The two paired a total of zero times.
The voice command problem is compounded by the fact that Ivee only understands (I use that term loosely) a specific set of commands. It's not like talking to OK Google where you can just say what you want and the system figures out what your intention is — with Ivee if you don't state the command perfectly and precisely "Hello Ivee, turn on alarm 1" it will flat out ignore you. And even when it does understand you, there's absolutely no assurance that it will actually do what you say. For example, saying "Hello Ivee, turn off alarm 2" more often than not results in "The weather in San Antonio today is partly cloudy."
I even made up a gibberish phrase, "Hello Ivee. Wazza fazza binga bong" to test this. I consistently got either "The current weather in Lima, Nepal is overcast" or "The auto dimmer is currently off" depending on how far away I was standing from the clock.
It's enough to make you want to just smash the damn thing against a wall and buy that $US15 dumb clock from Target like you should have in the first place. The only problem with that is you'll then be out the $US200 this barely-functional device costs.
In short, the Ivee Sleek has the right idea. A platform agnostic assistant that you can talk to rather than type at could be a fantastic tool for neophyte home automators or those looking to run a number of separate devices through a central command system. Ivee just totally screwed the pooch on its implementation. Save your money.
Or don't. Just don't say I didn't warn you. [Ivee]