Ask Amazon’s Echo or Google Home “Quelle heure est-il?” and one says it doesn’t know the answer to the question it just heard while the other gives results for Keller Plaza in “Street Louis” (misreading the abbreviation for St. Louis). Alexa can recognize German, in addition to American and British English, but the Home doesn’t support any languages besides the two versions of English. Now, DreamWave wants to give non-English speakers a, well, speaker of their own: the Genie.
The Dot-like speaker runs on lithium batteries for up to 10 hours at a time and charges via a USB cable. It uses Bluetooth to communicate with your phone, then simply plays Siri’s or Google Now’s responses. It can do this hands-free, if your iPhone is set up to allow “Dis Siri” (the French version of “Hey, Siri”), for example. It also functions as a regular Bluetooth speaker, letting you play music, audiobooks, and podcasts from your phone. If you don’t use the hands-free option, you have to hold down the volume knob for three seconds (which feels like a long time) to awaken the assistant.
DreamWave says the Genie supports more than 50 languages and dialects, meaning the ones used by Android and Apple. They include Arabic, Chinese, Dutch, English, Finnish, French, German, Hebrew, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Thai, and Turkish, among others.
We got the opportunity to try out the Genie. To get started, you press the power button, then hold down the same button to put it in pairing mode. Find the device in your Bluetooth settings on your phone, and it will start playing music or voice assistant responses. We tried it with English, French, and Spanish. Apparently, our French accent is dreadful, because Siri mostly didn’t respond when we said, “Dis Siri.” But when we used a YouTube video of an actual French speaker saying the phrase, she responded. We got a little carried away and accidentally almost called a restaurant while Siri was French, which would’ve played through the Genie as well.
The Genie isn’t exactly a replacement for the Dot or Google Home. It doesn’t have skills of its own, and if your phone isn’t nearby, it’s not going to work. Still, it does highlight that Amazon’s and Google’s products are seriously lacking in this area.
The Genie is available on Kickstarter starting Tuesday, with an early-bird price of $40. As with any crowdfunding product, it’s backer beware, though it is encouraging when a company sends out a working prototype for us to try.