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SRS-XB402M: Sony invites Alexa to the party

There are hundreds of gadgets that now integrate with Amazon’s voice assistant, Alexa. But so far, there hasn’t been one from Sony. That changes with the Japanese electronics giant’s launch of the SRS-XB402M. Since there’s just one of these for now, you can forget the mouthful of a name and just think of it as Sony’s Alexa speaker.

The new speaker is roughly the shape of an Amazon Echo Plus, only bigger all round. In fact, it’s more of a look-alike of Apple’s HomePod speaker, which isn’t launched in India.

Party lights

The Sony speaker, however, immediately looks different from any of the Echo devices because one immediately notices a metallic-looking strip running down from top to bottom in three places. These turn out to be the speaker’s party lights — one of the distinguishing features on it. These lights flash and cycle through sets of colours to pulse while you play music and look appropriately snazzy. You control your colour sets using the companion app. You can get a bluish-white set for calmness, a hot one for some fiery colours or best of all, choose random to be surprised by whatever colour keeps appearing. Others are Strobe, Calm Cyan, Chill, Rave, or altogether off. These lights don’t really light up a room or anything but just add an accent as such, giving out the message that the party is on.

You have to set up the speaker with the Alexa app and Sony’s own Music Centre app. There are a few settings you can play with, including an equaliser, a preset for extra bass, and illumination modes. Once it’s set up, the speaker takes on all of Alexa’s characteristics and answers all your questions, plays music, gives you reminders, etc. You can also control your home’s smart lights, but can’t set up Philips Hue lights with just the Sony speaker. If you have them set up with another device already, they can be commanded to work, but if there’s a first-time set-up involved, you can’t do it through the Sony speaker because it doesn’t have the smart home hub needed. That doesn’t mean you can’t use smart lights as there are many other brands that don’t need the hub: Xiaomi’s Mi Smart Bulbs, for instance.

Head to the beach

The top of the speaker has a bunch of buttons for power, pairing, volume, and for changing the soundstage to ‘Live’, with which you have a wider spread for the music. Useful in case of a party, of course, especially if you’re outdoors. The fact that you can take it outdoors at all is because it can run on battery as well as plugged-in. You can cart it off to the pool or beach, whichever you’re lucky enough to be close to, because it’s nicely waterproof and even dust proof with an IP67 rating. Apparently people even like taking speakers with them into the bathroom when they want to bathe, so you can do that too in the absence of pools and beaches.

The waterproof rating, battery capability and lights give it a distinction over Amazon’s own Alexa speakers, but one thing the Sony speaker misses out on, disappointingly, is that it has no multi-room ability. You can’t have it join a collection of existing Amazon speakers around the house. You’ll need to pair it with other Sony devices only. That’s a pity because one could have added an Echo sub-woofer to it. Although from Sony’s Extra Bass collection, the speaker fell a little short on that front in my experience. Fiddling with settings in the app still didn’t get it to the point where the bass was deep and well-rounded. This could be the case with the unit I had, so it’s recommended one gives it a listen somewhere before buying. Comparisons with two Echo Plus speakers gave them the slight edge. But otherwise, it’s loud and comes with portability and toughness — being dust proof and rust proof and somewhat droppable — features that take its price up beyond the ones from Amazon — somewhat unfair since it misses out on important features as well.

SRS-XB402M Overview

  • Price: ₹24,990 (lower with introductory offers and extras)
  • Pros: Water-proof, dust-proof, rust-proof and tough, works on battery as well, has snazzy party lights, very sensitive microphones can pick up commands from quite far
  • Cons: Faced some disconnects from the network, bass not deep, doesn’t support multi-room, doesn’t include the smart home hub

Source: The Hindu