Let’s be honest – smart speakers are not exactly smart. Pick up any smart speaker you can buy today and the only thing they are good for is playing your Spotify playlist, or a quick news readout; that is how I have seen these speakers being used in most Indian households. At most, you will see some having those fancy Wi-Fi LED bulbs or a smart TV being controlled by these speakers but that’s it! “I wish my smart speaker could turn off the AC in the middle of the night with my voice, or turn off the fan, or control my flatscreen TV,” – these are the common wishes I hear from Indian homemakers. Big problem, big opportunity, and there’s Xiaomi.
After launching one Google Assistant-equipped smart speaker in 2020, Xiaomi is back with a new model and one unique trick up its sleeves – controlling non-smart devices. Most smart speakers can only control devices that are connected to your home Wi-Fi; the Xiaomi Smart Speaker IR Control can control those that lack that Wi-Fi chip.If your appliance has an Infrared or IR sensor, this speaker can command it. Brilliant, right? And at Rs. 4,999, it is pocket-friendly too.
Should you buy one though?
The Xiaomi Smart Speaker IR Control has a very simple and monotonous design – small curvy box-like shape with drilled holes, all done in dull matte plastic. You have your playback and volume key controls on the top. And there’s a small status LED light that takes cues from the Apple HomePod Mini status light – it glows in a myriad of colours when the Google Assistant is invoked. You also have an LED clock on its face, which is useful in modern household slacking wall clocks.
As with all smart speakers, you need to plug it into a socket and wait for the voice instructions. Open the Google Home app and follow the on-screen instructions to set it up. Note that you will need the Xiaomi Home app to set up the IR controls for non-smart devices. This is where one issue creeps up – if you don’t have IR devices, the Xiaomi Home app doesn’t let you skip past this page. Not that the speaker doesn’t function but the user should have access to the native app for granular controls over the device.
The Xiaomi Smart Speaker IR Control can do everything a regular Google Assistant speaker can do. That means it can do everything the Google Assistant can do on your Android phone, i.e, play music, narrate cringe jokes, readout news and weather, and control all appliances that support Google Assistant integration. You can also cast your media from an Android phone.
The ace here is the IR control function – it pairs up with legacy appliances to control them. Hence, if you have an Air Conditioner that uses IR controls, you can simply set it up with the speaker and ask Google to switch it ON or OFF; you can do even more if the appliance supports it.
I tested it on my AC and after a hectic miss-n-match process, I was able to get it paired. I was able to do simple switch ON/OFF functions with the speaker and it worked. If you have got an old non-smart TV, you can use the speaker to control it as well.
Smart Speakers have to be good jukeboxes and the Xiaomi Smart Speaker IR Control is a decent one. It has got a 360-degree surround driver setup and for a sub- ₹5000 speaker, it works pretty nicely. The speaker goes loud enough to be the heart of a home get together and your personal bedroom jukebox. The audio quality is good – there’s ample bass and there’s some emphasis on the low end. However, the audio quality is far from what you hear from a similarly priced Bluetooth speaker, or the one from the Google Nest Audio smart speaker, forget the Apple HomePod Mini. It lacks the dynamic range of these segment favourites – experienced ears may find the audio quality muddy.
The microphones are nice and if placed cleverly in the room, they work well to pickup your voice commands from far away. That said, there will be times when you might be shouting the “Hey Google” keyword and the speaker fails to respond – this might be a bug and I hope Xiaomi fixes it with an update.
The Xiaomi Smart Speaker IR Control addresses a big concern that most potential buyers face with smart speakers – universal compatibility. I cannot think of any other smart speaker that offers this kind of versatility to control both smart and legacy appliances. With the addition of a simple IR sensor control, Xiaomi has now justified the “smart” in the smart speaker. For this reason alone, I will gladly recommend the Xiaomi Smart Speaker IR Control over the Google Nest Mini and the Amazon Echo speakers.
It is not perfect though. The setup process is cumbersome, especially the part that involves the Xiaomi Home app. The audio quality could have been tuned better too, given the promising hardware. And in an age of radical new designs, this smart speaker looks rather bland – Xiaomi designers need to spice up their efforts.
But then you consider its reasonably low price of Rs. 4,999 and these niggles seem to be less bothersome. Hence, if universal compatibility is your prime concern while choosing your next smart speaker, the Xiaomi Smart Speaker IR Control becomes an easy and only choice.
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