Announced at IFA 2017, the SC-GA10 is Panasonic’s first foray into the world of smart speakers.
In case you’ve been living under a rock right now, smart speakers are the latest craze right now, with manufacturers all over the world rushing to produce speakers that are capable of listening, and responding to, your every request.
Rather than building their own smart assistants to power these speakers, manufacturers are instead drawing upon the existing efforts of experts like Amazon and Google.
While others have hedged their bets as to which intelligent AI will come out ahead by supporting both of them, Panasonic has come out firmly in favor of team Google. The SC-GA10 features full support for Google Assistant, which means that it will integrate with the latest smartphones and anything that’s Google Assistant compatible - and that includes other smart speakers. More or that later.
With most smart speakers now supporting the same small number of voice assistants, the race is on to find points of differentiation. The Panasonic SC-GA10’s unique selling point is its audio quality.
Inside this speaker you’ll find two 20mm tweeters paired with an 8cm woofer to round out the base. This dual woofer has a dual voice coil, and is paired with a long port back bass reflex system for extra oomf.
A representative from Panasonic told us that the company decided to focus on audio due mainly to what people are tending to use their smart speakers for. While in the tech industry we like to view these speakers as opening up a world of smart home automation, the simple truth is that most people mainly use these speakers for listening to music.
Therefore, Panasonic reckoned that it made sense to design them with music in mind.
A multi-room contender
The Panasonic SC-GA10 should, in theory, seamlessly integrate with any other Google Assistant speakers you have around your home. You can pair them together to play the same song in different rooms, you can request one speaker play music from a speaker in a different room, or, if you have two GA10s, you can pair them together in stereo.
With this amount of options, it feels like Panasonic is targeting the Sonos crowd more so than those who are after a no-frills smart speaker. The company is yet to announce pricing information, but we can’t imagine these are going to be a budget option next to the standard Google Home.
Thankfully, first impressions suggest that the speaker is capable of a level of audio quality that’s a real step above the stock smart speaker options from Amazon and Google. The speaker’s low bass was really capable of rumbling the room we were demoed it in without losing too much detail in the mids and trebles.
Putting the speaker further in Sonos territory is its on-board controls. On the top of the device you’ve got buttons for cycling through the various inputs, which include Bluetooth and a 3.5mm aux input.
Unfortunately Panasonic was unable to confirm whether you’d be able to switch these inputs using your voice.
Of course, when it comes to a smart speaker, its listening abilities are just as important as its aural ones.
The SC-GA10 is packing a pair of microphones in a similar configuration to what the Google Home features. Yes, that’s less than the Amazon Echo’s seven microphone array, but so far it doesn’t seem to have been a massive problem for Google itself.
Unfortunately, you’ll have to wait for our full review to learn how well the SC-GA10’s mics perform, as we weren’t able to test them for ourselves on the show floor.
A Google exclusive
With Google and Amazon dominating the voice assistant market at the moment with their Google Assistant and Alexa software respectively, Panasonic has chosen to embrace the former as the virtual genius behind the SC-GA10.
When I asked a representative why this decision was taken, he expressed confidence that Google would come to dominate the voice assistant market. Google Home may have launched later than the Amazon Echo, but it has gained ground remarkably quickly, and he was confident that it would be the one to stand the test of time.
Additionally he stated that Panasonic's existing relationship with Google made them a more natural partner for a first smart speaker.
Whether or not Google does win out in the war with Amazon, if you're already invested in the Alexa ecosystem, then the GA10 might not be for you.
With every audio manufacturer under the sun rushing to support a voice assistant, it’s perhaps no surprise that Panasonic is now amongst the club.
However, it’s reassuring to see this company, with its rich background in Hi-Fi audio, joining their number. While other smart speaker companies are coming at it from backgrounds in rugged portable Bluetooth speakers, Panasonic’s history is more high-end, and the acoustic quality shows.
For playing music then, the SC-GA10 looks like it might provide a high-end alternative to other smart speakers, but we’ll have to wait until next year to see how well it performs against the smart competition.