Sony LF-S50G review: Price, performance and features compared
Sony's first smart speaker may not have a catchy name, but it does leverage the Google Assistant platform to deliver real-time information.
With its rich history in developing high-quality audio products for the masses, Sony’s first attempt at a smart speaker is a viable alternative to Google’s own Home speaker system, with some unique additions that help it stand apart from the crowd.
The LF-S50G’s inclusion of an LED clock, water resistance and gesture controls all help it claim a fairly unique position in the market, but it’s the impressive sound quality that will really sway you to this model over Google’s own speakers. Especially given that many of Sony’s unique integrations don’t seem to be thought through 100%.
There’s an elegant simplicity to the design of the LF-S50G smart speaker. Cylindrical in design with a black, white or blue mesh covering, the LF-S50G looks exactly like what it is.
The glossy plastic bottom of the device houses the power jack, as well as dedicated buttons for muting the microphone (an essential inclusion in the smart speaker market) and Bluetooth, for easy connectivity.
Beneath the speaker are two buttons so subtle you may not even notice they are there – a dimmer for the clock (which can switch it off), and a button that locks off gesture and touch controls for three minutes.
About two-thirds of the way up the speaker’s mesh grill, there is an NFC chip for simple and quick device pairing (so long as you are using an Android device, that is), while the front of the speaker houses a two-line LED clock. Above the clock, four LED lights will flash when you say the essential “OK Google” hotword, indicating that the microphones are actively listening to what you’re saying.
The top of the LF-S50G is marked by the iconic Sony badge, as well as two microphone holes on either side. The top is touch sensitive, allowing you to control the volume (if you touch it just right), and also includes sensors for the gesture control.
From a design standpoint, the one major flaw is in the LF-S50G’s name. Competing with devices named “Echo” or “Home”, Sony’s decision to go with a product code as the key identifier for this speaker is somewhat confusing. But that’s not going to be a dealbreaker for anyone already considering Sony’s offering.Back to top
Sony is an audio company, so it’s not really a surprise that the sound quality from the LF-S50G is solid. It doesn’t come close to the much more expensive Apple HomePod, or even match the recently updated Sonos ONE speaker, but definitely sits above the Google Home and Amazon Echo family of speakers.
In general scenarios, the sound is fairly balanced, maybe a little weak on the bass front, but not terribly so. Crank things up to full volume and that lack of bass is more noticeable, but the speaker manages to play back bass-heavy tracks without distortion.
There is a weird flaw with the Google Assistant’s implementation of volume – while you can set the volume to any number out of 100, if you want it to sit at a number below 10, voice commands will instead set it at 10 times the number you request (so 50 when you ask for 5, for example).
The touch panel on the top of the Sony will let you drop it down in increments of threes, which doesn’t give you a huge amount of granular control over volume.
And also on the volume front, it’s important to note that the Sony’s volume setting isn’t recognised by the Google Assistant. So if you have the speaker’s volume set at the lowest possible setting, Google Assistant’s responses still come back at a standard (loud) volume.
This makes things like setting an alarm late at night while everyone else is asleep something you won’t want to do with voice commands.Back to top
Digital assistant performance
The Google Assistant was the first smart speaker digital assistant to launch in Australia when it arrived with the Google Home, and the experience for users of the Sony LF-S50G is identical.
Google Assistant will answer your questions about the weather, offer you news updates and tell you about your day by checking your Google calendar. It is full of Australian anecdotes and jokes, and offers a range of games and quizzes to help keep your kids happy.
Unlike Alexa, Google Assistant can be paired with multiple Google accounts (including kids accounts using the family link app), and can detect different voices to give different, personalised responses.
The platform also offers smart home controls, which allow you to use your voice to monitor all manner of devices around the home. After setting up the different rooms of my house in the Google Home app, I can easily switch on, off or change any of the Philips Hue globes I have located around the house. The voice recognition software of the Google Assistant does a good job of accurately hearing and then actioning my commands, with the Sony microphones picking up the commands at a reasonable volume from across the room.
One of Google’s best implementations with the Google Assistant is the ability to send recipes found on a web browser to your smart speaker with a single button press. Then, with the right command, the speaker will read out a step by step guide while you cook.
This functionality is especially useful for the Sony speaker given its splashproof design.Back to top
One of Sony’s unique selling points for the LF-S50G is the inclusion of touch and gesture controls on the top of the speaker. If you watch the promotional videos and images on Sony’s website, these are designed to allow for hands-free control, specifically in a kitchen environment where your hands might be covered in food or water and you don’t want to wipe it all over your shiny new speaker.
The reality though is that neither gesture or touch controls work well, or intuitively. The touch panel, for example, can be used to control volume if you gently caress the top of the speaker in a circular motion. But it only works on a specific part of the top panel, which is not clearly marked, so that even after weeks of experience you rarely hit the right place on your first attempt.
Gesture controls are similarly frustrating. Waving your hand from left to right over the top of the speaker is meant to skip forward a track, while right to left will rewind. Going from back to front activates the microphone so you don’t have to say “OK Google”, though it works so haphazardly you’ll never opt for this method.
Front to back will play or pause your music, but it’s an awkward movement.
Sony’s first smart speaker is a mixed bag. At its core, it’s a finely balanced speaker that delivers the full Google Assistant experience to your home. Like the Google Home, the LF-S50G is a companion to your everyday life in a smart speaker format, with the ability to control your smart home and keep your kids entertained with fun audio-based games.
But Sony’s attempts to make the speaker unique with touch and gesture controls is a misfire that doesn’t add to the experience. And given you are paying for those features when you opt for this speaker, you may not feel it’s the best use of your dollars, especially in a rather price competitive market anyway.
Still, for the slight premium over the Google Home, you do get a better audio result, so if sound quality and Google Assistant are important to you, this could be the ideal speaker for you.Back to top
Pricing and availability
The Sony LF-S50G is available now with an RRP of $249.Back to top
Sony LF-S50G at a glance
What is the Sony LF-S50G? Sony's first smart speaker, which runs the Google digital assistant to play back music, answer queries and control your smart home.
When did the Sony LF-S50G come out? Sony announced the speaker at the IFA conference in Berlin in 2018, and it went on sale in Australia in December 2017.
How much does the Sony LF-S50G cost? The LF-S50G has an RRP of $249.
What is the Sony LF-S50G?
Sony has a long history of launching high-quality speakers and audio products, so it was no surprise to see the electronics giant announce the LF-S50G smart speaker at the IFA conference in Berlin in 2017. The LF-S50G may not have a catchy name, but the compact speaker offers direct access to the Google Assistant, just like the Google Home.
Sony has designed its product with a few unique features to stand apart from the rest of the market. It boasts an integrated LED clock which shines from behind its metal grill casing to give you the time at a glance.
It also boasts an IPX3 water resistance rating, meaning it can handle minor splashes of water. This makes it a better option as a kitchen or bathroom speaker than many of the other smart speakers available on the market – especially when you couple the water resistance with the hands-free gesture controls.
What can the Sony LF-S50G smart speaker do?
The Sony LF-S50G is powered by the Google Assistant, which means you get all the same types of services and controls as the Google Home family of speakers. By using the "Okay Google" hotword, you can activate the speaker and ask it questions for real-time information delivered from the Internet. This can be anything from an update on the weather to news updates, to jokes, to public transport times plus plenty more.
Of course, the LF-S50G is also a speaker which means you can use it to play back music. Subscribers of Spotify, Google Play Music and YouTube Music can stream music to the Sony speaker at a voice command.
And while streaming directly through your home's Internet connection is the most obvious method of music playback, the Sony speaker also supports Bluetooth streaming for playing songs from your phone without requiring your home data connection.
Google Assistant can also support smart home devices, like Philips Hue lights and Ring smart doorbells. Using the Google Home app, you can create key phrases that run a series of instructions to help automate your home and your life.
What other devices is the Sony LF-S50G compatible with?
Since the Sony LF-S50G is powered by the Google Assistant service, it offers the same device support as the Google Home family of products.
That means that you can use the Sony speaker to control Chromecast devices, as well as smart home products compatible with the Google Assistant. Google Assistant also supports IFTTT, which means you can connect hundreds of services to your smart speaker for custom actions based on specific voice commands.
When did the Sony LF-S50G launch in Australia?
Originally announced at IFA 2017 in Berlin, the LF-S50G smart speaker hit Australian shelves in early December 2017 in three different colour options: Black, white and blue.
How much does the Sony LF-S50G cost?
Sony's first smart speaker has an RRP of $249.Back to top
Sony LF-S50G specs
|Wireless Network||802.11a/b/g/n (2.4GHz/5GHz)|
|Speaker Information||53mm woofer + 48mm satellite|
|Min. Frequency Response (Hz)||20|
|Max. Frequency Response (Hz)||20,000|