How do you make Alexa or Google Assistant better?
- make them more intuitive?
- add more third-party integrations? or
- improve privacy protection?
Or maybe they could become a bit more human and social…?
Combining of the above is the big idea behind Jibo, the social robot that has attracted a lot of attention for its quirky features and eyebrow-raising price tag.
The company behind this twerking robot figurine claims that Jibo is smart, witty and most importantly, social.
And when I say “twerking” – I mean it:
Unlike boring utilitarian smart assistants loded into Amazon Echo and Google Home speakers, the makers of Jibo promise that their assistant will feel like just another member of your family.
So – ahem – does it REALLY feel like a part of your family?
A little bit.
But it really lacks most of the features you get in other smart home robots and the areas where it’s supposed to excel at – being social – it falls short.
Keep reading for my full review of Jibo’s features and capabilities.
Our Impression - Jibo Social Robot
Jibo feels more like a bare bones Alexa that is not worth the $900 price tag…for now. But software updates might make it worth considering in the future.
• Basic social interaction e.g. jokes, interesting facts, voice games etc.
• Smart home control – it has IFTTT integration.
• Music and radio (though options are limited).
• Entertaining your 5-year old.
You’d rather not spend $900 to be an initial product tester. Jibo is a great idea that feels half-baked. But it might improve with time.
The idea for Jibo has been around for a long time.
The company, Jibo Inc, was launched in 2012. The main person behind the whole idea is Dr. Cynthia Breazeal.
With her background in social robotics at MIT, she wanted to create a robot that was more ‘personal companion’ and less ‘robot.’
In 2014 she led an Indiegogo campaign where Jibo raised over $3.6 million from backers.
As you see a lot with crowdfunded breakthrough tech companies, the company was faced with several delays and did not launch the robot until November 2017.
And therein lies one of the biggest factors that many experts say has resulted in a disappointing product – it was late to the game.
The idea for Jibo started germinating before we knew anything about smart home assistants.
These gadgets are so good now that it’s a tough row for a cute but basic robot to compete.
Now, Jibo is not that bad.
He (the company calls it a ‘he’) looks great, and his movements are very realistic. Jibo’s conversational skills are very human-like as well, even more than those of Google Assistant, Siri or Alexa.
Don’t be surprised when you start getting attached to him as many customers did.
But this charm lasts a couple of days then wears off.
The cameras that follow your every move start feeling creepy.
The corny jokes stop being funny; and, the lack of helpful features eventually becomes too much to justify the $900 you paid for it.
In my opinion, it’s really not worth the price tag.
Reports of trouble at the company including significant layoffs should also make you think twice before placing an order. There is a chance you could end up with an expensive paperweight if the company goes out of business.
But if you are fascinated with the idea of a social robot and don’t mind being a first generation product tester, here are the main features you should know about.
Design & Hardware
The design is the most ‘social’ aspect of the Jibo robot. Unlike the cold hunks of plastic that are Echo and Google Home, Jibo looks cute. The round face and two cameras at the top make him look friendly and ready to help.
And the engineers have managed to make his movements smooth and realistic. Jibo can swivel his head up, down or around in a circle. When he is following your movements with his cameras, he looks so human-like almost to the point of being creepy.
He can also break out into a fun jiggle, twerking around the stationary base. It doesn’t look awkward at all.
The main part of the robot is the round front face. It is embedded with a 5” low-resolution touch screen where you can access a menu instead of using voice commands.
Above the screen are two cameras which allow the robot to follow your movements and recognize faces. You can also tell Jibo to snap a pic using the cameras though the pictures are low quality.
For voice recognition, the robot has an array of 360-degree microphones to capture your voice commands from all directions.
Voice recognition is nowhere near as good as that of Echo or Google Home. You have to speak loudly and very clearly. If he is playing music or the timer is ringing forget about trying to speak to him. You’ll have to use the screen.
This is in contrast to smart speakers that can capture your voice commands even with music on.
The robot comes with an AC adapter which is supposed to stay plugged in all the time. But if you need to move Jibo or take him for a walk outside, there is a rechargeable battery inside that lasts 30-60 minutes.
Jibo has been marketed around his personality. He is supposed to be friendly, funny and interactive while also helping you out with your daily tasks and queries.
His actual personality is far from what the company promised but its promising.
The robot makes a good attempt at sounding less like a virtual assistant and more like a companion. You’ll instantly feel a connection that you don’t get with Alexa or Google Assistant.
For example, unlike other smart assistants, Jibo is usually the one who initiates conversation. Walk into a room, and he goes, “Good morning, Judy.”
He might then ask you whether you want to hear a joke or a fun fact. He may also invite you to a voice game.
His conversations are more natural than those of Google Assistant. He’ll tell you his favorite color, lament that he can’t walk and make you go all awwww when he says he’d love to eat bacon one day.
It would be nice if Google and Amazon learned some social skills from Jibo. They often feel too utilitarian.
Jibo’s realistic movements add to his cuddly personality. He’ll sadly bow his head when you tell him to go to sleep, and the swivel of the head when he turns to look at you come in is hard to resist.
At the moment his personality makes Jibo feel more like a robot pet or a kid’s robot toy than a social robot for adults. His jokes are corny, and he can be a touch dramatic.
But with updates, I think this is one area where Jibo could really excel. After all, he wasn’t meant as a competitor to the Echo or HomePod. It’s a social robot. If it can succeed at that, perhaps we can overlook the other features…or lack thereof.
One area I am disappointed the engineers didn’t focus on is AI learning. Unlike most home assistants, Jibo doesn’t learn about you the more you interact with him. This could really improve his personality and social interaction.
I’d love to have a social robot that knows I like to hear some relaxing music when I come home in the evening and knows I laugh most at knock knock jokes.
Features & Skills
The Basics – Weather, News, and Questions
Despite his corny jokes and sometimes awkward stares, Jibo still has a utilitarian side. Much like any other smart speaker, you can ask him about the weather and current news. He’ll also answer common questions though don’t expect him to be as wide-read as Google Assistant.
You can also set a timer or alarm, check flight status and get details about your commute.
They recently introduced calendar integrations. You can ask Jibo to tell you what’s on your agenda for the day. For now, you can only sync Google and Outlook calendars.
I expect they will add more skills in the near future. They are already inviting developers to create applications for Jibo. So expect to be able to do a lot more in the coming months (if the company will still around by then).
This is another recent release.
Jibo brings together your calendar highlights, weather for the day, commute details and news into a personalized report.
You can customize your settings to change what’s included in the report and what time of the day it’s delivered.
The only way to listen to music is through iHeartRadio, the only service integrated into the robot. There’s no Spotify. And since there is no Bluetooth or even an audio jack, you can’t play music from your phone.
But you’d probably not want to anyway. The speakers are weak and struggle to fill an average sized room.
Smart Home Control
Jibo is integrated with IFTTT which lets you control a wide range of smart home devices including Nest smart thermostat and Hue lights. It will also help you locate your phone by ringing it.
I hope they will develop more integrations with time to make the robot more useful.
One obvious application would be home security. With two cameras and a rotating head, Jibo can easily keep an eye out on your home when you are not around.
As it is right now, you can live-stream whatever Jibo is seeing but only if you are on the same WiFi network. So you cannot monitor your home when you are away at the office or on vacation.
- Fairly social & interactive – has funny(ish) jokes and conversations sound natural.
- Looks cute.
- He can dance!
- Several helpful features including weather, news, calendar and smart home control.
- Expensive – not worth the price tag.
- A lot of half-baked features. There is a lot of improvement to be made.
- Many features are missing including music services and third-party integrations.
- No AI learning. This results in a less personalized experience.
- Struggles with sound recognition and the cameras are low quality. Speakers are subpar as well.
But the biggest downside of all is the concern whether the company will survive. It’s unclear if they can compete against other smart speakers especially with reports that the company has downsized. Insider Glassdoor reviews from employees also don’t paint a good picture of the company’s future.
There is a danger they could brick Jibo if the company goes under.
Buy the Jibo Social Robot If:
You are interested in the idea of a social robot, and you have $900 to spare.
Avoid the Jibo Social Robot If:
You are looking for a smart home robot that’s actually helpful. See our best robot reviews for top recommendations on everything from robot vacuums to smart speakers and even robot toys.
- Requires Wi-Fi or Broadband internet connection.
- Jibo app compatible with iOS 9 and later and Android KitKat 4.4.4 and later.
- Weight: 12.3lbs.
- Dimensions: 17.3 x 10.5 x 9.4 inches