Smart speakers are nowhere to stay. I have put together this article to get the best ones you should buy, no matter the voice assistant you prefer.
In today’s world, Amazon, Google, and Apple are all making good smart speakers. The competition that the tech giants have keeps pushing them to get better each day. Amazon helped in popularizing smart home devices and smart speakers with their original Echo and their now-famous digital assistant, Alexa. But now there are a bunch of options that are available and with their pros and cons.
So how do you go bout in figuring out the difference that exists between them and pick the best smart speaker that suits your needs? Well, the main differences come down to hardware size, audio quality, and price.
If you don’t need to have much oomph from your music and fine with you to get a little lower audio quality, you can save money and get the same smarts in a smaller smart speaker.
My favorites, the Google Nest Mini and Amazon Echo Dot are both excellent smart speakers. Pretty much all of your options include audio and let you turn the lights and play music, ask a question, set the reminders, and have more with just simple voice commands. If that sounds appealing to you, then it is time that you give in to the growing hype of the burgeoning category of device and buy one of these smart speakers.
If you have an affinity for one of those brands in particular, then picking a smart speaker is even easy. The $350Apple HomePod is the only option you have if you want a Siri enabled smart speaker. Still, the good news is that it has an excellent audio quality that makes listening to music become enjoyable.
If you are agnostic to the platform and don’t want to choose between Alexa or Google, the range of available choices may seem intimidating. But picking the best smart speaker can be easy if you know what you’re looking for.
Here are my thoughts.
Naming the best smart speaker is a tough task these days. Both Amazon and Google have capable smart speakers that come at affordable prices. If you are not willing to deal with the nitty-gritty of the category and just want to try out a smart speaker, then get the 3rd gen Echo Dot. Amazon’s voice assistant has more capabilities than Apple Siri and Google Assistant.
The third-generation Amazon Echo Dot looks and sounds better than previous versions and only costs under $50. Plus, there is also a $60 version that has a practical LED clock for timers, alarms, and temperature.
The Echo Dot offers all of the same digital assistant smarts as more expensive Echo devices. You sacrifice just some audio quality for the size and price, but it will plug into your own speakers, so you can easily make up for that difference.
Best sound quality for the price
The $200 Sonos One allows you to pair two units to play a stereo sound or multiroom audio, but even a single speaker sounds awesome playing a wide variety of music genres and costs less than other smart speakers that have premium sound quality as the Google Home Max and the Apple HomePod.
Better yet, the Sonos One has both Google Assistant and Alexa built-in, simply pick which one you want to use for your voice commands during the setup. Sonos has Apple’s AirPlay 2, so you can control it with any Siri enabled device, including your iPhone.
Add it up, and the Sonos One has great sound, priced reasonably, and can fit into your household centered around Alexa.Google Assistant or Siri. That is a tough pitch to beat.
Best for personalized assistance
Amazon was the unquestioned ruler of the smart speaker’s world, but Google has been doing an admirable job of catching up its digital assistant in the sound race. At this point, picking between the lowest price smart devices from the two companies, and Amazon Echo Dot or Google Nest Mini comes down to splitting hairs. The Dot is still my favorite overall but by a small margin.
Google Assistant now has almost as many capabilities as Alexa, and this makes the $50 Google Nest Mini a solid alternative to the Amazon Echo Dot in your quest to find the best smart speaker. Plus, Google Assistant is a little smarter voice assistant that Alexa. It has a flexible response to commands if you can’t remember the exact name of your smart home devices, and Googles grouped commands, called routines, work with more types of smart devices than Amazons similar routines.
Google Assistant can recognize multiple voices, so it gives you and your spouse different answers if you ask about your calenders, though now Alexa is able to do this too.
Overall, Google still has the edge in assistant intelligence, and the Google Nest Mini is a great low-cost way to take advantage of those smarts.
Best for smart home controls
Deciding which the assistant you want to be the center of our smart home is a tough call. Both Alexa and Google Assistant work with lots of devices. They all help you to organize and control them easily. While Google Assistant is a little smarter, Alexa works with more smart home devices compared to Google Assistant and makes setup with voice commands easier.
Ultimately, well give the smart home edge in the best smart speaker category to Amazon thanks to Alexa and their $150 Echo Plus. Alexa is able to send alerts if your smart speaker glass breaking or a smoke detector blaring.
The Amazon Echo Plus combines the usual Alexa smarts with a speaker that sounds good and also has a smart home built in so that you can sync your small sensors with it instead of needing to buy more gear.
Best sound overall
The first smart speaker by Siri adapts its sound to the room that you are in and sounds fantastic, playing all the genres of music. The sound quality it has outclasses the Sonos One and squeaks by the similarly priced Google Home Max. Thanks to Siri, you can use an Apple HomePod to control your smart home products using the sound of your voice, ask for help as you would with the other smart speakers and answer phone calls coming to your iPhone.
The HomePod is more limited compared to the rest, however. You can only play music from Apple’s music service with voice commands. The other smart speakers give you a few popular streaming options to pick from, like Spotify and Pandora.
As for the smart home, you are limited to devices that only work with Apple’s smart home platform, Homekit. So the HomePod has a few limitations the rest don’t have, but that should not matter to you if you have already invested in Apple products and want to have great sound quality.
Best portable smart speaker
JBL Link 20
Given the wide array of smart speakers, it is very surprising how only a few o them are portable. Fortunately, the JBL Link 20 checks all of the right boxes to qualify as a good smart speaker and is battery powered. It has a decent battery life and solid sound quality and with Google Assistant built-in, like Google Nest Mini.
Even better, this wireless speaker is fully waterproof, so you can play music outside and can connect to your home’s WIfi network, or you can stream audio with it through your phone’s Bluetooth. Having a $200 is a little pricey though it is worth it. It is often on sale for $150, and its sold out at the moment, but JBL representatives reassure that it will be back in stock soon.
In the meantime, the similar JBL Link extreme portable is a solid and cheaper option though a less impressive alternative.
Those smart speakers are my favorite, but there are still lots of other options that are available if you are looking for something specific.
Note that neither the original Amazon Echo nor the original Google Home made an appearance in the above list because you can get the same capabilities for less with the same smaller Dot and Mini versions. That said, if you want to have a smart speaker that splits the difference between affordability and premium, both are still options.
There also lots of third party devices that have Alexa built-in and a growing number of third party speakers with Google Assistant. Check out the Amazon Tap or the UE Megablast if you want Alexa in a portable body. The TicHome Mini is another choice that is more compact if you want a portable body.
You can also buy add ons from a company called Ninety7 if you want to make Google or Amazon smart speaker portable.
Finally, the Harman Kardon Invoke uses Microsoft assistant Cortana. It’s competent enough if you are a windows fan but otherwise doesn’t have enough going for it to stand out from the crowd. Samsung even has a much delayed smart speaker, the Galaxy Home, with Samsungs assistant Bixby.
Figure out what platform or features you would like, and you should be able to quickly narrow down the options and find the best smart speaker for you and your family.