Supports Sonos’ multi-room audio feature and is built to the same specifications as the PLAY:1. Supports multiple audio streaming services such as Pandora.
Voice recognition is not as consistent as it is with Amazon’s own devices. No support for Bluetooth or 3.5mm cable connection.
Easily combines with other speakers in range for true surround sound. Big bass provided by subwoofer pairs with tweeter for crystal-clear mids and treble. Voice activation from Alexa can perform a plethora of tasks. Available in various colors.
Sound can come out distorted when turned up very loud.
Incredible audio and stunning aesthetics are a killer combo. HomePod supports AirPlay 2 for wireless high-fidelity streaming and integrates particularly well with Apple’s paid music-streaming service, Apple Music.
No native support for any third-party music services. Far more expensive than equivalent options.
This compact speaker is filled with dual 7.5W acoustic drivers with a frequency response of 50Hz-20KHz offering great sound and allowing for plenty of volume. Install the Cowin app for full wireless control. Compatible with Alexa when on a WiFi network.
Doesn't support the Pandora streaming service.
Easy to set up via the Google Home app. Voice activated and compatible with other smart home features. Access music streaming services via the app. Google Assistant can answer all your questions and perform a wide range of tasks.
You're limited as to what music you can play without a paid subscription to one of its compatible streaming services.
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The future has officially arrived: we’re finally in the technological age where we can talk to our appliances and devices and get them to do anything from turning the lights off to playing a personalized radio station from the internet. Smart assistants – cloud-based artificial intelligence that can respond to voice commands – are leading the way to this technical bliss, and they’re most commonly found in smart speakers.
Smart speakers are small, unassuming gadgets that connect to your WiFi network and accept voice commands, as well as input from a smartphone app. They can do just about anything you can think of automating, and they’re quickly solidifying their role in homes across the country as a centralized resource for entertainment, information, and even making phone calls over the web.
At BestReviews, we believe in providing our readers with honest reviews that help you make informed purchasing decisions. Our shopping guides tell you everything you need to know about which models you should consider – and which you should avoid. Keep reading for our full take on smart speakers, and when you’re ready to shop, start with our recommended models above.
Your smart speaker experience will be defined by the quality of the digital assistant, and each available option has unique strengths and quirks. Here’s what you need to know about the three main digital assistants you’ll encounter in various smart speakers.
Alexa from Amazon: Amazon’s Echo series of devices rely on the shopping giant’s industry-leading voice-controlled services. Alexa is the pioneer of smart speakers and typically the first to deliver new services to consumers (such as their recent integration with Nest thermostats). More importantly, Alexa has maintained a lead by being the best with artificial intelligence (AI) and voice recognition; Echo devices can understand just about anything you say, whether you want to check movie times, place an Amazon product order, or simply lower the volume.
Google Home from Google: Although it doesn’t have a catchy name like Alexa or Siri, Google’s digital assistant comes with devices under the Google Home brand, and they’re in more homes across the U.S. than any other competitor. Google Home has competent (but not perfect) voice recognition, so you may have to repeat yourself occasionally. Google Home is the only digital assistant powered by Google Search, which gives it a significant advantage over the competition.
Once you’ve added a smart speaker to your home, it can be hard to avoid the temptation to buy more. But if you do go all-in on smart speakers and place them strategically throughout the house, you’ll be able to experience a new benefit: multiroom audio.
Many smart speakers can work with other models from the same brand, and coordinate audio so that it’s playing the same music through every available smart speaker in your house. The resulting effect is multiroom audio: a soundtrack that follows you no matter where you are. Multiroom audio is great for parties or open houses, and so is being able to use voice commands to control it all wherever you go.
If you’re interested in setting up multiroom audio in your home, pick your first smart speaker wisely because you’re essentially deciding on which brand you’ll be using as you build out your multi-speaker environment.
For most people, the first question is typically, “What exactly would I do with a smart speaker?” While most models are learning new skills all the time, it’s worth remembering the core functions that make owning a smart speaker so much fun. Here are things we most love doing with our smart speakers.
Streaming music: Smart speakers are perfect for listening to your favorite music-streaming services, and some even allow you to rate music with voice commands so they can create a custom “radio station” based on your unique tastes. Having your own voice-powered personal radio may be a basic feature, but it still feels like a luxury.
Local traffic and weather updates: All smart speakers can provide you with news and information about your local environment, including weather and traffic conditions. Having a smart speaker can revolutionize how you go about your morning – not only can it tell you the best way to get to work but it can also help you choose the right clothes for the weather.
Don’t be fooled by the low retail prices of smart speakers. Consider these price ranges while you’re shopping.
Between $50 and $84
Most smart speakers at this price offer solid digital assistant services but include speakers that leave a lot to be desired. If you need a battery-powered, portable smart speaker – or you don’t plan on using your smart speaker to listen to a lot of music – an entry-level model will do perfectly.
Between $85 and $149
In this price range you’ll find most of the name-brand flagship smart speakers that offer a nice balance of audio quality and price. These smart speakers are good for just about any size room and have impressive microphone range. If you’re looking for a smart speaker that runs the whole gamut of digital assistant services and is good enough for casual music listening, you can easily find a solid option for less than $150.
Between $150 and $500
Smart speakers at this price come with larger, higher-quality speakers but are otherwise functionally identical to less expensive models. Smart speakers in this price range are for people who need big, audiophile-quality sound and high-end aesthetics.
Learn the voice command to change your smart speaker’s volume to a specific level. Volume settings on most smart speakers run from one to ten, where one mutes the speaker and ten is the loudest it gets. Experiment to find which number suits you best for local volume and remember it. If someone else changes the volume, you can change it back to your exact preferred level.
Set up a PIN code on your smart speaker for making purchases. All smart speakers are tied to shopping engines, so you can easily order products from online retailers through simple voice commands. Being able to shop with a digital assistant is fun, but not just anyone should be allowed to buy things with your account, so set up a PIN code that will be required for each purchase. With a PIN code in place, you’ll be safe from accidental and unintended purchases.
Q. Can I use my own custom “wake word” with a smart speaker?
A. Not yet. All smart speakers come with a few predetermined options for the word you use to initiate a voice command, but none of them allow you to set a custom wake word. For example, devices powered by Amazon’s digital assistant can use “Alexa,” “Echo,” or “Computer,” but that’s it.
Q. Can a smart speaker call 9-1-1 in an emergency?
A. Yes. Most smart speakers include emergency services functions, so you can call an ambulance or the police with voice commands in situations where you can’t get to a phone.
Q. Can I listen to my own CDs or MP3s with a smart speaker?
A. Usually, yes. Most smart speakers have auxiliary 3.5mm ports so that you can connect any audio source for playback – even an LP turntable, as many vinyl enthusiasts do. Some models also support wireless connectivity via Bluetooth or WiFi for streaming audio directly from a smartphone or tablet. If you’re planning on connecting a smart speaker to your existing audio components, check to be certain the connectivity options of the model you buy meet your needs.