Which smart speaker should I buy

The smart speaker space for the home and office is in full swing and voice assistants will soon be within our cars and even our light bulbs. So when your in an industry that is undergoing rapid innovation you may be thinking, which devices should I buy now and is it the right time.

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Amazon

Amazon has come out on top, a suite of speaker devices at a variety of price points and form factors. With Amazon’s recent acquisition of Ring, the doorbell a home security system is no doubt on the way.

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Amazon Echo Dot

The dot currently retails for £49.99, but there are occasional deals where it drops to £34.99. This device filled a lot of stockings at Christmas and expanded the consumer base of the smart speaker market beyond the early adopters. The Dot’s sound quality is ok considering its size and price point, therefore fine for use within a small room. The great thing and mainly unknown is that you can power the Dot via USB, meaning you can power it via a plug, a laptop, the car or even a battery power pack, making it very versatile.

Amazon Echo

The cylindrical device that started Amazon’s smart speaker movement is a great addition to family or large spaced areas. With good sound quality this device becomes the hub of the home for listening. Personally, I found it possible to command the Echo from different rooms and even another floor, which is awesome if you only have a single device across your home.

At a retail price of £89.99, this is a great addition to the home; it is too bad you can’t twist the top to control the volume compared to the first generation Echo, though the fabric casing (available in different styles) makes it easy to slot into any family area.

Amazon Echo Plus

The Echo Plus is a mirror of the Echo generation One in size and appearance, but with a retail price of £139.99, there is a little bit more under the cover. The Echo Plus has a ZigBee smart home hub built in for you to connect all your smart home gadgets too, such as light bulbs, switches and sensors. Sound quality is better again than the Echo with 360-degree audio with Dolby processing.

Amazon Echo Show

When Amazon added a screen (and a camera) to their Echo line up with the release of the Echo Show, I was sceptical, The Show is a fairly prominent bit of kit with its angled sides and front-facing speaker, this device has a physical personality and one that really comes to life when within a kitchen environment. Having the ability to load recipes, see todo lists, as well as timers, this is helpful when your hands are busy preparing food. Personally, though I find the sound quality and voice recognition isn’t as good as the Echo and more comparable to the Dot (maybe this is how/where I have mine) so bear that in mind and allow it some time to learn your voice and the background sounds of a busier room of the kitchen.

I haven’t really used the camera feature on the Echo Show apart from to check security cameras, though I can see it would have massive value in the long term, maybe even being able to watch me as I speak to gain further context to my requests.

Having the screen is interesting in two ways on a daily basis:

1) Amazon shows both the latest news and suggested utterances passively when in idle mode, this visual discovery increases my engagement (though the software side of this needs to be better).

2) If you have any security systems at home such as Ring or Nest, you can view the video feeds on the Echo Show which is handy when the doorbell goes and your in another room.

A warning if you have Amazon Prime and small children, if you ask the Echo Show to play a video it will. So if like my son you asked it to play a song from Toy Story, and it doesn’t quite understand you then it will start playing the Toy Story movie. But when your son asks for a Christmas song and it doesn’t understand and starts playing Office Christmas Party movie (which it did) then you may have an issue. Explicit lyrics is one thing but full on R rated videos of violence or whatever is another. Just be sure to educate the children in its use and keep without shared areas of the home.

At £199.99 it is the most expensive of the Echo line up but offers a lot more than a standard smart speaker, providing more of a fixed tablet experience.

Amazon Echo Spot

As a device, the Echo Spot is beautiful and heavy meaning it can hold it’s place on a desk or side table, the round screen is reflective of a clock or watch face though not all developers have taken this into account and some applications can fall foul to the circular screen.

The Spot is a perfect desk companion, giving you the ability to add and view your calendar events whilst working away on a PC/laptop making multi-tasking less distracting. The sound quality is ok though isn’t going to fill your office with deep bass. At £129.99 it is the cheaper of the two screened devices in the Echo range, though would argue for two very different environments, the spot is great for the office as its small size provides ease of use as well as a small visual aid for updated tasks.


Google Home Mini

The Google Home Mini is a lovely device visually, available in many colours enables it to fit in any home or work environment with ease, at £49.99 and on occasion dropping down to £34.99 or even free with Google popup stores or bundled in an Android phone purchase this device is a great all-rounder. The sound quality is good enough to fill a medium size room well. If you turn the microphone off, which is done with a very nice manual switch, touching the device then Google Home will verbally advise you the microphone is off, bringing the verbal and physical nicely together.

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Having mainly Amazon Echo devices at home and being bought into their suite of devices, I want to give Google some props on both the device style and build quality. Those where Google Home outpaces everyone is that the assistant software is great out of the box, so far I have not found much need to install extra apps/skills (apart from music services) making this a great device for the less tech native.


Sonos Player 1 with Alexa

Sonos well is Sonos, great speakers and great user-friendly software, I have several Sonos speakers, and the sound quality is amazing especially when using multi-room mode. The entry model Play 1 retails for £199.99 with Alexa support, and it works well though it only offers a subset of features that are available through the Alexa platform, so no calling or messaging features.

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If you’re looking for great sound, then the Sonos Play 1 with Alexa is for you, bringing together great sound, a beautiful physical form factor, and a dip into voice assistance.


Apple HomePod

The sound of the Apple HomePod is amazing, and definitely the best on the market of smart speakers, but at a retail price of £319.99, it is expensive just like most Apple products. That would be fine to justify if the software of Siri wasn’t so limited. Hopefully, this will change over time; you can only use Apple Music for your audio experience (just like if you ask for music via Siri on your phone) which is a non-starter for most people.

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The hardware looks great; the sound is amazing, though the software needs some work, maybe a version 2 will bring all the dreams true for those deeply bedded into the Apple ecosystem.


Summary

There is a lot of choices and with choices comes confusion, so if your still not sure use the below based on your price point and your platform preference.

Entry Level (Sub £100)

  • Have Android and Google accounts — Google Home Mini
  • Have Amazon Prime — Amazon Dot

Mid Level (Sub £200)

  • Enjoy music, have Amazon Prime — Amazon Echo
  • Want something for the kitchen — Amazon Echo Show
  • Office assistant — Amazon Echo Spot
  • Enjoy music, have Android — Google Home

High End (£200 Plus)

  • Love Apple and don’t care what I think — Apple HomePod
  • Love sound but want a bit of voice assistance — Sonos Play 3 and Amazon Dot

Want to fill the house with Amazon

  • Home office — Amazon Echo Spot
  • Kids rooms — Amazon Echo Dot
  • Kitchen — Amazon Show
  • Lounge — Amazon Echo

What to fill my house with great sound

  • Home office — Google Home Mini
  • Kids rooms — Google Home Mini
  • Kitchen — Sonos Play 1
  • Lounge — Sonos Play 5 & a Google Home

Got another smart speaker you think should be reviewed? Please share.