What’s the benefit of bringing smart audio, through streaming services and smart connected speakers, into your life? We've all seen the adverts, watched the YouTube videos of kids playing with Amazon Echo voice commands and heard our in-laws rave about how they can’t live without a Google Home or Apple HomePod. So, if you're thinking of getting into smart audio, here's what you need to know.
A new wave of web-connected, voice-controlled audio devices are the hottest smart home gadgets you can currently spend your hard earned cash on, spearheaded by tech giants Amazon, Google and Apple. Accessible, versatile and easy enough for a tech-luddite to get their head around, here’s a quick look at all the things a smart speaker can do that your dusty old stereo can’t.
What kit do you need to get started? Find all the best smart speakers, from the Amazon Echo to the Apple Homepod, in our guide. Done? Next you'll need to know more about why you need a smart assistant (and which to choose) in our guide.
1. You can ask your smart speaker to play your favourite tunes
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No more scrolling through apps or fingering through record racks to find the album or tune you want to play next. With a smart speaker like an Amazon Echo or Google Home, and a subscription to a streaming service such as Amazon Music or Spotify, you can simply ask your smart speaker assistant of choice – be that Amazon’s Alexa, Google’s Assistant or Apple’s Siri – to play the track you’re dying to hear and have it blasting out of your speaker in an instant. Tens of millions of songs are available through all the major streaming services, and most are available through the majority of smart speakers. Only Apple’s HomePod locks you into using the company’s own Apple Music service, otherwise the choice is yours.
2. Or play music all over your house with multi-room audio
If you have more than one Google Assistant speaker or Alexa-powered audio device, such as an Echo, or multiple Apple HomePods, you’ll be able to beam the same tune around your house, over the internet, without the need for each separate speaker to be cabled together. So long as they’re all on the same internet network, and making use of the same user accounts, the party can follow you around your home. Or, if your house is a battleground for different tastes, each room can be playing a different song.
3. You can ask: 'What song is that?'
Listening to a new playlists, full of songs you’ve never heard before? Land on something you like? Just ask the smart speaker what’s playing at that moment, and it’ll tell you everything you need to know about the tune.
4. You can wake up to your favourite tracks
If the rising sun won’t cut it, and you’re sick of the submarine dive alarm that has you waking with a start every morning, why not try getting your smart speaker to wake you with one of your favourite songs instead? Simply ask your smart speaker of choice to wake you with whichever tune gets you off to a good start for the day, and it’ll lift you serenely out of your slumber. Likewise, smart speakers can help you drift off to sleep too, with the sounds of the ocean or softly falling rain just a request away.
- The best wake up lights (in case you need extra help coming to)
5. You can control your home with ease
One of the great things about smart speakers is that there’s so much more to them than just music. Chief among these abilities is the way that they can be used to control smart home devices, like connected smart light bulbs and smart thermostats.
Alexa, Siri and the Google Assistant can all connect and communicate with other devices that link up via your home’s Wi-Fi connection. With them, you’ll be able to adjust your heating temperature, change the channel on your TV, dim the lights, set the kettle boiling and much, much more, just with the power of your voice alone. These additional devices come from many different manufacturers, so you may have to factor that added expense into your set up if you’re looking to make your home truly fit for the future.
6. You'll get your questions answered
Remember when you had to head to a library to get an answer to a question? Before we all moved on to Encarta’s multi-media CDs, and then to Google and Wikipedia? The rise of the smart speaker could see us take our quest for knowledge to a new oracle – Alexa, or its rivals Siri and Google Assistant. You can ask these smart helpers virtually any question you can think of, and each will trawl the web to find an appropriate answer and speak it aloud to you. It’s not perfect yet – these early AI assistants are still lacking in some contextual knowledge, and are only as reliable as the online sources they tap into. But as they continually advance, they’ll become an ever deeper source of information.
7. You can access news, shopping, podcasts and more
The list of capabilities that smart speakers have is growing all the time – Google and Apple are constantly increasing what their devices are capable of, while Amazon even taps into the expertise of third-party developers to develop Skills (the voice-controlled apps at the heart of Alexa) to make its Echo speakers incredibly versatile. Whether you’re looking for a local news report or radio station, listening to a podcast or audiobook, or even looking for information on your commute to work, if the answer or info can be relayed through an audio response, your smart speaker can (or soon will be able to) help you with the task. From Simon Says games to on-demand animal sounds, the range of things a smart speaker can do is remarkable.
If you’re using an Amazon Echo, you can even use it shop within the retail giant’s online store by using just your voice. If that worries you, note that the setting is on by default – head into the Alexa app’s settings to set up a pin code to protect your purchases or turn it off entirely if you can’t trust your friends and family from making cheeky impulse buys on your behalf.
8. You'll get recommendations quickly
If you pair a smart speaker up with a streaming service like Spotify, Apple Music or Google Play Music, you’ll be able to ditch dust-gathering CDs and storage-hogging downloads. But that’s not all – by analysing the type of music you play often on the services, and by cross referencing it against the tens of millions of tracks each provider serves up, you’ll be offered tailored recommendations towards artists old and brand spanking new that are likely to pique your interest. It’s like having a record store expert living in your kitchen – but without the disparaging looks as your sonic guilty pleasures reveal themselves.
9. You could replace your phone with a smart speaker..?
Could a smart speaker replace your phone? Not entirely, but on some occasions it could – Google Home and Amazon Echo devices can call other speakers elsewhere (provided those in your contacts' book with a smart speaker have also enabled the feature), and even as a two-way intercom system around your home where more than one speaker is present. Apple’s HomePod doesn’t allow you to place or receive calls directly, but you can choose to use it as an enhanced speakerphone once a call is connected by selecting it in the Audio options menu on your iPhone.
10. Your smart speakers will get you organised
Always missing meetings, losing the shopping list or forgetting important birthdays? Let a smart speaker remember them all for you, and offer up reminders for all your events, too. Simply tell it the item or action you want remembered, or the date that needs noting, and it’ll take care of everything for you. These can even be set to sync up with your phone or computer’s own calendar and (selected) reminder applications, so that when you speak to your Echo, Google Home or HomePod, your schedule is updated on every device you have.