Looking for a central hub to control your smart home gadgets, a way to easily play music from streaming services without fiddling on your phone or a voice assistant to play around with asking silly questions and playing games? All of that comes from one gadget; a smart speaker.
A few years after the original Amazon Echo range introduced us to Alexa, you can now find a plethora of choices on the market for a smart speaker that can do lots in your home.
The top voice assistants you have to choose from are currently Amazon Alexa, Apple’s Siri or Google Assistant. Each one of these helpers is an artificial intelligence that’s hosted within devices such as your phone, tablet or most importantly for you, a speaker. This can sit on your kitchen counter or side in your living room to play music, but can also control smart home features, too.
Want to know the answer to a question, set a timer or just tune into the radio? Say the name of your voice assistant – for example, Alexa – and then your query, and you’ll be told what it’s going to do and it’ll go ahead. Below TechRadar's James Peckham has put together a list of the best smart speakers you can currently invest in – but if you need more reasons to buy, check out the 10 reasons you need smart audio in your home.
1. Amazon Echo Dot
By far one of the cheapest smart speakers, the Amazon Echo Dot had to feature on this list as it has all of the capabilities of the top-end devices but in a smaller and more affordable package. Alexa is the voice assistant hiding inside this speaker and you get all of the normal functionality you’d expect on a normal smart speaker.
Alexa is able to set timers, play the radio, answer interesting facts and much more, plus there are the third-party apps called Skills that allow anyone you create an experience that will work on Alexa. For example, the Just Eat app allows you to order a takeaway with your voice.
The Echo Dot is the cheapest in Amazon’s range, so if you’re looking for an affordable way to control your smart home this may be it. Bear in mind, it’s cheaper because it’s not a very good speaker. It may have all of the voice assistant smarts that you’re looking for, but audio quality isn’t particularly good here with low volume and tinny sound.
The good news is you can connect this up to another speaker and still use the smart elements of the Echo Dot, so if you need better audio quality with a speaker you already own you don’t need to lose those smart features.
2. Google Home
Stepping away from Amazon’s Alexa, you also have the choice of Google Assistant. Google’s voice assistant can do a similar amount of stuff to Alexa – some features are slightly better on Amazon’s option, and vice versa – but Google really excels with its general knowledge.
Often you’ll find yourself asking queries to your voice assistant such as, 'how old is the queen' and the Google Home is generally the speaker that’s going to be better at getting that right. It’s because Google has all of that knowledge from its search engine that it can bring up pretty much immediately – but bear in mind, the two competing voice assistants are getting better at this all the time.
Audio quality on the Google Home is quite impressive and it looks attractive when sat in your home on a countertop or wherever you want to house it. This is more expensive than the Echo Dot, but if you want that better search functionality, integration with Google services and higher audio quality than the Echo Dot, the Google Home may be for you.
3. Apple HomePod
The most recently released device on this list, the Apple HomePod is built for audiophiles who want a top-end speaker in their home that can integrate with Apple’s own voice assistant seamlessly.
Siri is a little more limited in its general knowledge skills than the other two voice assistants, but the HomePod will suit anyone who’s used to using the voice assistant inside their mobile phone or iPad.
If you have any speakers in your home that use AirPlay 2, you can set it up so it talks to them and plays the same music around your home in multiple different rooms.
The HomePod is expensive, but Siri is constantly being updated with new features and has that top-end audio quality that makes for a different experience to the far more affordable smart speakers we’ve run through so far.
Read our review of Apple’s Siri.
4. Sonos One
This is the one speaker on the list that doesn’t come directly from a company that runs a voice assistant. You may have heard of Sonos before, and this speaker is made by the brand, with Amazon’s Alexa smarts, like the Echo Dot, stuffed inside.
The Sonos One is more expensive than your average Alexa toting speaker, but it includes some big benefits over the options you can buy directly from Amazon. The room-filing audio is stunning considering the price point of the Sonos One.
You can play music through the speaker even when Alexa isn’t on, you can connect it up with other Sonos speakers to have the same audio playing throughout your home and you can now connect it up to use AirPlay 2, like the Apple HomePod.
If you’re happy to spend a little more and you want Amazon Alexa as your voice assistant, the Sonos One is perhaps the best choice for your new smart speaker.
5. Amazon Echo
If you think Alexa is the voice assistant built for you but you'd prefer slightly better sound quality, the Amazon Echo may suit your home as well. The sound quality is better than the Echo Dot, but it’s not a scratch on the Apple HomePod or Amazon Echo Plus.
We chose the Echo for this list as it’s still an affordable speaker and offers good enough quality sound that most people will be satisfied with. We’ve often listened to songs and podcasts through the Echo where the audio quality is clear and loud, but it’s not going to absolutely blow you away.
This is an easy way to get Alexa into your home without forking out hundreds of pounds for a top-end speaker and, instead if you want a voice assistant in your kitchen to play the radio or to relax to in your living room, Amazon’s Echo is made just for you.