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What's the best smart speaker you can buy?

Amazon may have started the smart speaker race, but now the choice is all yours.
By
June 20, 2022
Google Nest Audio in black on nightstand next to bed
Adam Molina / Android Authority

Amazon kicked off the smart speaker race with the first Echo in 2014, initially making it an invitation-only product. Since then the industry has exploded, helped by the fact that it still feels futuristic when you’re talking to Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant. If done correctly, a smart speaker setup is genuinely useful.

While privacy concerns remain, prices have reached the point that a few products are almost impulse purchases. Here’s a look at the best smart speakers currently on the market, with a focus on ones within reach of the average person.

Do you want Alexa, Google Assistant, or Siri?

Google Home Hub vs Amazon Echo Show 2

Before buying a smart speaker, you need to decide if you’d prefer Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, or Apple Siri (and by extension HomeKit) as your platform. All three digital assistants can do things like play music and podcasts, control your smart home, manage calendars and reminders, and tell you the news and weather. They each have different strengths and weaknesses however, including compatibility.

You can choose to use multiple platforms in the same home, but this tends to make things complicated. You have to configure multiple apps, link services and accessories to each of them, then remember which speaker controls what on a daily basis. We recommend picking one platform for all of your smart speakers if you can.

Some reasons to get an Alexa-powered speaker:

  • You’re a regular Amazon shopper. Alexa devices make shopping on Amazon easy as can be, including shipping and delivery notifications. They also nudge you to re-order frequent purchases, which can be helpful or annoying depending on your habits.
  • You want the most speaker options. There are more Alexa speakers than any other kind, which improves your initial choices and the possibilities for expansion.
  • You want the best smart home support. Alexa has the broadest range of compatible accessories, and the best app for managing them. Some Alexa speakers double as Zigbee hubs.
  • Alexa has way more skills. Skills let you add functionality to Alexa, including self-contained apps. Google has a rough equivalent to this — Actions —  but arguably, Alexa does it better. 

Reasons to get an Assistant-powered speaker:

  • You’re closely tied to the Google ecosystem. Assistant works seamlessly with Google’s other apps and services, and you’re probably already using it if you own an Android phone or tablet.
  • Assistant is better at context. Alexa tends to require specific wording for voice commands. Google does a better job of understanding intentions, and lets you combine two commands in the same sentence (e.g.”Turn off the bedroom and bathroom lights.”)
  • Assistant has the power of Google Search behind it. Not only is it better at context, it also tends to do better at answering questions. This is in no small part due to the power of Google Search. Whereas Alexa and Siri prefer major sources like IMDb or Wikipedia, Google can turn to the further reaches of the web when those sites aren’t enough.
  • It still works great for smart home purposes. Assistant might have less device support than Alexa, but the gap isn’t terrible, and Assistant can feel more powerful in some ways

Reasons to get a Siri-powered speaker (the HomePod mini, at this point):

  • You’re already invested in Apple devices. If you have an iPhone or iPad, a HomePod integrates closely with their features, including not just Siri but Handoff, AirPlay, and HomeKit. In fact you need an iPhone or iPad just to configure a HomePod.
  • You’re already invested in Apple services. Although HomePods natively support a few third-party services like Pandora, you’re really meant to use Apple Music and Apple Podcasts for anything audio-related. If you’re a Spotify subscriber, you’ll have to AirPlay content from another Apple device.
  • You like or already own HomeKit accessories. HomeKit is Apple’s smart home platform. While there aren’t nearly as many HomeKit accessories as there are for Alexa or Google Assistant, the platform is ultra-secure, and the Apple Home app is close to par with Alexa. You can control HomeKit accessories from any Apple device.
  • You have an Apple TV 4K. It’s very easy to pair one or two HomePods with an Apple TV for wireless TV audio. You can do something similar with Amazon Echo speakers and a Fire TV, but the Apple TV 4K is vastly superior as a video streamer.

Best smart speakers


1. Amazon Echo Dot

Echo Dot 2020 fourth generation ring of light 1
Dhruv Bhutani / Android Authority

With its low price, the fourth-generation Echo Dot is perhaps the perfect way to get started in smart speakers. Its spherical design is both more attractive and better-sounding than previous iterations, and for a little extra, you can buy a version with an embedded LED clock that makes it a good kitchen or bedside companion. You’ll want other speakers for the best bass and fidelity, but for radio, podcasts, ambient music, and controlling a smart home, the Dot is more than sufficient.

Read: The best Alexa devices


2. Google Nest Mini

Google Nest Mini charcoal on purple table

The Nest Mini is about no-frills access to Google Assistant. While it has twice as much bass as the older Home Mini, its music output still can’t compare to more expensive Nest models or even the Echo Dot. It’s cheap and compact, however, and more than enough for controlling a smart home, listening to news and podcasts, or asking the occasional knowledge question. You might try pairing it with a higher-quality Bluetooth speaker.


3. Amazon Echo (4th Gen)

Amazon Echo 4th gen hero
Adam Molina / Android Authority

The fourth-generation flagship Echo should be the foundation of most Alexa-based smart homes. It sounds great, using two 0.8-inch tweeters and a 3-inch woofer to provide more volume and bass than you’re probably expecting. It sports built-in motion and temperature sensors, and can additionally operate as a Zigbee hub, pairing compatible accessories in a way that doesn’t burden your Wi-Fi network. Towards the end of 2022, it should support Matter over Thread, greatly improving compatibility and reliability for accessories.


4. Google Nest Audio

Google Nest Audio in gray on top of book in front of yellow couch.
Adam Molina / Android Authority

The Nest Audio is Google’s best audio-only product. It sounds worlds better than the Mini, thanks not just to better specs but to Media EQ and Ambient EQ, which tune output to the type of media you’re listening to (music, podcasts, etc.) and ambient noise levels. There are more powerful third-party Assistant speakers, but for the price, it’s tough to beat.


5. Bose Home Speaker 500

If you want a single speaker that can offer rich, wall-to-wall sound, you should at least consider the Bose Home Speaker 500. It’s big and expensive, but offers a small display so you can see what’s playing, and supports Alexa, Google Assistant, and AirPlay. There are also plenty of manual buttons, which should please those frustrated with the minimalist controls of other products.


6. Sonos One (Gen 2)

Like Bose’s product, the second generation of the Sonos One is aimed at audiophiles and supports Alexa, Google Assistant, and AirPlay. Aside from quality sound, there are two reasons to go with this speaker over other options — the first being Trueplay, which (if you have an iOS device) automatically tunes the speaker to room acoustics. The other is the Sonos ecosystem since a family of linked Sonos speakers sounds like a dream.


7. Sonos Beam

Sonos Beam Alexa soundbar lifestyle
Sonos

More and more people are getting into home theater audio these days, since prices for quality equipment are coming down, and choosing something with smart functions can kill two birds with one stone. The Sonos Beam is a soundbar with Alexa, Google Assistant, and AirPlay, plus support for surround standards like Dolby Atmos. It’s certainly the most expensive speaker on this list, but it may be the only one you need in your living room.


8. Apple HomePod mini

HomePod mini in orange
Apple

As we’ve said, for now, the HomePod mini is your only real choice if you want a dedicated Siri speaker. It’s also tightly integrated with Apple platforms, to the point that you should probably steer clear if you’re a Spotify user. The Mini isn’t even an option if you’re missing an iPhone or iPad for setup.

It does sound better than its small size would suggest though, and if you’re heavily invested in Apple, there are several benefits. You can link a pair with an Apple TV 4K for example, or use one as a HomeKit hub to keep automations going and enable remote home control. It’s one of the first speakers to support Thread, giving it some of the same futureproofing as the Amazon Echo.


Continue reading: The best smart displays