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What's the best smart speaker you can buy?
Amazon kicked off the smart speaker race in 2014 with the first Amazon Echo, initially as an invitation-only product. Since then, the industry has exploded. It still feels a little like you’re in the future when you use one. You can use voice commands, usually with Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant, to tell your speaker to give you the latest news, check calendar events, or play your new favorite song.
While there remain some privacy concerns about smart speakers, more and more of them continue to be sold. It helps that the prices of many of these products make them nearly impulse buy purchases. Here’s a look at the best smart speakers currently on the market. We have tried to arrange them, emphasizing prices, starting with the most affordable and moving up to the more expensive speakers.
Do you want Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant?
Before buying a smart speaker, you need to figure out if you prefer Alexa or Assistant. Both can set appointments, reminders, tell you news and weather, control smart home, and more. They just have a few different strengths and weaknesses.
It’s also possible to have multiple speakers with different platforms in the same house, but this can make things a bit more complicated, and so in most cases, we recommend picking one platform for all your smart speakers.
Reasons to get an Alexa-powered speaker:
- You’re a regular Amazon shopper. Alexa devices make shopping on Amazon easy as can be.
- You prefer to go with the crowd. Alexa is still the dominant platform, though Google Assistant has closed the gap.
- You want the best smart device support. Those planning on adding more smart home devices will find Alexa has better support, though again — Google comes in as a very close second.
- Alexa has way more skills. Skills let you add functionality (games, smart home features, and more). Home has its alternative to this — Actions — but arguably, Alexa does it better.
Reasons to get an Assistant-powered speaker:
- You’re more tied to the Google ecosystem than Amazon. Google Assistant works pretty seamlessly with Google’s other apps and services.
- Assistant is better at context. Amazon tends to have more trouble understanding you, meaning your commands have to be pretty specific. Google does a much better job of understanding our intentions.
- Assistant has the power of Google Search behind it. Not only is it better at context, but it also tends to do a better job at answering questions, period. This is in no small part due to the power of Google Search.
- It still works great for smart home purposes. There might be less device support than Alexa, but it’s a very close race, and Assistant still feels more powerful in many ways.
Of course, Assistant and Alexa aren’t the only options. Let’s not forget the Apple HomePod Mini. While it’s nowhere near as flexible of a smart speaker as the competition offers, it is an excellent speaker, quality-wise. As for the “other guys”? Cortana smart speaker platform is pretty much dead, and Samsung’s Galaxy Home Mini is extremely rare at this stage (basically available only to select users in South Korea.)
Best smart speakers
1. Amazon Echo Dot
The Amazon Echo Dot is perhaps the perfect way to get started on the smart speaker trend, and it’s now on its fourth generation. Amazon’s classic hockey puck design is gone in favor of a new, unique sphere shape. This is the perfect smart speaker to put in your bedroom to help you wake up or go to sleep. It’s also great for the kitchen to help out with recipes and more. You can also buy the Echo Dot with an LED clock embedded inside for a slightly higher price.
2. Google Nest Mini
The Google Nest Mini (formerly called the Google Home Mini) is for the person who prefers to use Google Assistant as their digital voice helper. The Nest Mini reportedly has twice as much bass compared to the older Home Mini. You can also buy two or more and group them to, for example, play the same song at the same time. Best of all, this smart speaker has regular sales discounts that lower its price to as low as $25.
3. Amazon Echo (4th Gen)
The fourth-generation Amazon Echo smart speaker that started this trend is a big step up in audio. It has two 0.8-inch tweeters and a three-inch woofer for louder and crisper sounds. Of course, it’s updated with the same round shape as the Echo Dot — it’s just larger to handle the biggest rooms in your house. If you are willing to pay a bit more, this Alexa-based product is one of the best smart speakers.
4. Google Nest Audio
The Google Nest Audio smart speaker is the latest Google Assistant-based product and results from many lessons learned. It offers excellent audio quality, and it’s easy to set up as well. Google’s Nest Audio sports a unique design with a texturized fabric cover and a standing form factor. As with the Google Nest Mini, you can sometimes save even more money on the Google Home with its frequent sales discounts.
5. Bose Smart Speaker 500
If you want a single speaker that can offer rich, wall-to-wall sound, it’s tough to look past Bose. The Smart Speaker 500 isn’t the most portable option on our list, though it packs plenty of smarts inside. You can stream your favorite songs via AirPlay 2, Spotify Connect, or tap into Amazon’s Alexa for voice commands. The Smart Speaker 500 also features a small display to show you what music is playing at the moment.
6. Sonos One Gen 2
The second-generation version of the Sonos One smart speaker supports Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant digital helpers. This is meant for a more serious audiophile with superior sound quality. It also has a touch-sensitive top panel to manually adjust the volume or control audio playback without voice commands. It’s also a bit more expensive than the previous smart speakers on this list.
7. Sonos Beam
More and more people are getting into the home theater setup these days. That means they also want a great sound system. Many of them pick a soundbar to add to their big-screen TV. The Sonos Beam, which supports both Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa, is perfect for movie and TV fans who want a smart speaker feature included in their fancy audio setup. Yes, it’s perhaps the most expensive speaker on this list typically, but it’s worth it for both audiophiles and cinephiles.
8. Apple HomePod Mini
This is the only product on our best smart speaker list that shies away from Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. The Apple HomePod Mini, as you might expect, supports the company’s Siri voice-based assistant. This is the perfect device for Apple’s iPhone and iPad fans who are used to using Siri on their phones and tablets. If you have an iPhone or iPad owner, this might be the perfect companion gift to give.