smartspeakers

Best Smart Home Speakers – A Quick Review and Buying Guide

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What is a smart home speaker? How can it help you?

Well, let me ask you a few questions. Easy ones I promise.

  • Are you tired of being forgetful about routine stuff?
  • Love playing your favorite music while you work out or when you relax?
  • You step out of the home and return in 5 minutes to grab your warm coat or umbrella; in case the heavens shower you in buckets.
  • Look forward to coming home after work for a cup of fresh cappuccino? Lights turned on with the just right brightness and the perfect temperature set automatically.
  • And feel secure and at peace because the security system is in place?
Command your Smart home speaker
Command your Smart home speaker

If you answered “yes” to even some of these, I want to tell you, all these features (and more) are in-built in a magic box! No, not really, but close enough. – A Smart home speaker.

Although smart home speakers are marketed as a tool to control a smart home, and you might think “Oh, It’s too complicated! What does it even mean?”.

The ease of use and benefits of a smart speaker will give you a better lifestyle you deserve.

Simply put “A smart home speaker is your own virtual assistant that manages smart home devices.”

I’ve picked the top players in the smart speaker field – Apple, Google and Amazon to see how they stack up.

Two years ago, a friend gifted us a smart speaker for our home. It’s serving as a brilliant voice companion in our everyday routine. Some ways it’s helping us…

  • For instance, children being children demand screen time, and if you dare ignore, it’s going to turn into a scream time soon. 🙂 So, I allow them 30 minutes of binge watching and set a timer for 30 minutes on the smart home speaker.
  • Sometimes I set reminders through the day to finish pending tasks (mommy brain!) or to mark an important appointment.
  • We also tune in to delightful music (whenever we feel like) or
    listen to our favorite podcasts on the smart home speaker.
  • And I consistently check on the weather before I step out. 
  • Also,smart home speakers are my handy calculators for on the fly.
  • Check who’s at the door even while you’re not at home. 

I have friends who keep a tab on the well-being of parents and grandparents staying away. Sounds cool?

I know your smartphone is well capable of some of these. But the smart speaker oversimplifies stuff for you. With AI built-in, it remembers your frequent questions, favorite news websites, podcasts, music and plays from that source itself, making it very personalized.

One more favorite feature is when I want to find my often-misplaced phone, I can just ask it to, “Ring my phone”. It has access to every phone on the same Wi-Fi Network or if you have linked your phone to google home, it still works. It asks you which phone you want it to ring.  Once my husband had left his phone at his office and we could ring it. Luckily his friend noticed it and called us back. If you keep asking about the same phone every time, it picks up the cue and stops asking which phone after a while.

So, we have an impending smart home speaker upgrade staring at us at the horizon. After doing a thorough research, I found what suits us. I’ll share it at the end of the post. 😊 My findings will help you try a smart home speaker yourself or check if you too need to upgrade soon.

Honestly, with many players in the smart speaker market, one easily gets confused seeing so many model variations in each brand. I’ll give you an insightful overview of the most popular and well-performing smart speakers in the market.

 I’m breaking them down into 3 smart home speaker selector groups, to pin down your search for the perfect smart companion(s) ideal for YOU.

One thing to keep in mind is all of these are primarily virtual assistants. Only key differentiator is the sound quality, portability and your individual preference.

Each one is similar and unique in their own right. Let’s get started…

Low budget Smart Home Speakers

This is a bargain for anyone who wants to try a smart home speaker. It gives you a headway into this tech and helps decide if it’s for you. I couldn’t think of any reason I wouldn’t want one.

Google Nest Mini

 Google released this model once in November 2016, and again recently in October 2019. 

Google Nest MiniThis mini assistant has integrated Chrome-cast technology and as functional as any other google home device.

Image: Unsplash

Pros:

  • Decent sound quality for its size.
  • Has all the powerful “Google home” features in-built.
  • Bargain price of just $50(sometimes $29)

Cons:

  • Heavy Music lovers may find it lower than their expectation.
  • Doesn’t have an additional audio port to support external speakers.

Echo dot 3rd gen

Echo dot 3rd Gen

Launched in October 2018, it packs a bigger punch compared to Google Nest mini.

Image:Unsplash 

Pros

  • Good sound quality for its size.
  • It’s the basic model and costs just $50(Sometimes $29)
  • Has most “Alexa Echo” features built in.
  • Can be converted into a smart home wireless speaker when integrated with a GGMM D7 Portable Speaker with a built in battery Power Supply 7 Hours playtime, increasing the Original Volume to a Premium 360° Sound.
  • Also has an audio port to connect to external speakers.
  • Also for an extra $10, you get it with an LED clock (2019 model).

Cons

  • Music is not as great as the Echo studio or Echo plus, but not a deal breaker as you can connect it to 3rd party speakers.

Echo dot kids

Echo kids

It is 100% same design-wise to Echo dot, with only a few changes in color and add-on features.

Image: Amazon

Pros:

  • You get a 2-year worry-free exchange guarantee and a 1-year FreeTime subscription.
  • 2 funky colors that kids would love.
  • Pair with a second Echo Dot for stereo sound.

Cons:

  • Music is not as great as the Echo studio or Echo plus, but not a deal breaker as you can connect it to 3rd party speakers.

Breakup of what’s in it for you.

BrandGoogle Home MiniEcho Dot(3rd gen) and Echo Dot Kids
Price$50$29
Distinguishing feature

The robust textile cover is made from recycled plastic bottles.

The external housing is made of at least 35% recycled plastic.

 Convert it into a kid-friendly version eat no extra charge by enabling Amazon FreeTime in the Alexa app. 

Also available as a separate model designed for kids (in 2 colors) that has pre-enabled Parental controls and filtering.

Microphones3 far-field mics4 far-field microphone array
SpeakersOne 40 mm speakerOne 1.6-inch speaker
Home controls(Lights, fans, Thermostat, Security system, coffeemaker and many smart home appliances and devices) Yes
The complete list is here

Yes

The complete list is here

Wi-Fi & Bluetooth

WLAN 802.11b / g / n / ac (2.4 GHz / 5 GHz)
Bluetooth® 5.0

·         

Dual-band Wi-Fi supports 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac (2.4 and 5 GHz) networks.

Bluetooth profiles:
A2DP and AVRCP

Voice assistantOk Google, Hey Google,Alexa
Stereo function with pairingYesYes
Intercom function in the spaceYes with broadcast featureYes
ColorsChalk/Carbon/Coral/SkyCharcoal, Heather gray, Plum Sandstone, Kids blue, Kids rainbow
Physical Connectivity port3.5mm audio input / output and 15W power supply3.5mm audio input / output and 15W power supply
Weight (in grams)181300
Dimensions (in mm)98×42 99×43
 Check it out at your nearest Google/Amazon StoreGoogle Nest Mini

Amazon Echo Dot

Amazon Echo Dot Kids

Amazon Echo Dot with Clock

Medium budget Smart Home Speakers

These smart speakers fall in the sweet spot and tick almost all boxes in the quality, price, features and value for money among its competitors. Both Google home and Amazon Echo share some common features like:

  1. Pair them with the same model to convert them into stereo speakers.
  2. Use them as an intercom inside/outside the house; you can play a message to everyone in the house.

Amazon Echo 3rd Gen

Launched in September 2018, this is one of the top-selling models.

Amazon echo 3rd gen

 

 

The cylindrical design is akin to the 2nd Gen model, with a few tweaks in the features. 

Image:Amazon

Pros:

  • It primarily supports streaming Amazon music. It also streams all major music services including Apple music making it endearing to Apple lovers.
  • Alexa is also bilingual and speaks English and Spanish.
  • Amazon supports 10 voice profiles. But one can doubt its utility in this generation of more nuclear families.
  • Supports streaming videos on Amazon Fire TV, YouTube, Apple airplay.
  • You can enjoy shopping on amazon with just your voice. Thankfully, it has control options to avoid misuse.
  • Has a 3.5 mm output jack and supports 3rd party speakers to connect to this making it more powerful.

Cons:

  • The integrated Zigbee hub to add certain smart devices easily is missing.
  • It does not support streaming through Google Chromecast.

Google Home

Launched during late 2016-early 2017, from the major tech giant, this mid-range created quite a buzz.  
Google Home

People refer to this design as a mock air freshener in your room.

Image: Unsplash

Pros:

  • Supports Spotify, YouTube music primarily, and a host of other popular music services.
  • It has a vocabulary of 48+ languages, and its capability to be bilingual is a plus.
  • Google home supports 6 voice profiles.
  • There is Chromecast support to stream audio/video onto your TV, giving it an edge over other speakers. It supports Amazon’s fire TV too.
  • By audio grouping, you can play music on all google home devices serving as speakers.
  • You can even broadcast message from a device to other connected Google Home devices, and people can respond to it.

Cons:

  • Doesn’t yet support Apple music/Airplay, but there is a workaround to use Bluetooth to connect Apple devices to the speaker.
  • Lacks a 3.5 mm port that allows connecting to other 3rd party speakers.

Breakup of what’s in it for you.

BrandGoogle HomeAmazon Echo (3rd Gen)
Price$99$99
Distinguishing featureIs bilingual and has a vocabulary of 48 languages. 360 ° Dolby audio.
Microphones2 far-field integrated mics7 far-field integrated mics
SpeakersHigh excursion speakers and 2 “drivers + two 2” passive radiatorsOne 3.0” neodymium woofer and one 0.8” (20 mm) tweeter
Home controls(Lights, fans, Thermostat, Security system, coffeemaker and many smart home appliances and devices) Yes
The complete list is here

Yes

The complete list is here

Wi-Fi & Bluetooth802.11b / g / n / ac (2.4 GHz / 5 GHz)
Bluetooth® 4.1

Bluetooth profiles:
AVRCP controller 
AVRCP target
A2DP sink 

A2DP source 
GATT server 
GAP

Dual-band Wi-Fi supports 802.11a/b/g/n/ac (2.4 and 5 GHz) networks.

Bluetooth profiles:
A2DP

AVRCP

Voice assistantOk Google, Hey Google,Alexa
Stereo function with pairingYesYes
Intercom function Yes, with broadcast featureYes, with drop in feature
 Let’s take a look in the Google/Amazon storeGoogle HomeAmazon Echo 3rd Gen

High Budget Smart Home Speakers

It is a bit of a fancy crowd here and the price ranges from $149 to $299 in this category.

Apple Home pod

Launched in January 2018, it had sold nearly 3 million units in 6 months. Right now Apple sits at the 6th place among smart home speakers. 
It acts as a stereo pair with 2 home pods connected, while one of them also doubling up as a smart speaker.

Apple Homepod
The design of Apple Homepod is elegant and classy.

Image: Unsplash

Pros:

  • The music quality is the best among the 3 in comparison.
  • Adjusts volume relative to surrounding noise levels.
  • Works well with Apple TV, Apple music and everything Apple.
  • The latest news is that Apple will add support to Spotify, Amazon Music and most other music providers. Right now a workaround to use Apple Airplay to stream them.
  • Supports 6 voice profiles.

Cons:

  • Its minimalistic support to non-apple services is a huge turnoff.
  • The initial setup isn’t straightforward. Users see common issues during set up like – error “-6722 or a blank white screen error” and “loading accessories and scenes”.
  • Lacks the intercom feature to use inside the house.

Google Home Max

Google launched this premium smart speaker in December 2017. Its huge soapbox design didn’t enjoy much fanfare. You can pair 2 google max devices for a stereo effect.

Pros:

  • Smart sound tech-enabled. i.e., Volume tunes up or down depending on the surrounding noise levels.
  • It supports a bunch of music streaming services like Spotify, YouTube Music, Amazon Music, Deezer, Pandora and many more.
  • Impressive language abilities. It boasts of a vocabulary of 48 + languages. Can be bilingual and helps you as a translator or to brush up on your language skills.
  • You can also change the voice of google to a male voice. This feature is absent in competitors.
  • Initial Setup is easy and takes about 20 minutes for a basic setup.

Cons:

  • Doesn’t support Apple music directly.
  • Very bulky and difficult to handle.
  • Has issues connecting with other than Chromecast enabled speakers using Bluetooth.

Amazon Echo Studio

Launched in late 2019, Amazon’s Echo Studio is the latest in this category. The design is eloquent enough and adds a decent aura around it.
amazon echo studio
You can experience an immersive Dolby ATMOS experience by pairing with another Echo studio.

 
Image: Amazon

Pros:

  • A smart ZigBee hub inbuilt in the device makes setting up new smart home devices effortless.
  • With 3D audio, it offers a better sound quality similar to Apple Homepod.
  • Streams Amazon music and a host of other music providers. The only speaker that supports apple music apart from Apple home pod.
  • Is bilingual, can speak English and Spanish.

Cons:

  • The voice commands are more scripted, sometimes feels like a robotic conversation.
  • Supports only 2 languages compared to Google’s 48 language vocabulary.

Echo plus 2nd Gen (2018)

This is much like Echo studio in many features. Enabling Amazon free time in the Alexa app turns it into kids’ safe mode with no extra cost on all Echo devices.
The cylindrical design is just ok.

Pros:

Amazon echo plus 2nd gen

  • Much slimmer and lighter compared to Amazon Echo studio.
  • Has ZigBee smart hub inbuilt, which makes adding new smart home devices easier.
  • Supports a host of music services, including Apple music.
  • Amazon has cut the price by $50 in the US, making it really a hot deal.

Cons:

  • Audio is not as great as Echo studio.
  • Price is on the higher side for its overall value compared to Echo 3rd gen or Echo studio.

Breakup of what’s in it for you.  

Brand

Apple Home Pod

Google Home Max

Amazon Echo Studio

Amazon Echo plus 2nd Gen (2018)

Price

$299

$259

$179

$149

Distinguishing feature

360 surround audio, fares best among the competition.

Is bilingual and has a vocabulary of 48 languages.

Dolby ATMOS 3D audio experience.

 360 ° Dolby audio.

Microphones

6 mics in the ring

6 mics in a Circular array

7 far-field integrated mics

7 far-field integrated mics

Speakers

One High-excursion woofer and an array of seven horn-loaded tweeters, each with its own custom amplifier      

Two 114 mm high dual voice coil woofers with high excursion (+/- 11 mm) with 2 custom 18 mm tweeters

Three 51mm mid-range speakers, 25mm tweeters, 133mm woofers

76mm neodymium woofer and 20mm tweeter

Home controls (Lights, fans, Thermostat, Security system, coffeemaker and many smart home appliances and devices)

Yes

The complete list is here

Yes
The complete list is here

Yes
The complete list is here

Yes

The complete list is here

Wifi & Bluetooth

802.11ac WLAN with MIMO. Bluetooth 5.0

802.11b / g / n / ac and with 2.4 or 5 GHz. Bluetooth® 4.2
Supported Bluetooth profiles:
 AVRCP controller and target. 
A2DP sink 
and source 
GATT server 
GAP

Dual-band Wi-Fi supports 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac (2.4 and 5 GHz) networks.

Bluetooth profiles supported:
A2DP and AVRCP 

Dual-band Wi-Fi supports 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac (2.4 and 5 GHz) networks.
Bluetooth profiles supported:

 A2DP and AVRCP 

Voice assistant

Hey Siri

Ok Google, Hey Google,

Alexa

Alexa

Stereo function with pairing

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Intercom function in the space

No

Yes with broadcast feature

Yes

Yes

Colors

White, Space Gray

Chalk, Charcoal

Charcoal grey

Charcoal, Heather grey, Sandstone

Physical Connectivity port

3.5 mm

3.5 mm

3.5 mm and mini-optical Toslink line [to turn it into a speaker]

3.5 mm

Weight (in kg)

2.5

5.3

3.5

0.78

Dimensions(in mm)

172×142

336x190x154

206×175

148x99x99 mm

Most are marked down already… Take a Look!

Take me to the Apple Store  Apple Homepod

Take me to the Google Store Google Home Max

Take me to the Amazon store Amazon Echo Studio

Take me to the Amazon store Amazon Echo Plus 2nd Gen

Smart home speaker systems and smart home devices are here to stay. Purely because of the convenience, utility and features to give us a better lifestyle. With a smart security system, home appliances control, calling facility, stereo function, everything voice-controlled. You may either feel overwhelmed or extra pampered.

You can always refer to this handy list of smart home devices supported by:

Google Home

Amazon Echo

Apple Homepod

The minimum supported OS version for Google home devices is here and for Amazon Alexa is here and for the Apple home pod, it is here listed in system requirements.

This review is not complete without the “Honorable Mentions”:
1. Sonos OneSonos Move, and Sonos Five with choice of Alexa or Google.
2. 
Bose Portable Smart Speaker and Bose Home Speaker 300, and Bose Home Speaker 500 with integrated Alexa voice control.
3. 
JBL Flip 4 with integrated Alexa.
If you are a musicoholic or party at home/office often, then the above 3 are worth a serious look. If a virtual assistant suffices your need then my vote goes to Alexa, Google or Siri.
There are smart speakers with video which I will cover in another post. 

Smart Speaker growth trend 2025

A bit of trivia:

An estimated 100 million Alexa echo devices, 52 million Google Home devices and an undisclosed multimillion apple home pods are sold till date.
Here is the Global Smart Speaker forecast till 2025 from Voice.ai.

We chose Amazon Echo Studio as the best smart home speaker for our home with a couple of echo dots for around the house. I hope you can now make an informed decision on which one you would choose?

Let me know in the comments. If you like to keep in touch with new and upcoming personal technology, entertainment and digital trends, sign up here


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