Smart speakers, the booming new category in home tech is led by Amazon and Google. In simple terms, a smart speaker is an audio speaker that you can talk to and interact with similarly as you’ve been your smartphone. They’re internet connected virtual assistants such as Amazon’s Alexa, Google’s Assistant, Apple’s Siri and others that answer your questions, keep you updated with the latest news and weather, play music and also control your other smart home gadgets such as heating, air conditioning, lights, and switches.
All the smart speakers do the same thing and mostly in a similar way so it’s a bit like choosing between an operating system. A point to consider while choosing a smart speaker here is whether you already use various Amazon, Apple and Google services – even shopping on Amazon – particularly for music streaming as you need to be signed up to listen to whatever you want.
There’s also the question of whether you have products that play nicely with the smart speaker. For example, If you have a Google Chromecast then it makes sense to get a device with Google Assistant. Smart speakers can also be used to control smart home products like lightbulbs so you’ll also want to check compatibility with anything you have or are thinking about getting. Many, like Philips Hue, are supported by them. Here are the lists of compatible products with Google here, Apple here and Amazon here.
Here are my picks on buying the best smart speakers in 2017.
Best Overall Smart Speaker
Sonos is the current leader in whole home audio systems. Though they’re a bit on the pricey side, you’re actually paying for a system that’s easy to use and works nearly flawlessly with Apple’s ecosystem.
Recently the company introduced the Sonos One wireless speaker based on the Play:One, but with Alexa built in, as well as six microphones to pick up your voice. Furthermore, the Sonos One will gain support for AirPlay 2 and Siri sometime in the future, which improves compatibility with Siri and the rest of the Apple ecosystem. It’s said to be the best sounding speakers available in the market right now. Also, you can pair two of the Ones for true stereo sound, or link them with other Sonos speakers for whole-home audio. Plus, it also works with Spotify.
Best Smart Speaker with Google Assistant Integration
One of Amazon’s biggest competitor in the smart speaker market is Google. Many consider Google Assistant as a virtual assistant to be more powerful than Alexa or Siri, and that makes Google’s Home, Home Mini, and Max proliferate.
The Google Home Max is the company’s high-end smart speaker offering, that Google claims is “made for the ultimate in high fidelity.” Meanwhile, the Google Home is a more affordable option, and the Google Home Mini brings Google Assistant in an ultraportable form factor.
The Google Home speaker is more attractive and sounds better than, the Echo. You could also choose from six colors and two finishes for the base (fabric or metal).
Best Smart Speaker with Alexa Integration
Amazon Echo 2
The new Amazon Echo may have the same name as its predecessor, but this smart speaker has received a significant overhaul. For a start, its become a bit smaller and more stylish than the original. Its outer skin can be swapped out for different colors and textures taking a cue from Google’s Home. A recent update to its firmware made this speaker sound as good as the original after complaints of bad audio were coming in.
Also, its got a bit cheaper than the original. There’s also a new Alexa ability called “Alexa routines”, which allows you to customize certain phrases to perform multiple actions at once. For instance, just say: “Alexa, good night” and your Echo 2 will turn off the lights, lock the door, and turn off the TV.
Best Smart Speaker with Cortana Integration
Harman Kardon Invoke
So, you’re that Microsoft fanboy. I won’t disagree with you, Microsoft‘s trying really hard to improve Cortana. But they do need to improve it a lot so that it matches the likes of Google Assistant, Siri and Alexa.
Microsoft along with home and car audio maker Harman Kardon built a smart speaker called the Invoke. Honestly, its more speaker than smart considering Cortana isn’t yet smart enough to understand the commands. But Harman Kardon has done a great job with the Invoke’s bass coming through satisfying and clean, and highs being crisp. Also, Invoke does a terrific job of hearing a voice say “Hey Cortana” through the music you’re playing.
That being said, it does the basic things: play music, tell the weather, and set a timer.
Best Portable Smart Speaker
JBL Link 20
One problem when it comes to smart speakers is that they need to be plugged in all the time. So JBL came up with a solution, the JBL Link 20 which is said to last 10 hours in a charge. It extends Google Assistant’s reach to your backyard. It’s also water-resistant so you could dunk it for up to 30 minutes if you want to take it along to the poolside.
It honestly outperforms the Google Home in almost every way. It sounds better and offers portability and ruggedness. But lacks the feature of making calls. But if sound matters and you plan to take the speaker out, the Link 20 is an excellent choice.
Apple’s Homepod wasn’t included in the list as its release date has been shifted to early 2018.