The first step of choosing a smart companion to keep you company at home is to decide which voice assistance platform is the right fit for you-Alexa, Cortana, Google Assistant, or Siri. That’s the first step, and it’s not that easy. GreatBuyz has already put together a guide on the best voice assistants that you must check out. The second step is to choose the right smart speaker that can fully utilize the potential of the voice assistant of your choice.
What Can Smart Speakers Do?
For years we had speakers that can talk to us. But the speakers we can talk to are a recent development. Powered by robust voice assistants, these speakers not just only play music but will do whatever you tell it to do (within its limit!). Not human conversationalists, smart speakers are although companions that can tell you time, weather, make calls, control your smart home devices, and even order your pizza. Arguably, it was Amazon Echo that started it all, but not there are dozens of smart speakers to choose from.
But again, before you choose the smart speaker that suits you, picking a reliable digital helper among the best depends on what you want from your virtual assistant. While our guide mentioned above provides a detailed review of voice assistants, here’s a quick overview of what makes the top players distinctive.
Amazon’s Alexa, which was introduced on the Amazon Echo, made the idea of a voice-controlled speaker a reality. Today, Alexa is added to many more devices such as Amazon Fire TV devices and third-party devices. Ever since Amazon opened Alexa to third parties, this voice assistant has evolved to control smart home lights and thermostat. Both Google Assistant and Apple’s Siri started as voice dialling features on their respective smartphones. Both the voice assistants continue to power Android and iOS phones to make calls, send texts, and play music using voice commands. However, Google has done a nice job of integrating its smart assistant with devices such as TVs and smart speakers. Apple, on the other hand, is still struggling to increase the reach of Siri outside the iPhone domain.
Just like Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana is also limited, with only fewer phones and smart speakers supporting it. Other than these major players, there are some minor voice assistants like Samsung Bixby that still don’t have device support.
What to look for in a smart speaker?
Depending on how and where you plan to use your smart assistant devices, you have several options to choose from. For this review, we are strictly sticking with standalone smart speakers that you can use hands-free to access voice assistants. But know that you are not limited to only smart speakers to access your favourite AI assistant, there are smart displays available as well. These are essentially smart speakers with built-in touch screens that display the information been told.
AI assistant developers are making it possible to entirely control our entertainment requirements with just voice commands using the smart speakers. Smart TVs and music players now come with compatibility with smart speakers. For instance, you can control Fire TV or Apple TV by directly speaking into their remotes that have inbuilt microphones. Similarly, most Android TVs like Mi TVs and Sony’s TVs feature Google Assistant as their default smart assistant. By hooking up these smart devices with a compatible smart speaker, you can control them hands-free.
Ability to control the music, smart TV, streaming services, gaming experience, and more is expected from smart speakers. Here to Alexa and Google Assistant, take the lead because of a vast range of compatible smart home entertainment devices such as Amazon Fire TV device, Chromecast, and Android TV.
A major requirement from smart speakers is to have a better understanding of the users. Amazon Echo and Google Home can recognize users with their voice and customize the experience based on their accounts and history. Siri and Cortana both lack this feature.
Timers and Lists
Almost every smart speaker powered by a voice assistant can set time and make lists. But how efficiently they do it depends on the software they are running. While Google has the maximum reach to apps such as Google Calendar, Gmail and OurGroceries, Alexa’s third-party list support puts it ahead of any other smart assistant.
Décor and Style
You might want to pick a smart speaker that fits into your home décor. Most smart speaker manufacturers offer different colours, materials, and designs. For instance, Amazon Echo’s latest products have fabric and wood cover options that blend right into a range of styles. Smart speakers that have screens make for powerful home hubs that can be used to display time, photos, videos and even used to watch tutorials like cooking lessons while following them live. Google, Amazon, and Apple, all three have a range of smart speakers that are available in varied designs.
You don’t have to compromise on the décor and style when choosing your voice assistant device.
Top 7 Smart Speakers With Voice Assistants
1. Amazon Echo (3rd Generation)
The smart speaker that started it all, arguably!
Amazon Echo has come a long way since it’s introduction. If you are planning to buy Amazon Eco in 2019, we recommend the 3rd generation device. With improved sound and new design, the Amazon Echo 3rd gen smart speaker lets you enjoy premium sound with Dolby tech that plays 360° audio. You can stream music from any of your favourite apps, such as Gaana, JioSaavn, Amazon Prime Music, and Apple Music.
Want to adjust the equalizer, easy, just say, “Alexa, increase the bass.” Amazing compatibility to control other smart home devices such as lights, plugs, and thermostat. Connecting with others over a call, messaging apps, or internet video calls is a hands-free experience with this smart speaker. The 3rd generation Echo also incorporates multiple layers of privacy protection and controls such as the microphone off button.
Excellent sound quality
Improved privacy protection
Easy to use
Effective voice recognition
The search engine feature still needs improvement
2. Google Home
“Ok, Google” is all it takes to activate the feature-rich Google Home smart speaker. It can play music, set timer, control your home environment, schedule calendar and a lot more just with voice commands.
Playing your favourite music is one of the qualities that sets Google Home different from other smart speakers as it uses its search engine power to keep track of your taste in music and play appropriate songs. You also supercharge your day by scheduling important events, finding all the travel information like commuting routes, and setting reminders all of it hands-free.
The personalization feature is another important distinguishing feature of this smart speaker; it can distinguish between your voice and others and only provide information that is relevant to you.
Power-packed entertainment smart device
Easy to operate
Personalization with ‘Voice match’ recognition
Robust compatibility to control other smart devices
Privacy concerns as it can listen to you even when you don’t trigger it
3. Sonos One Smart Speaker
Sonos is a brand that manufactures hardware devices that run the smart voice assistants. Sonos One is a smart speaker that combines the impressive functionality of Amazon Alexa with clean design and unilateral sound quality. If you are a music lover, then this is the speaker that you will want for your smart home.
It gives you the freedom to play your favourite music from the preferred streaming service, including Spotify, Pandora, Amazon Music, iHeartRadio, and more. You can also pair two Sonos together to enjoy instant stereo sound. It has a multi-room compatible, expandable setup and easily fits anywhere. Powered with six internal microphones, it can hear you from any corner of the room.
Switching to Google Assistant on Sonos One
If you prefer Google Assistant over Alexa, then you won’t have to compromise as Sonos One, now you can setup Google Assistant to work with your smart speaker.
To switch to Google Assistant, follow these steps:
- Open Sonos app on your mobile
- Pick “Voice Services” from the “More” tab at the bottom right
- Choose Google Assistant
- You will be asked to select the speaker on which you want to run Google Assistant (if you have more than one Sonos speaker)
- After choosing the speaker you will be redirected to the Google Assistant app (Apple device users must install Google Assistant first)
- Sing in with your Sonos account to link Google Assistant
- Google will run you through several steps to setup the Sonos Speaker
Now supports Google Assistant
Well-balanced full sound
Supports more than 70 streaming services
Excellent voice recognition
Does not support Alexa voice calling
4. Echo Plus (2nd Gen) Smart Speaker
The newest addition to the Amazon Echo smart speaker family is the Echo Plus 2nd generation. The first Echo Plus was designed to act as the smart home hub with the Zigbee support; the newer version takes the same aspect to a whole new level with some amazing features.
Along with built-in Zigbee hub that easily controls the compatible devices, the new Echo Plus also features premium speakers powered by Dolby for 3600 audio play and make calls, listen to weather and news report and do a lot more. Another impressive feature of the Echo Plus is the Local voice control that allows Alexa to control your smart home even without an internet connection. It’s seven microphones that feature beamforming technology and noise cancellation so that it can hear from any direction even when music is playing.
Classy and sleek design
Built-in Zigbee hub
Local voice control-functions without internet
Impressive audio quality
Not compatible with platforms other than Alexa
5. Harman Kardon Invoke with Cortana
The first Microsoft speaker that is built by Harman Kardon is a great device-acoustically speaking. The only smart speaker on the market to run Microsoft’s AI assistant Cortana, this device is a good start for the Windows giant.
Still, Cortana has a long way to go to be able to compete with the liked of Alexa and Google Assistant in terms of voice-based operations. But if you want a smart speaker that sounds excellent, then the Harman Kardon Invoke is par with Sonos One and a lot better than Google Home and Amazon Echo. But, the price of this smart speaker is a problem despite its excellent acoustic features. As Microsoft’s personal assistant is still not as robust as other voice assistants, you should keep your expectations low from this one.
Cortana has good general knowledge
Limited smart-home compatibility
Very few skills
6. Echo Dot (3rd Gen) Smart Speaker
If Echo smart speakers seem to be an expensive investment, then you can try the all-new Amazon Echo Dot 3rd generation smart speaker with Alexa. Featuring new designs and improved sound, the new Echo Dot also comes with an improved speaker for better sound. You can do all the basic stuff, such as listening to music, news, weather, scores, and compatibility with other smart home devices.
Amazon Echo Dot (3rd Gen) has now 50,000 skills that including from playing your favourite music to controlling lights to ordering pizza and booking cabs. With support to third-party apps such as Spotify, Uber, and Zomato, this smart speaker will make your life a lot organized. The four far-field microphones can hear you from any direction.
Solid and sturdy smart speaker
Awesome sound quality
Now as effective for larger rooms
7. Apple HomePod
A high-quality smart speaker, Apple HomePod, sounds great, but it is designed shortsighted. As Apple always does, this smart speaker works well to listen to the music from your Apple Music account or iTunes library, but its application as a voice assistant is limited. The lack of vision on Apple’s part to see the reach of voice-assisted devices makes Siri lack behind Alexa and Google Assistant. This is why although music lovers will love the impressive hardware of Apple HomePod that plays songs with rich, full bass, others looking for some versatile smart voice-assisted featured will be disappointed.
Excellent sound quality
Measurement mic to adjust audio according to a room’s acoustics
No voice control for non-Apple music services
Siri lacks features in comparison to Alexa and Google Assistant
Which is the Best Smart Speaker for You?
At present, Google and Amazon are at the top of the voice assistant game, leading over Apple’s Siri and Microsoft’s Cortana.
When buying a smart speaker, consider that Amazon Alexa has much more third-party skills that support a wider range of smart home products. On the other hand, Google Assistant comes built into smartphones and has superior natural-language processing and understanding.
GreatBuyz recommends Amazon Echo Dot as the entry-level smart speaker to get to know the Alexa ecosystem. Later you can upgrade to Echo Plus for all-purpose Alexa-powered smart speaker. For high-quality conversational experience, there’s no alternative to Google Home, while Sonos One takes music to just another level.