Just a few years ago, sound quality was the primary focus when choosing a speaker for your home or office. Now, whether a speaker is “smart,” and can use the Internet of Things (IoT) to connect and share information with other devices and apps, carries equal weight.
Choosing the best speaker now depends on its specific features, and how you primarily intend to use it. To help make your decision less confusing and stressful, we’ve decided to offer our readers a brief overview of each of the top systems, along with some of the pros and cons of each speaker.
Google now has three speaker systems designed to be controlled by your voice. The Google Mini is their entry level speaker. It starts at $49 and is designed to be comparable to Amazon’s Echo Dot. Google Home is their mid-level smart speaker, it lists at $130 and is designed to compete with Amazon Echo. The premium level option, the newly released Google Max, has a MSRP of $399 and is designed to go head to head with Amazon’s new top of the line smart speaker, the Echo Plus and Apple’s new HomePod.
The really neat thing about Google’s line of smart speakers is that they are designed to work with your other data on Google, such as your appointments in your Google calendar, and history in its search engine.
This allows the system to provide you genuinely personalized information in addition to controlling your entertainment systems as well as other compatible devices such as the lights, climate controls, and smart appliances in your home. It also allows synced audio playback to multiple Googlecast devices, and can use Chromecast to output directly to your stereo system.
The system can even recognize multiple users by the sound of their voice, which allows Google Assistant to provide personalized responses for up to six members of your household!
Like other smart speakers, Google Home will let you add items to your shopping list, allow you to set timers and alarms, check on the weather and traffic for your daily commute and even call an Uber for you, but, you still can’t make changes to your shopping list, or, create other types of lists. Perhaps one of the best features is the speaker’s ability to read recipes out loud. While Amazon’s speaker system will also do this, Google’s allows user to pause and it will wait to read the next ingredient or step if you tell it to. Amazon’s just reads the list of ingredients and steps to you.
At 11.7 pounds, Google Max, the high-end version of Google’s smart speaker system, is the literal heavyweight of the three brands. It comes in chalk and charcoal, features two high-excursion woofers and two tweeters. The system utilizes both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth protocols and comes with three ports: USB-C, an AC power connector and a 3.5 millimeter jack.
Like Google, Amazon has three primary models for its smart speaker system: Dot that retails for $49, Echo that lists for $99 and Echo Plus with an MSRP of $149. The wireless version of the Echo, the Echo Tap is a fourth model that has many of the same functions and specs of the Echo, but connects and charges wirelessly. It lists for $99.
The differences in price are directly related to the sound quality and performance of each model. While all three of the models can be connected to external speakers, for example, you really will want to utilize this feature if you have the Dot, as it only has one very small tweeter and music and other sounds can come across as high-pitched and tinny.
Each smart speaker allows users to control a number of products and services by voice command, and, allows users to interact with Alexa, Amazon’s voice assistant. Amazon’s speakers utilize three protocols, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and ZigBee.
Since ZigBee is in so many smart devices, you can use the speakers to control a greater number of smart devices than Google’s smart speakers. Some of the top smart brands that users can control with this system include: Nest, Insteon, Belkin, WeMo, Philips Hue, Ecobee, Honeywell, SmartThings, Wink, Lifx, Lutron, Control4, August, Logitech Harmony, Anova, Big Ass Fans, IFTTT and Crestron.
There are also over 15,000 Alexa skills that can allow users to control other smart devices, including wireless systems such as the new Sonos One, that offers superior sound quality, and other popular brands and systems. Unlike Google Home, Amazon Echo does not offer synced multi-room playback for your audio.
Some of the key features of Echo and the other models in the line include the ability to create reminders and different types of lists, not just shopping lists. Users can also order directly from Amazon with simple voice commands to Alexa, check their calendars, track their packages, get weather and traffic updates, and, play music from several music services, including Amazon Prime and Amazon Music Unlimited, Pandora, Spotify, iHeartRadio, TuneIn and others.
Amazon’s Echo Plus offers the greatest number of colors and finishes, including wood, fabric and metallic. It weighs in at a mere 2.2 pounds, and while it might be lightweight, it packs a lot of punch with its ability to control so many systems and devices.
Apple’s first foray into the smart speaker market was supposed to be released in time for the holidays in 2017. Now, it’s been delayed until early 2018. That’s why the biggest drawback to Apple’s smart speaker is that it simply isn’t available–yet.
While no one is certain of the release date, or any specific features that the speaker will definitely have, it’s a fairly safe bet to assume that the system will be optimized for use with their existing voice assistant, Siri, as well as their smart home system, the Apple HomeKit, released in 2014. It’s also expected to enable users to easily make purchases by voice command, directly from iTunes and the Apple Store.
The system is expected to use the Wi-Fi Protocol, weigh in at 5.5 pounds, and come with a 7-tweeter array paired with a high-excursion, 4-inch, forward-facing subwoofer to produce superior sound quality. Sound performance is clearly an area where the other smart speaker brands have been lacking, so if the Apple HomePod lives up to the hype, it may become the clear choice for true audiophiles.
Color options are expected to include white and space gray, with an expected list price of $349.
Readers should check back for an update on the Apple HomePod once its releasedfor full details on the speaker’s specs, top features and performance at that time.