Smart speakers are expected to be the fastest growing new category of technology in 2018, outpacing wearables, as well as AR and VR devices, according to analysis, but what are the best smart speakers around?
We look at the top smart speakers in 2018: from Google’s Home series to Amazon’s extensive lineup of Echo speakers, to all the other popular alternatives and Apple’s own, Siri-powered HomePod.
THE BIG BATTLE IN SMART SPEAKERS: ALEXA VS GOOGLE ASSISTANT
We compare their prices, features, pros and cons, and more right below, read on.
Google rushed into the smart speaker game after the tremendous success of Amazon’s Echo speakers that became a true household item in 2017 in the United States.
Google now has a lineup of three speakers, from the tiny, hockey puck-sized Google Home Mini, to the original Google Home with its cute replace-able bases to the big and impressively sounding Google Home Max. All of them are powered by the useful Google Assistant that knows more about the world than any other voice assistant out there and works in most languages. The Assistant can also keep up a conversation and stay in context, something that others are not that capable of doing.
Here is the full list of smart speakers that Google offers currently:
- Google Home Mini – $50
- Google Home – $120
- Google Home Max – $400
What are the main differences between these three? Obviously, sound quality is one: the bigger the speaker, the better its sound quality, and the Home Max is one of the best smart speakers in terms of quality out there. The other is design as the Home Mini and Home Max boast the new fabric-infused style that fits more naturally at home.
In purely functional terms, all share the same Google Assistant so there are no differences in what they can do. The Home Mini lacks an AUX port, while the other two have it (but the Home Max has a slight latency issue with it).
Amazon basically established the smart speaker category in 2016 with its Amazon Echo, and in 2017 it only grew its lead by introducing better and more advanced echo speakers, and the first Echo with a screen.
Amazon’s Echo speakers are powered by the Alexa voice assistant and their biggest convenience is just how easy it is to order things on Amazon with them. Of course, they plug into the smart home idea well with support for things like Philips Hue color lights, and Alexa can answer a ton of questions from the weather forecast to your personal schedule for the day.
Here is the full list of smart speakers that Amazon offers currently:
- Echo Dot – $50
- Echo – $100
- Echo Plus – $150
- Echo Spot – $130
- Echo Show – $230
- Echo Look – $200
The Echo Dot is a hockey puck-sized speaker like the Google Home Mini, while the Echo and the Echo Plus are larger speakers with better sound quality.
The Echo Spot has a tiny display that shows the weather forecasts and slightly more, while the Echo Show has a full blown 7-inch display.
Finally, the Echo Look is a sleek new Alexa-powered speaker with a camera that can take daily photos of you and help you build your personal lookbook. It also comes with a service that gives you a second opinion “StyleCheck” feature on your outfits.
Apple has delayed its HomePod speaker and missed the Holiday season sales opportunities, but the company says it really wants to get it right and will not rush an unfinished product before it is fully ready.
The $350 HomePod is a speaker with a focus on great sound quality and it allegedly trumps the Sonos Play 1 and Google Home in terms of sound quality, but we are yet to see how it compares against higher-end speakers like the Google Home Max.
The Apple HomePod is a product closely intertwined with Apple’s ecosystem: it works with Siri and with Apple Music, but will not support the Google Assistant or streaming services like Spotify (which will be a big drawback for many). Apple does not say when it will release the HomePod but chances are that it will arrive in early 2018.
Sonos Play 1
The $200 Sonos Play 1 is one of the most popular smart speakers out there, with its sleek design and very good audio quality for the price. It is powered by Amazon Alexa and now works with Spotify.
JBL Link Series
JBL has a strong family of wireless speakers with the Link series. All of them are powered by the Google Assistant.
The JBL Link 10 is the smallest and most affordable at $150, a speaker that is light, portable and waterproof. The JBL Link 20 for $200 is a bit larger, but also waterproof, with longer battery life and more firepower.
Then you have the much bigger Link 300 and Link 500 speakers for $250 and $400. The Link 500 is the biggest and heaviest one, but also the one with best bass output and the most impressive sound quality.
The Amazon Tap is a great portable, cord-less Bluetooth smart speaker for $120 that is powered by Alexa, and it supports Spotify. The Amazon Tap provides up to 9 hours of continuous music playback. When it’s on Wi-Fi, you can tap its top to ask Alexa questions. The Amazon Tap comes with a cool Charging Cradle so you don’t need to worry about wires and you can just place it on the cradle and it charges.
If you are looking for a super affordable option, at just $35, the Eufy Genie – powered by Amazon Alexa – is a great little speaker that does its job without any huge compromises.
This is a quick guide through the vast and growing space of smart speakers in early 2018.
What is your preferred smart speaker? Do you rely on Alexa or the Google Assistant? And are you planning to buy a new smart speaker in 2018? Let us know in the comments section below.