The second-generation Amazon Echo is the uncontested best smart home speaker with its thousands of skills (apps), smart home support, and strong audio.
If you want a smart speaker that does it all, the new Amazon Echo is the best one you can buy. The updated model costs a lot less than the original, but it's just as smart. It comes in new finishes to blend in with your decor better, plus, it's a bit smaller and it sounds better.
Amazon got a head start on the competition, and it shows. Alexa has more than 80,000 skills worldwide (more than 50,000 in the US alone), supports dozens of smart home products, and works with too many apps to count. You can even order things on Amazon with your voice.
This slim, modern cylinder plays audio that matches great Bluetooth speakers for quality, and it'll fit in with any room's decor. When you awaken Alexa, a subtle blue light flicks around the round top of the speaker as it listens in.
You can play music from Amazon Music, Spotify, Pandora, iHeartRadio, TuneIn, and more, and the sound quality is very good. If you subscribe to Audible's audiobook service, the Echo will also play the narration for you while you cook, relax, or work around the house.
Alexa can read you recipes, play audio news shows, tell you the score, look up local businesses, check the weather, and complete just about any other basic task that springs to mind. She'll even order you an Uber to the airport and read out your text messages.
If you have smart home devices already, chances are the Echo works with them. Major ones like the Phillips Hue and other great smart bulbs, as well as Nest and other smart thermostats, work with the Echo. Smart switches, garage doors, sprinklers, locks, and security cameras also play nice with Alexa. The Echo supports more smart home devices than any other smart speaker currently. You can browse compatible smart home devices here.
The only downsides are a lack of privacy, the concern that Amazon is collecting data on its users, and the fact that Alexa's search chops aren't as good as Google's.
If you're a Prime member, this is the smart speaker for you, and if you don't have Prime yet, sign up, because all the perks like two-day shipping, free music streaming, free ebooks, and free video streaming on Prime Video are well worth the annual fee.
Pros: Strong speaker, you can buy things on Amazon, best smart home support, cool design, good voice recognition, huge support network, 80,000 skills and counting
The Sonos One has the power of Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, plus excellent sound quality and support for Apple AirPlay 2.
If you want the best-sounding smart speaker available, you need the Sonos One. It's powered by Amazon's Alexa just like the Echo, so it has most of the same features and supports most of the same smart home devices. We reviewed it and loved its sound quality.
The advantage Sonos has is that it's neutral in the tech ecosystem debate — Sonos supports Alexa and Google Assistant, as well as Apple's AirPlay 2 (but not Apple's smart assistant, Siri). No matter what services or devices you use, chances are the Sonos One is happy to play along.
You can ask Alexa to play any song from Amazon's streaming services, Spotify, Pandora, Deezer, TuneIn, Sirius XM, and iHeartRadio. The rest of the supported music services only support commands that pause, resume, skip, or change the volume of your music. That means you have to start playing the songs you want manually on your phone if you're using Apple Music and all the other music services. It's not a huge deal, but it is a downside for people who use alternative services.
Most other Alexa skills work with the Sonos One, though, so you have full smart speaker functionality in a great sounding package. Audio experts across the board agree that the Sonos One is the best-sounding smart speaker, so if you care about audio above all else this is the smart speaker for you.
Sonos has been a leader in the multi-room audio space for some time now, and the Sonos One continues that trend. It can sync up with multiple Sonos speakers in your home so you can create a true home theater experience. That's especially good news now that Sonos has the new $399 Beam Soundbar, which has Alexa built-in as well.
Tip: For even better sound quality, get two Sonos One if the budget allows. Guides Editor Les Shu has this set-up and finds the music to sound clearer and more balanced.
Pros: Excellent sound, multi-room audio functions, supports multiple services, Alexa, AirPlay 2, and Google Assistant
Cons: Slightly pricey, not all the voice controls work seamlessly, no auxiliary port or Bluetooth
The Google Home is great for anyone who's all-in with Google and doesn't have Amazon Prime in their lives.
Google has the search smarts to rule the artificial intelligence space, and its first smart speaker is the Google Home, powered by its Google Assistant AI.
It's a great little smart speaker that's customizable and cute enough to fit in with any room's decor. You can choose from a variety of cloth and metallic bases in fun colors. The top portion is white and angled gently so the touch-sensitive surface is positioned perfectly for your hands. Although some people say it looks like the air freshener in your bathroom (it does, to be perfectly honest), we think the Home looks more stylish than Amazon's monolithic-looking Echo lineup.
When you say, "Hey Google," or "Okay Google," little lights dance along the top touch surface in Google's signature colors: red, blue, green, and yellow. You can ask Home to play music from Google Play, Spotify, YouTube Music, Pandora, and TuneIn. The sound quality is decent and even at top volume, it sounds as good as most Bluetooth speakers you can buy for the same price.
Google Home has lots of smart features, including the ability to read you a daily briefing, give you a recap of the day's news from NPR and BBC World News, and answer your questions on just about any topic. Since Home uses Google's search graph to answer you, the entire knowledge of the internet is open to you. Ask about weather, traffic, stocks, or trivia, and Google will know the answer.
Google also has lots of experience with different accents, so Home is likely to understand you easily even if you have a strong Colombian accent like my boyfriend. One of my favorite features is playing trivia games with Google. The Assistant will play cheesy game show music and act as the goofy host, giving you a weird nickname when you say, "Okay Google, play a game." She also tells really bad dad jokes that'll have you groaning and guffawing.
Home works with a variety of smart home devices, too, so you can use it to turn off your Phillips Hue light bulbs, control your Nest thermostat, or stream media to your Chromecast. If you have any of these devices in your smart home, Google Home is a great complement to those products. I've been using Google Home since it came out, and I love it.
There are still funny limitations, and Google Assistant may tell you she "doesn't know how to help with that yet," but "yet" is the operative word here. Google will only continue to improve Home, so it's a truly fabulous option for a smart speaker — especially now that it can be had for less than $100.
The Amazon Echo Dot is the most affordable smart speaker you can buy, and it's just as smart as the original Echo.
If you don't want to pay more than $100 for a smart speaker, you're in luck, because Amazon's Echo Dot is wildly affordable. For less than $50, you get all the smarts of the original Echo, in a smaller package that can sync up with bigger speakers and other Echo Dots to make your home smarter.
Just like with the Echo, you can use the Dot to ask Alexa to play music, trigger smart home devices, make calls, read and dictate messages answer questions, play newscasts, set alarms, read audiobooks from Audible, and more.
Since it's a smaller speaker, the Dot doesn't have the same level of sound quality you'd get from a bigger speaker like the Echo or Google Home. Amazon has worked harder to make it sound much better, and it shows. The third-generation Dot has a much fuller sound.
The Dot can also sync up with multiple Dots or you can connect other speakers you have via Bluetooth or the 3.5 mm stereo cable to increase the sound quality even more. The Echo Dot supports streaming from Amazon Music, Spotify, Pandora, iHeartRadio, and TuneIn.
The Dot may be small, but it still has Alexa inside, so all those skills are just a voice command away. This is the best smart speaker you can buy on a budget. you can also use it to supplement the original Echo or other Dots in a large home.
Pros: Affordable, small, thousands of skills, tons of smart home devices supported, lots of app support, connects to other speakers, works with other Echo Dots
The Google Home Mini is an adorable, small-sized smart speaker that'll fit in any room of the house.
Google has been growing its smart speaker lineup since introducing the Google Home. One of them is the Mini, the ultimate small smart speaker for Google fans. It has all the same smarts as the original Google Home, but it costs less and takes up a lot less space.
The Mini can connect with any other Google Home in your house, so you could easily buy one of these for your kitchen or bedroom and keep the original Home or the Max in your living room.
With a simple voice command, the Mini can play music from Google Play, Spotify, YouTube Music, Pandora, and TuneIn. The sound quality is decent and even at top volume, it sounds as good as most similarly sized Bluetooth speakers you can buy for the same price. It is smaller than the regular Home and the Max, so don't expect stellar sound from it. This is a speaker that's meant to fill a smaller room.
Just like the original, Mini has lots of smart features, including the ability to read you a daily briefing, give you a recap of the day's news from NPR and BBC World News, and answer your questions on just about any topic. Since Home uses Google's search graph to answer you, the entire knowledge of the internet is open to you. Ask about weather, traffic, stocks, or trivia, and Google will know the answer.
The Mini works with the same host of smart home devices, too, and the list is growing every day. Heavy hitters like Nest, Hue, and Chromecast are all supported. We see the Mini as a great entry point into the smart speaker world or as a great addition to your existing Google Home speaker.
Pros: Pretty design, fun colors, small size, same Google smarts, affordable
The Amazon Echo Show has all the perks of the original, but it adds a touchscreen for streaming Prime Video and making video calls.
The new Amazon Echo Show takes all the best features from the original Echo and pops them in a redesigned touchscreen style smart speaker. It's an angular piece of tech that looks best on your kitchen counter, nightstand, or living room table.
The 10.1-inch touchscreen has a resolution of 1,280 x 800 pixels, making it great for streaming Prime Video, checking recipes, and checking out photos. You can also make video calls, thanks to the 5-megapixel camera.
The screen can also show you the live feed of any Alexa-compatible security cameras you have set up in your home and voice queries pop up on the screen as you talk. The new "Glance" feature lets you see video clips from news networks like CNN, and we expect more apps will take advantage of it as time goes on.
So far, the screen's potential isn't fully realized, but as more skills are added, you can bet your bottom dollar the Show will be more powerful. You can check out the current thousands of Alexa skills here.
Amazon built two speakers into the Echo Show, so it's great for listening to music on Prime Music, Pandora, Spotify, iHeartRadio, and TuneIn. You can, of course, control compatible smart home products with it, order things from Amazon, and ask Alexa all your burning questions just like you would on the original Echo or Echo Dot. You can browse compatible smart home devices here and use many of them without a hub, because Zigbee technology is built-in.
This is the smart speaker to get if you always wanted a smart home hub with voice powers and a nice touchscreen that doubles as a speaker. It is more pricey at $229.99, but the screen makes it a very compelling device.
Pros: Has a 7-inch screen, decent speaker, thousands of skills, Alexa works with tons of smart home products, Alexa supports many major music services, you can order things from Amazon with your voice, video call capabilities
Cons: Expensive, not the sharpest screen, limited uses for the screen
The best smart speaker with a screen and Google Assistant
The Google Nest Hub has a 7-inch touchscreen, good speakers, and all the smarts of the Google Assistant.
The Google Nest Hub is a smart speaker with a screen just like the Echo Show. The advantage it has is access to YouTube, Google Maps, and the rest of Google's apps and search graph knowledge.
The Hub has a 7-inch touchscreen, speakers, microphones, and the Google Assistant inside. The screen sits on top of a base with a linen-like cover that adds some style to the device.
Two sensors above the display automatically brighten and dim the screen depending on the light conditions of the room it's in, which makes it great for using in the bedroom. I have the Hub in my bedroom and I love seeing the weather, news, and my commute all pop up on the screen when I say good morning to Google.
The Hub is perfect for Google fans who use all its services. Need directions? Ask Google Maps. Want to watch a video? Ask for it on YouTube. Interested in reviewing your upcoming appointments? If you're a Gmail user, they're just a question away! Want to show someone vacation pictures? Bring them up using Google Photos.
The Hub also works with third-party apps, including Pandora and Spotify. It can control a wide array of smart home accessories and send video and audio to Chromecast-enabled gadgets. It is smart enough to answer a wide array of questions as well. But integration with Google's first-party apps is its biggest advantage over the Echo Show.
Pros: Has a screen, Google Assistant, plays YouTube videos, controls smart home gadgets, great at search queries, Google Maps
The best speaker with big sound and Google Assistant
The Google Home Max has great sound and all the smarts of Google, but it comes at a high price.
The Google Home Max is the kind of smart speaker you put in a big house filled with people who like to party. It's a smart speaker with all the same powers as the original Home and the Mini, but its audio quality is much better.
It's a large cloth-covered speaker that will look at home in your living room. The main downside here is its high price tag. We've seen and heard the Max, and it's impressive. Whether it's worth the price really depends on how big of an audio nerd you are.
Insider Picks reviewed the Max and declared, "The $400 Google Home Max is large, loud, and eerily smart for a speaker — and worth every penny." He liked the balanced, big sound of the speaker, its design, and just how smart the Google Assistant is.
Pros: Great sound, cool looking, smart like all other Google speakers
What can a smart speaker with artificial intelligence do?
Smart speakers can do a number of different things, including answer questions, control smart home devices, set alarms, play music, and more. Each speaker has different strengths and weaknesses, but companies like Amazon, Google, and Apple are working hard to fill the gaps and make these speakers even smarter.
Perhaps the best thing about having a smart speaker is that it frees up your hands and gets you away from your smartphone. You can ask Alexa, Google Assistant, or Siri what the temperature is before you run out the door or ask if you need an umbrella. The voice assistants can also read you recipe instructions or set timers when your hands are occupied in the kitchen. They can play you soothing music after a long day or set the mood during a date. If you have smart home devices, you can control them with your voice instead of having to get out of bed or off the couch to turn your lights on and off.
Smart speakers are also fun for parties and kids, because they can answer trivia questions and even play games. If you have an inquisitive child at home or you like to win arguments, you can just ask your voice assistant a question and get the answer immediately without typing a word or opening an app. Once you've used one, you won't want to be without it.
What services and smart home devices work with the Amazon Echo and Google Home?
Feature sets vary based on the speaker and you should take into account which compatible devices and services you already own or subscribe to before you pick one or the other. Amazon's Alexa has many more skills, compatible products, and compatible apps and services than the Google Home. It's undoubtedly more fully featured, and Google Home is playing catch up. Here's a breakdown of which services and products work with the Amazon Echo (and any other speaker that uses Alexa like the Sonos One) and Google Home:
Smart home devices: Phillips Hue, Ring, Schlage Smart Locks, TP-Link Smart Home Products, Leviton, Insteaon, SmartThings, Wink, Caseta Wireless, LI-FX Smart Bulbs, GE Link Smart Bulbs, WeMo, iHome Smart Plugs, iDevices Switches, Nest, Sensi Thermostat, EcoBee Thermostat, Lyric Thermostat, August Smart Lock, Arlo Pro, Nest Cam IQ, Rachio Sprinklers, Gargeio Garage Door, iRobot Roomba Smart Vacuums, and so many more. You can browse all of the Echo compatible products on Amazon and buy them by clicking this link.
Services: Amazon's Alexa supports more than 15,000 skills, and it supports far too many services to list here. Big ones include Spotify, Pandora, Amazon Music, iHeart Radio, TuneIn, Sirius XM, Uber, Domino's, StubHub, Audible, Dish, NPR, and so many more. You can also buy things from Amazon with a simple voice command.
Smart home devices: Chromecast, Chromecast-enabled TVs and speakers, Nest, SmartThings, Phillips Hue, LIFX Smart Lights, TP-Link Smart Home, Vivint Home Security, Rachio Sprinklers, Logitech Harmony, Geeni Connected Tech, August Smart Locks, Anova Precision Cooker, Insignia Wi-Fi Smart Plug, Belkin WeMo Insight Smart Plug, iRobot Roomba 960, Honeywell Wi-Fi Thermostat, Mr. Coffee Smart Coffee Maker, Lutron, Ring, and many more. See the full list here.
Services: Spotify, Pandora, Google Play Music, TuneIn Radio, YouTube, IFTTT, Netflix, Google Services, Domino's, Food Network, Headspace, MadLibs, and more. See the full list here.
Should I be worried about privacy, hackers, and companies selling my data?
There is a trade-off when you buy a smart speaker like the Amazon Echo or Google Home. Both devices are listening all the time for the wake words — "Hey Alexa," or "Okay Google/Hey Google" — that trigger actions. You can mute the speakers, so they're not listening, but that defeats the purpose of being able to wake the AI assistants up whenever you need them.
The companies say that nothing is being monitored or recorded until the wake words are spoken, but once they are, Amazon and Google tend to hold on to that voice data to improve the services for you. Luckily, it is all encrypted, so it should be fairly safe though the risk of a breach is always there. You can delete that voice data from your Echo every now and then, and you should. Just go to Manage my deviceand delete recordings one by one or clear your search history. With Google Home, you can alter your permissions to limit the data it collects here.
Of course, neither situation is ideal, as Naked Security by Sophos points out. Gizmodo's Fieldguide has more tips on how to tighten your security and privacy a bit on both devices. The worry here is twofold: either hackers will use that data against you or Amazon and Google will mine it for advertising dollars. Unfortunately, it's the risk you take right now.
In contrast, Apple's HomePod advertises that its system is more secure and private than any other smart speaker. The promo page says that HomePod has, "multiple layers of security — including anonymous ID and encryption" to "protect your privacy." This may come at the expense of smarts, though, and it's clear that Siri has some studying to do.
Both Google Home and Amazon Echo encrypt your voice data, too, but there are two big differences. One, Amazon and Google associate your data directly with you and your account to learn how to serve you better. Meanwhile, Apple does not associate your data with you or your account, but rather with a randomized set of numbers. Secondly, Apple deletes the association between the data and the random code every six months, whereas Amazon and Google just hold on to it forever unless you bother to delete it yourself, Wired explains.
This becomes important when government requests for data come in. Amazon and Google can find that data and trace it back to you directly, but Apple literally can't because the numbers are randomized and the data is regularly deleted. Apple has the upper hand here, so if data security and privacy matter to you, you'll want to buy a HomePod.
Unfortunately, we don't currently recommend the HomePod to anyone but the most fervent of Apple fans because it is lacking in app support, smarts, and functionality. That may change over time, so we will be watching it closely.
Should you buy a smart speaker?
Smart speakers are helpful, fun to use, and a sure sign of things to come in the future of artificial intelligence and the smart home. If you like to be ahead of the curve, you enjoy having a good speaker at home, you own lots of smart home devices already, and you don't mind some of the trade-offs; you'll love these smart speakers.
Apple fans should hold off until the verdict is in on the HomePod, but Amazon Prime subscribers would do well to pick up an Echo, Echo Dot, Echo Plus, Echo Spot, or Echo Show. Finally, Google fans who aren't into Prime should spring for a Google Home or Mini because the Google Assistant is bound to pick up as many tricks as Amazon's Alexa before too long. Read on to learn all about these different smart speakers and to figure out which one is best for you.