The best smart speaker: Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa, HomePod, Sonos & more

Buying guide: The top smart home assistant-packing speakers put to the test

The best smart speakers
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Smart speakers have become immensely popular, not just for doling out information and cracking jokes, but for acting as the brains behind our smart homes.

The early arrival of Alexa and Google Assistant smart speakers tied connected devices together – without one, you'd be turning lights on and setting the temperature via your smartphone. Or even, dare we say, an actual switch.

But what can a top smart speaker do? Well, it enables you to check the weather, set kitchen timers, control smart home devices, play your favorite music and plenty more. The best smart speakers are powered by voice assistants, and there's a big war between going on between them. Amazon's Alexa, Google Assistant and Apple's Siri are all vying to become the lynchpin of your home.

Also consider: The best wireless multiroom speakers

Smart speakers come in all shapes and sizes, with decent options across a range of price-points. You can get a traditional speaker, one with a display or one that doubles as something else - like an alarm clock or thermostat.

Below, we've listed the cream of smart speakers on the market, kicking off with our top pick.

Jump to the information you need

The best smart speakers 2020

The best smart speaker overall

The top smart speaker: Sonos One

Buy now: Amazon | $199

When the Sonos One first touched down, it was easily the best-sounding Alexa smart speaker. Now, with the addition of Google Assistant and AirPlay 2, it's the most well-rounded of the list. You'll get quality sound and you won't have to choose between smart home ecosystems.

Plus, with the new and improved version, launched early 2019, you'll get an improved processor, more memory and support for Bluetooth LE.

As a Sonos speaker, it's fantastic. For such a compact device, it really can fill a room, with a lovely, balanced and clear sound and punchy bass. Nothing to disappoint here. The Sonos One looks the part too with a classy design that'll sit well if you already have Sonos speakers dotted about your home, coming in two finishes - black or white.

While the Sonos One initially had teething troubles with Alexa's responsiveness, those have now been fixed – and passed onto Google. It's not that the Assistant is bad, but it's less responsive on the Sonos One than Alexa, despite the six-microphone array.

This can all be improved over time but right now, it requires a little extra effort and experimentation on your part. But on balance of versatility, sound quality and price, the Sonos One is top dog in our book.

What we love

  • Supports Google Assistant and Alexa
  • Deep bass, great sound
  • Loads of streaming options, including AirPlay 2

What we don't love

  • Mics need improvement, especially for Google Assistant
  • Handful of Google Assistant/Alexa features missing

Read our full Sonos One review.

Best alexa smart speaker

The best Alexa smart speaker: Amazon Echo

Buy now: Amazon | $99.99

The Alexa family is growing exponentially, but the Amazon Echo – the old trusty regular Echo tower – is still being updated.

The third-gen Echo's main selling point is, of course, Amazon's voice control with Alexa, which is still our chosen assistant - just about. As with the last-gen Echo, Alexa can control music, control home gadgets, answer questions and do a ton of other stuff with Alexa Skills.

So, what's new here? First, it gets a rounder, "softer" look, which we really like. In fact, Amazon has just copied and pasted the design of its Echo Plus speaker here – even using the same audio tech. The main difference is that this one doesn't have a Zigbee radio, something that gives the Plus an advantage for smart home users.

But the bigger reason for buying this isn't music, but Alexa. Voice recognition is really good here, but better yet is just how fast Alexa is at processing requests. Like, really fast.

There's still a 3.5mm line out which means that, like the Echo Dot, you can wire the new Echo up to your existing (probably much better sounding) speaker or connect them via Bluetooth. You can also add an Echo Sub to compensate for the lack of bass.

And you might well want to because you won't buy this for the sound quality. For Alexa conversations and in smaller rooms like say a bedroom or bathroom, the second-gen Echo sounds A-Ok, but side-by-side with almost every other full-sized smart speaker we've tested recently (Sonos One, for example) it comes up short, particularly for music.

What we love

  • New and improved design
  • Better sound
  • Line in/out option

What we don't love

  • Other Alexa options have made it less relevant
  • No Zigbee
  • Less of an audio boost than we wanted

Read our full Amazon Echo review.

best google smart speaker

Best Google Assistant smart speaker: Google Nest Mini

Buy now: | $49

If you're looking to get in on the ground floor with the Google Assistant, the Nest Mini (previously known as Google Home Mini) is where you should start. And while we're listing the recommended retail price above, you'll often find it on offer for much less.

The Nest Mini has been a huge hit for Google, so much so that it hasn't bothered refreshing its "regular" Google Home. The Nest Mini is a neat little smart speaker who wants to build their smart home without breaking the bank, and the new and improved model, which boosts the sound quality and responsiveness, it's an incredible value proposition.

It also now comes with a hook in the back for wall mounting, although it's hard to find a good spot to hang this on your wall with that cable dangling down. Plus, there are some audio tricks: you can pair together for stereo sound, or transfer music from one speaker to another by saying, "Hey Google, move the music to the [Living Room] speaker."

There's an ultrasound feature that's supposed to sense when your hand is near while music is playing and light up the touch controls, but we found this barely responsive in our testing. Those niggles aside, this is a must-have speaker for any smart home running on Google Assistant. And yes, considering Google hasn't updated its flagship Home speaker since 2016, the Mini is now our top-recommended Google speaker.

What we love

  • On-device controls
  • Good (but not great) sound
  • Easy mounting option

What we don't love

  • No audio jack
  • Hover feature doesn't work
  • Dangling wire a major design flaw

Read our full Google Nest Mini review.

homepod is a great smart speaker

Best smart speaker for sound quality: Apple HomePod

Buy now: | $299

The Apple HomePod slides into our list of top smart speakers on account of its superb sound and Siri's impressive music smarts. With soft mesh fabric, it's the slickest looking speaker we've seen - no surprise given the famous Cupertino polish.

On that sound quality, the HomePod bests both the Amazon Echo and Sonos One in our testing. The six-mic array and A8 chip inside work to listen to reflections from furniture and ornaments in the room to customize the sound output too - impressive stuff in action.

The HomePod is far from perfect, though, and this is mainly around Siri's performance as a reliable, useful, fully-featured voice assistant to rival Amazon's Alexa and Google's Assistant. In short, it doesn't - at least not yet. It's not bad at controlling the smart home or giving you basic information, but it doesn't match either of the other two in the amount of stuff it can do, or devices it can control.

Speaking of services, while the HomePod was a device built around Apple Music, it's since opened up to play nice with others, chiefly Spotify which can now be controlled using Siri. There's also AirPlay 2, which has now expanded across loads of speakers, letting you loop the HomePod into a multi-room setup for home-filling sound. It also received some key updates in 2019, adding multi-user support, music handoff, and more.

What we love

  • Stellar audio quality
  • Super slick design
  • Improved Spotify integration

What we don't love

  • Siri still lacks smarts
  • Still single-user
  • Several big features still missing

Read our full Apple HomePod review.

best wi fi smart speaker

Also consider... Amazon Echo Studio

Amazon has finally made an Echo that sounds great, and it's called the Echo studio. Offering spacious sound with impressive detail (certainly for an Echo speaker), the Studio cranks things up a notch with Amazon Music HD and a small (but growing) catalogue of 3D audio tracks.

These use Dolby Atmos Music and Sony 360 Reality Audio codecs for enveloping sound. It works with some songs better than others, even without 3D audio the Studio is still a fantastic sounding smart speaker with Alexa living inside.

Read our full Amazon Echo Studio review.

best smart speaker on a budget

Best budget smart speaker: Amazon Echo Dot

Buy now: Amazon | $29.99

This is the Echo that's selling like nobody's business, and it's not hard to see why. The big selling point here is the price, of course - the third-gen Amazon Echo Dot is $29.99, while older generations are also still available in bundles.

So for the price of one swanky smart speaker, you can have three/four/five Echo Dots around your flat or house, in every room. And if you have children, you can also pick up the new Echo Dot Kids Edition, which includes new safety features and requires kids to say "please" when making requests. The fabric, puck-shaped Echo Dot is also unobtrusive, and much more attractive than the plastic shell of the first generation.

Aside from the new design, the main reason to upgrade or go for the latest Echo Dot is the much-improved sound. The new Dot delivers sound that's cleaner and crisper, and you can connect two for stereo, though it's still at the low end of audio quality in the home. So you might still want to hook it up to existing speakers via aux-in or Bluetooth.

Amazon has fancier devices, like the Echo Plus, but if you want to turn your smart lights on and off, and you only have a few different connected gadgets, this is really all you need.

What we love

  • Sound quality surprisingly good
  • Alexa better than ever
  • That price

What we don't love

  • Bass still lacking
  • Big power brick

Read our full Amazon Echo Dot review.

the best smart speakers with Alexa

Top speaker for smart home control: Amazon Echo Plus

Buy now: Amazon | $109.99

Amazon's attempt to build the only smart speaker and hub you need is ambitious, and we like where the Echo Plus heading, particularly in its second generation, which we've tested.

First, what we like: this is an Alexa speaker with added smarts, and it keeps the simple set up and user friendliness we've come to expect. If you say 'Alexa - find my devices', it will find a Philips Hue, say, without the need for a hub/bridge thanks to the built-in Zigbee hub, and that's how the smart home should be. It's also one of the better sounding Echo speakers of the bunch, thanks to a slightly bigger tweeter, so this alone might be worth the money.

And while we didn't like the design of the original, which was essentially a first-gen Amazon Echo, it's also been given a friendlier new look, just like the Dot and Show. It now looks just like the second-gen Echo, and on the inside it has Dolby speakers, a temperature sensor (useful for triggering thermostats etc) and security sensors.

More importantly, on the smart home front, the addition of the Zigbee controller is great, and this smart home protocol can connect to a whole bunch of popular home gadgets without their hubs (Philips, Hive etc).

But it's still not all-encompassing or all-unifying right now, even though it could be in the future. Plus, power users who might be keen on the extra features might find everything too simplified and be itching for granular in-app controls again.

The best smart speakers with displays

The best smart display: Google Nest Hub

Buy now: | $99

The Nest Hub is like having a screen for your Google Home speaker - actually, that's exactly what it is. The Google Assistant behaves just the same, but you now have a visual layer, which can be more useful with things like viewing the weather forecast, cinema showtimes etc. It also means you can watch YouTube and other media on it, while also controlling your smart home using the Home View dashboard.

One of its better features, which has since been added to third-party Google Smart Displays, is Home View. A quick swipe down from the top will give you a top-down look at your entire smart home. You can check the status of your lights and even control them. Simple and easy.

Read this: The best smart displays

Sound quality is so-so - a little more bass-y than the Home and Home Mini, but still not great for music. It's also very small, and note the lack of camera here, too, something you'll find on third-party Google Smart Displays. Google made the decision to keep this off so people wouldn't feel uncomfortable putting the Home Hub in more private areas of the home, but it does mean you can't use two-way video chat. If that's a dealbreaker, you can pick up the Nest Hub Max, or check out one of the third-party Smart Displays options.

The best smart speakers

Also consider... Amazon Echo Show 8

Amazon has finally hit the sweet spot with its Show 8, offering the best of Alexa on screen in an 8-inch display. If you're team Alexa, this is the smart display you want, unless you want a Zigbee radio – in which case go for the larger 10-inch model. Otherwise, we think the middle child of the Show family is the high achiever.

Read our full Amazon Echo Show 8 review.

Smart speakers: What you need to know

Before coughing up for your first (or next) smart speaker, it's worth spending a bit of time doing your research. Here are the big things to know...

How much should you spend?

Price is possibly the biggest concern. You can easily jump in at the very low end with an Amazon Echo Dot or a Google Nest Mini, which you can find for less than $50. It's a really quick and easy way into smart speakers if you're not sure, on a budget, or are a smart home beginner.

These tiny speakers don't offer the best sound, though both Amazon and Google have made strides in quality. For those who want to listen to your music, you'll need to go for something bigger.

There are also the flagship Amazon Echo and Google Home speakers. These come in around $80. The basic functionality here is the same as the mini speakers, but they come with better microphones that are better at hearing you. They also have perfectly adequate sound, but, if you want high-end sound, you'll need to spring for something even more expensive.

Sound quality

How important the "speaker" part of the equation is will differ from person to person. More and more audio experts are getting involved now, collaborating with the tech giants, and so the sound quality is drastically improving - which is important when it comes to music.

The Apple HomePod, Google Home Max, Sonos One and Bose Home Speaker 500 are all big on audio quality - so there's something out there for everyone. For supplementary smart speakers around the house, this might be less important, but you want to get that main kitchen/living room choice right.

The best smart speakers: Google Home, Amazon Echo and more

Alexa vs Google Home vs the rest

The first and most important decision you're going to need to make is which voice assistant you're going to ally yourself with - Google or Alexa... or Siri. There are a number of choices, and many of them have certain advantages or disadvantages. They can also affect which smart home devices you could use.

Alexa, the voice assistant powering Echo and other speakers, is still our go-to choice over rivals like Google Assistant, Siri and Bixby. If you're looking to control your smart home, Alexa has the biggest selection of manufacturers signed up right now. It's also very beginner friendly, with easy setup and use.

Things are changing though, as Google is spending time and money getting partners on board with Assistant. It's also a more capable assistant when it comes to information and general knowledge. If Google can achieve smart home parity, it could surpass Alexa. If you've got an Android phone or rely on Google services a lot - Assistant is even in the Google Maps app now - then this could be your choice.

Of course, if you're living in Apple's walled garden, Siri is the assistant you need to seriously consider. Similarly, if you've got a number of Samsung devices - from Galaxy phones to QLED TVs - then Bixby is worth a look. It's not as capable as the rest, but it's bound to get better.

What about smart displays?

The newest wrench in the gear of smart speakers is a display. But why would you need a smart display? Well, it makes a lot of sense in certain locations around the house - just maybe not under the TV. For instance, a kitchen is a great place for these because you can take a look at recipes and follow along.

It also gives you quick access to information with visuals so you can see a week's worth of weather forecasts, YouTube videos, feeds from security cameras and video doorbells, touchscreen controls for smart home devices, video calls and a whole lot more.

Smart speakers with displays also add interactivity. You can use your fingers to swipe and tap through results from your assistant rather than having to listen to a bunch of options. For the right person, it can be much quicker to use.

These smart speakers with displays have some big caveats though. The audio quality isn't as good as other smart speakers, largely because all the speakers are facing in one direction, but they're getting better all the time, and the larger Echo Show speakers are actually decent for playing music on.

TAGGED    speakers    buyers guides

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