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Saturday, May 12, 2018

Best Smart Speakers 2018

Best Smart Speakers 2018

Smart speakers are the booming new category in tech with Amazon and Google leading the way. It's so easy to make one that everyone wants a slice of the pie. Here we round up the best smart speakers you can buy in 2018.

What is a smart speaker?
In simple terms as smart speaker is an audio speaker that you can talk to and interact with like you might already do with your smartphone.

They’re internet connected virtual assistants – just like Siri, Cortana and others – which can answer questions, tell you the latest news and weather, play music and control smart home gadgets such as heating, air conditioning, lights and switches.

In a YouGov survey published in April 2018, it was revealed that Google Home holds 7% of the UK smart speaker market (plus 9% for the Google Home Mini) compared to Amazon Echo's (combined) 75%.

What should I look for?
Like regular speakers, smart versions come in various shapes, sizes and prices. You should consider how much you want to spend and also where you want to put it in your home. A smaller one, like the Google Home Mini or Amazon Echo Dot will fit in more places, for example.

There's also whether the design fits in with your décor. Some come in a set range of colours while others have interchangeable covers.

Size, of course, will have an impact on audio quality so if you want to play a lot of music then it will be worth spending a bit more on a bigger model. The Sonos One and Apple HomePod are two options.

Read our HomePod vs Google Home vs Amazon Echo comparison. Also see Which Google Home Should I Buy if your torn between those models.

Which smart speaker you choose should also come down to the AI assistant you prefer – essentially Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant at the moment. Some will even let you choose – Sonos will next year via an update.

They both do the same thing so in a similar way so it's a bit like choosing between an operating system. A big factor here is whether you already use various Amazon and Google services – even shopping on Amazon - particularly for music streaming as you need to be signed up to listen to whatever you want.

There's also the question of whether you have products that play nicely with the smart speaker. If you have a Google Chromecast then it makes sense to get a device with Google Assistant, for example.

As mentioned earlier, smart speakers can be used to control smart home products like lightbulbs so you'll also want to check compatibility with anything you have or are thinking about getting. Many, like Philips Hue, are supported by both but you can check out the lists for Google here and Amazon here.

Some smart speakers are beginning to arrive with screens. Amazon's Echo Show and Echo Spot are included here and you can read our full reviews to better understand whether a screen will be a useful feature for you.

Best Smart Speakers 2018

1. Sonos One
There are a few niggles, such as some Sonos specific voice commands we’d like, but we’re hopeful and expectant that some updated will improve things. Even so, the Sonos One is the best smart speaker we’ve tested.

It’s more expensive than rivals but really is worth the extra for a huge difference in sound quality - not forgetting about design and build, too. Things will get even better when Google Assistant comes along.

Read our Sonos One review.

2. Amazon Echo 2
  • RRP: $99.99
The Echo is smaller, better looking and cheaper than the original. It has a removable shell so you can change its appearance, too.

With a couple of other tweaks and improvements, it's considerably better value than the original was when it cost £149.99.


3. Google Home
  • RRP: $129
The Google Home is the best smart speaker in terms of a balancing price, design, sound quality and features. It answers all our questions, keeps us entertained and up to date, and even turns on and off our lights. It is quite literally one of the best and most exciting talking points our home has seen.


4. Amazon Echo Dot
  • RRP: $49.99
At half of the price of the big Echo, the Echo Dot is the best choice for most people. The only difference is that the built-in speaker isn’t great, but you can plug in your own hi-fi or use a Bluetooth speaker. Alexa is genuinely useful, especially in the kitchen and if you have compatible smart home gadgets.


5. Google Home Mini
  • RRP: $49
We're clearly big fans of the Google Assistant, and any device that makes it more accessible to the masses is well worth a second look in our book. If budget was no option then the standard Google Home offers significantly better audio quality, but for most people budget will unfortunately come into play should they wish to set up speakers in every room of the house.

Audiophiles aren't going to be impressed by Google Home Mini's reproduction of lows and mids, but we're not all audiophiles. Many users will be quite satisfied with its highs, and for everyday conversing with the Assistant the 40mm driver is adequate. Now that you can connect a Bluetooth speaker, there's a workaround for this in any case.

We do prefer Google Assistant to Alexa, despite its fewer 'Skills', but something we'd love to see Google borrow from Amazon is a more natural wake word and the Dot's AUX port. Nevertheless, at £49 it's a no-brainer.


6. Apple HomePod
  • RRP: US$349
Even as a first-generation product, the HomePod feels polished in its design, the way it sounds and how it operates. However, Siri's voice is a little too robotic compared to its rivals and you're limited to Apple's music services for deep integration with Siri.

The HomePod can control your smart home gadgets, but only if they're compatible with HomeKit. All of which means that if you're happy to live in Apple's ecosystem the HomePod is a great purchase.   


7. UE Megablast
  • RRP: $299.99
If you’re looking for a high-end Alexa-enabled speaker, the only better one out there at the moment is the Sonos One.

Our main quibble is the price but the Megablast offers a portable design that's vibrant and water-proof, which rivals do not. It offers incredible sound quality and long-lasting battery life in a single device.

8. Amazon Echo Spot
  • RRP: $129.99
The Echo Spot is another great piece of hardware from Amazon, and the screen adds genuinely useful information for most things you ask Alexa.

It's also half the price of the Echo Show when bought as a two-pack. And if you want a screen and will use the Drop In capability, it's good value. If not, the Echo Dot still does a lot for £49.99.


9. Amazon Echo Show
  • RRP: £229
We’re impressed with the Amazon Echo Show – the display improves the overall Alexa experience, enabling it to do things that haven’t been possible until now, like show you how to cook things step-by-step or provide a livestream of your home security cameras (although with limitations).

Video calling is another nice addition, and the quality of the included 5Mp is good enough to take some decent hands-free selfies. The 2in Dolby-powered speakers provide crisp, warm room-filling audio and even offers Bluetooth connectivity to turn it into a Bluetooth speaker.

Admittedly, the design is a little odd – especially when you consider how sleek the rest of the Echo range is – but it gives the Echo Show a distinct look, and is perfectly at home in your kitchen or on a shelf in your bedroom.

The question is, at £199, do you really need one? If you’ve got multiple smart security cameras, want hands-free access to Amazon Prime Video and want to look up recipes while cooking dinner, it’s the Echo device for you. But, if most of your smart devices don’t rely on video and you’re not too fussed about the hands-free access to video content or the ability to video call other Echo users, we’d recommend going for a cheaper Alexa-enabled device.

10. Amazon Echo Plus
  • RRP: US$149.99
The Echo Plus is a decent smart speaker, but it makes sense only for those with compatible smart home products who want to eliminate multiple hubs connected to their router. If that's not you, then the slightly better audio quality compared to the second-gen Echo isn't enough to justify the extra cost.


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