Smart Speakers: Smooth Audio And Smart Control In One
Smart speakers have two main features that set them aside from their ‘dumb’ counterparts: they connect to your Wi-Fi network (allowing you to control them from anywhere in your home) and you can control them using voice commands. More often than not, the voice control software onboard can do much more than just control your music. It can be used to perform a range of tasks ranging from performing simple internet searches, to shopping online, all the way to controlling other smart devices in your home.
The Development of Smart Speakers
It was online-shopping king Amazon who released the first ever smart speaker. They introduced the Amazon Echo and its voice-assistant software in November 2014, with access available exclusively for Amazon Prime customers. The Echo was made available to the general public in Mid-2015, with Amazon dominating the smart speaker market in its earliest phase. Google entered the market in late 2016, with it’s now iconic Google Home hitting shelves just in time for the Christmas high-season. Competition between the two giants led to cheaper, more cost-effective versions of the smart speakers, with Google Home Mini and Amazon Echo Dot both retailing for under £50. Competition is continuing to grow in the smart speaker market, from both conventional electronics outfits like Apple, Sonos and Samsung, as well as competition from Chinese manufacturers like Baidu and Alibaba.
How Do Smart Speakers Work?
’Smart’ is a term that often gets placed in front of modern devices to signify that they’re more technologically advanced than they’re older, ‘dumb’ counterparts. The term is used so widely that consumers can often be sceptical about whether some devices are truly as advanced as they claim to be. When it comes to smart speakers however, the improvement over their older counterparts is clear. Here are some of the main features available on smart speakers that you won’t find on conventional speakers:
Easier Control – Smart speakers can be controlled from anywhere in your home. They connect to your home Wi-Fi network, so you’ll be able to choose a track directly on your smartphone. This is usually facilitated through an app made especially for the smart speaker, although some music streaming services like Spotify allow you to connect directly to the speaker through their service. Of course, you can also control the music playing simply by using a voice command, which can be done either directly on the speaker or on your smartphone.
Voice Assistance – Most of us are already familiar with voice assistants like the Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa or Apple Siri. What most don’t know is how powerful these voice assistants can be and the ways in which they can make everyday life easier. You can use them to get traffic information about your morning commute, ask them for the latest news and weather, as well as control other devices in your home like smart thermostats or smart lights. All of these commands don’t require you to open a single app or device – they’re all available using voice commands.
Multiroom – Buying more than one of the same kind of smart speaker allows you to play the same song on both speakers at the same time. With these speakers getting more affordable each year, this isn’t as expensive to do as you think. It’s also a feature that’s perfect if you’re someone who loves to host parties.
The 2 Main Buying Options For Smart Speakers
The number of manufacturers that offer smart speakers has exploded recently, with options being available for both bigger and smaller budgets. A higher price tag often simply means higher quality audio components – important for music lovers but not so vital for someone just looking to listen to podcasts. We’ve broken down the various options available into that make it simple to make the right buying decision.
What Are The Top Smart Speakers?
If you’re not afraid to drop a few quid for quality, then look no further than the flagship products from the main electronics outfits. You’ll get voice assistance and top audio quality, with some minor differences between them which might make them more appropriate for some users over others:
Google Home –The Google Home is a solid smart speaker, with its selling point being its classy Google Assistant software. Simply say a song title to the Assistant and it will look through your preferred streaming service to find it. It’s ideal for anyone who’s already invested in other devices from Google like the Chromecast. Google’s products have been designed to work with one and other, so you’ll gain extra usability over those who use the Home as a standalone product. It has decent audio quality for its size (with two passive radiators and a single speaker) but the Sonos One and Apple HomePod clearly outperform it here.
Amazon Echo Plus – Amazon’s 2nd Gen Echo Plus is their premier speaker, giving you playback in 360 degrees thanks to the speaker’s cylinder shape designed. You can ask its Alexa assistant to do almost anything the Google Home can do (with the exception of actually Googling – it uses Bing instead). What’s more, you can use the Alexa order things directly from Amazon if you have an Amazon Prime account (a feature not available with the Google Assistant). You can also use ZigBee devices with the Echo Plus, great for anybody using things like ZigBee-powered smart lights in their home.
Sonos One –While Sonos is best known for their Bluetooth and Wi-Fi speakers, they broke into the smart speaker market in 2017 with the Sonos One. Its voice assistant software is powered by Alexa, so you’ll have access to most of the features you can get on any of the Echo speakers. It’s also our top pick for music lovers - it has two Class-D amplifiers and custom-built drivers that blast out music in 360 degrees. Using two Sonos One’s lets you get more than just plain multiroom – you’ll get genuine stereo sound.
Apple HomePod – If you’re knee deep in iOS and looking for a fully integrated solution, look no further than Apple’s HomePod. Apple is still somewhat new to the smart speaker market, and the HomePod isn’t without its teething problems. The Siri assistant onboard feels far clunkier than the one found on its other devices, with misunderstandings being a regular occurence. Apple also hasn’t left many alternatives when it comes to accessing other smart functionality on the device. For example, you can only stream from iTunes Match and Apple Music, so Spotify users will want to look elsewhere. That being said, the HomePod has an incredible speaker, so Apple users definitely shouldn’t look the HomePod over.
What Are The Best Smart Speakers On A Budget?
You won’t get any of the above options for less than £100 (although be sure to check out our listings for good deals). If you want to get access to a smart speaker without breaking the bank, you’ll get all the features you’ll want from the smart assistants, but you will lose out on some audio quality. Here are your 2 main options when it comes to getting a smart speaker on a budget:
Budget Speakers From Top Brands ¬– Both Google and Amazon currently offer a less powerful version of their Home and Echo flagship products. The Google Home Mini and the Amazon Echo Dot both retail for around £50 and come with all the voice assistant capability of their bigger brothers. The speaker is good enough for you to listen to radio and podcasts but don’t expect to get a party going with either of these smart speakers (but if you want to try, better to buy the Mini than the Dot).
Lesser Known Brands – You’ll find plenty of cheaper smart speakers from lesser known brands that have either the Amazon Alexa or Google Home assistant on board. Smaller manufacturers like ZOLO or Jam make speakers which are cheaper than their branded counterparts. The sacrifice you make here is the number of things you can do with the onboard voice-assistants, so those looking to use a smart speaker to connect their smart home are better to steer clear.
Google Home Vs Alexa: Convenient Use Vs. Smart Home Compatibility
For a lot of buyers, the question of which speaker to buy will be a simple one: Do I buy from Google or from Amazon? There are a few key differences though, so read below to see if one of these smart speakers systems makes more sense for you.
When it comes to voice searches, Amazon’s Alexa will respond well to commands so long as they are kept simple, but it occasionally mishears the wake-up word, which can be annoying. It also uses Bing to respond to requests for information, which simply isn’t as good as Google’s search engine. The Google Assistant has superior access to information and as it uses a two-word phrase as a wake-up call, mistakes are rare. Communicating with Google is far less strained, plus the built-in Cast feature is very convenient if you have other speakers which are Chromecast or Cast-enabled.
Although Google is striving to add more gadgets to its Home roster, Amazon Echo currently has far more support for smart home products. Both support the largest smart home brands like Philips Hue and Nest, but almost all smart devices can be relied upon to have Amazon Alexa connectivity. The latest Echo also has an in-built ZigBee hub, making it simple to connect smart home devices that don’t operate over Wi-Fi to the device.
In terms of its premier smart speakers, the sound quality is comparable between the Home and Echo Plus, though some reviewers believe the Home is slightly superior. There’s no question about which of the smaller speakers is better – Amazon Echo Dot’s speaker won’t be satisfying to most ears when it comes to listening to music, so best to go with the Home Mini if you want to listen to music on a budget.
Any choice between the two will have to be made based on what you want from a smart speaker. Google’s Home excels as a personal assistant and music player, while the Amazon device is compatible with a wider selection of home gadgets. Your decision will depend on both what your current expectations are and whether you use plan to use smart devices in the future.
The Tech Specs of Google Home and Alexa Compared
For anyone who prefers to get down into the nitty-gritty, here’s a comparison of the main tech specs of the Google Home .
Amazon Echo Plus (2nd Gen) Specs
Dimensions: 14.8 x 9.9 x 9.9 cm (5.86 x 3.90 x 3.90 in).
Smart speakers are ready for action straight out of the box, but there are gadgets which can be paired with them to make using them even smoother:
Stands and Mounts – Available for most speakers are stands and mount that let you place them directly on your wall or place them more securely on your table. While Sonos has a wide range of their own accessories, many 3rd party manufacturers design accessories for the Google and Amazon speakers.
Adapters for older devices – A novel feature that some manufacturers offer is the ability to connect up older devices like CD or Vinyl Players to voice command. The best known of these is the Sonos Connect. By connecting your normal speaker to the Connect via Aux cable, you’ll be able to control them via voice-command using an Amazon Echo device.
Smart Devices – Buying a smart speaker is also the perfect time to get started on making the rest of your home smart. Hundreds of different devices are available, including things like lighting systems, thermostats, and smart plugs. Be careful to check for compatibility before you buy certain devices though – you may not be able to control them using voice command on certain systems.
When and Where to Shop for the Best Smart Speaker Deals
The newest smart technology sadly doesn’t come cheap, so if you’re looking to buy the latest speakers on the market, you’ll want to find a way to get a good deal. We have a few suggestions for you on how to cut the cost of your next buy.
If you’re thinking about buying more than one speaker, be sure to keep a lookout for speaker bundles. This is particularly true for more audio-focused speaker outfits like Sonos and JBL. They’ll often sell 2 or more of their speakers together, meaning you save money over buying the speakers separately. You’ll even find bundle deals for Amazon Echo and Google Home deals, just be sure to keep an eye on our listings when it’s coming to the time when you want to buy.
Smart speakers and accessories are available from online sellers like Amazon or eBay, as well as high street stores including John Lewis, Argos and Currys.
Although many smart devices are not especially expensive, it is always good to get a reduction where possible. The best time to shop is during sales events like Black Friday in November or Amazon Prime Day in the Summer. Be sure to keep an eye out for when the big outfits are announcing new products as well – this almost always means that their older models are soon to drop in price.
Find The Best Smart Speakers Deals On hotukdeals
hotukdeals brings together the latest offers and reductions from the high street and online, making sure that you never spend any more than you have to. If you’re looking to buy a new smart speaker, then be sure to check out our smart speakers’ listings.