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Digital helpers are no longer futuristic. Alexa, Google Assistant, Cortana, and Siri are taking off like a rocket.
These voice assistants don’t just work by themselves, they need a smart speaker. As we continue to bring more devices home, the idea of operating these gadgets with our voice becomes a reality only with a smart speaker.
From playing music to switching channels, and controlling virtually every smart gadget in your home, a smart speaker is at the center of it all.
Which platform should you opt? Alexa has been around for years. Many products like smart plugs, bulbs, TVs, and fridges are already built to work with it. But, Google Assistant is slowly creeping up by having more and more companies sign on to their platform.
Not to mention the appeal that Siri through Apple Homekit gives those on the Apple wagon while Cortana gets better every day. You see, it’s a bit confusing if you have to think about the platform to use for all your home devices.
If you are not there yet, Amazon Alexa is an easy start if you are looking to have a home filled with smart devices like a doorbell or a coffee maker. But, if you are only looking to control your music by voice, Google Assistant is a fair choice. This platform also works with some TVs, and we are expecting to see more home appliances using Google Assistant.
Amazon Echo Plus 2nd Gen features a groovy design and is way more interesting than the Amazon Echo Standard 2nd Gen 2017 version. It should be interesting to see how well it works together with the Zigbee smart hub.
The fabric grille design and the cylindrical barrels showcase a model that has been designed to look good. Fortunately, the performance of the device has improved compared to the previous version. You can choose a color from black, grey, or white so it can match your décor.
On the top, you have a simple button layout, which includes the volume buttons, an activation button, and a mute microphone button. You don’t have to say “Alexa” before giving instructions as it allows you to dial the activation button.
Amazon Echo Plus 2nd Gen has invested in seven far-field microphones that pick up sound fast. It houses premium Dolby speakers that give you 360-degree audio. This speaker does not have stereo surround sound unless you have two Amazon Echo Plus connected.
Set up and Smart Features
As we said, this speaker houses the Zigbee smart hub. It means you won’t need third-party starter kits to work with devices like Philips Hues smart bulb.
Amazon Echo Plus needs plugging in and connecting to the internet on the Alexa app. After that, adding devices is as easy as saying “Alexa discover devices.” Alexa then scans for your devices and names them. All you have to do is use the Alexa app or your voice to control the bulb.
The Zigbee home hub will work with only some select devices like motion sensors, smart bulbs, and smart plugs like Amazon’s plug. To have more accessories, you will need a much more advanced hub that can accommodate different gadgets and devices in your home.
Amazon’s Alexa is the sweet spot in this speaker. It has over 50,000 third-party skills that allow you to pull just about anything you want. From your calendar to calling an Uber, ordering a pizza, the weather, setting timers, playing your favorite music, and so much more.
With Alexa, it’s easy to expand on its skills, which are valuable in the long run as it finds the ones that are important to you.
Unfortunately, you may not get accurate results for routes, hotels, and business premises. Amazon Alexa is limited, unlike Google, which has Google Maps. It also needs you to speak properly worded sentences to avoid misinterpretation.
Amazon Echo Plus 2nd Gen is all in when it comes to starting you on the journey to a smart home. It may lack some advanced features on its own. But, paired with a superior smart home hub; only your devices can limit you. It is ready to help and make your life smooth and lively.
Google Assistant powers Google Home Mini. It lets you control music and get answers from the internet by just saying “OK Google.”
Google Home Mini is an incredible net assistant. It is small, sleek, and highly effective at bringing smart capabilities into any home. It is larger than the Amazon Echo Dot, and it comes in three colors – coral red, dark grey, and light grey.
Google compares its size to that of a doughnut, which is understandable since it is a small device. It is a nice feeling to have such a small device capable of servicing your orders. Instead of having buttons, this speaker uses a tap mechanism to deliver commands. Tapping the sides adjusts the volume while the top pauses music, stops alarms, or cancels requests.
I am with Echo Dot on manual controls since it has a push button that prevents triggering of commands just by slightly touching the surface. Google Home Mini is highly sensitive, but it helps to steer off doubt about whether a particular command has been received.
With the help of the four LED lights on top of this speaker, you can tell when Google Home Mini is processing or listening to a command,
You will find the top-firing speaker only useful for listening to podcasts, the radio, answering a request, or as an alarm.
Set Up and Google Assistant
Google Home Mini sets up on your smartphone using the Google Home App. You can then test its capabilities with this speaker. It works wonderfully as a Bluetooth speaker, but it also allows you to connect it to SmartCast-compatible audio equipment.
This means you can get instant access to audio content especially because it comes with YouTube Music Premium free for 14 days. The free trial can be extended for three months giving you access to unlimited ad-free music.
Google Assistant is just as easy to use since it has tons of skills too. It can give your traffic updates, the weather information, and even help your kids with homework. It is compatible with over 1,000 devices including thermostats, smart bulbs, TVs, refrigerators, and more.
It is fun to use this speaker with the latest software update that allows the setting of two default languages. If you live in a bilingual home, no one will feel they have to pick one language over the other.
Google Home Mini does not support G Suite or any other work account. It is quite limiting considering that one of the conveniences of owning a smart speaker is being able to do things without using your phone.
Google Home Mini is feature-rich. It aims to please users thirsting for Internet knowledge, as well as those who need to control the music using voice. It does not have vast compatibility, but we believe that we are going to see plenty more from it in the future.
It is small, stylish, and a must-have for a small home. Amazon Echo Dot 3rd Gen is back with revenge against the Google Home Mini, but can this speaker reclaim its position at the top?
Amazon Echo Dot 3rd Gen has been redesigned. Just like the Echo Plus, it also received an appealing fabric grille. It no longer looks cheap and will, therefore, sit alongside your expensive devices in a furnished living room.
Looking at the controls, this speaker can be connected directly to an external speaker using the 3.5mm jack. It is still like the previous Echo Dot owing to the location of the volume controls as well as the mute mic button and Alexa activation button.
Amazon Echo Dot has four far-field microphones. They work just like the seven beamforming microphones in other Amazon smart speakers. It also has noise canceling technology that helps it pick your voice in a noisy background.
Since Alexa is cloud controlled, the features on this speaker are limited to what Alexa can do in any other Amazon smart speaker. The speaker allows you to stream music, control light bulbs, receive weather updates, listen to jokes, and more.
You can make calls, text, receive help with your recipe, get reminders, and even train Alexa to understand the skills that are most important to you.
You may not love the sound quality on this Amazon Echo Dot. Though built to be functional for listening to answers from Alexa, the bass is nearly flat. For large rooms, most people prefer to connect it to a superior sound system for a complete setup.
Amazon Echo Dot 3rd Gen is still quite unreliable when used as a music playback device. It is also not supplied with a 3.5mm auxiliary cable since it is no longer USB-powered. But, it comes with a power adapter, so no worries there.
Amazon Echo Dot 3rd Gen is an improved model that gives you smart capabilities on the cheap. It provides broad capabilities. It connects multiple devices so you can explore just about any skill with the help of Alexa.
Google Home Max sounds amazing as the speakers are designed to play music instead of only controlling smart devices.
This speaker is massive when put alongside other Google speakers. It is wide, thick, and most of all, it is stylish. If you don’t like horizontal orientation, you can lay down this device vertically on the magnetic pad.
If you are in the Google ecosystem, you will be glad to have this speaker as your central command center. It connects to Chromecast-enabled audio devices, which makes it easy to give it orders from your seat.
Google Home Max comes with only one cable for the power supply. It pairs with your phone using the Google Home app that is straightforward to connect to your router and other devices. After that, just choose a streaming platform like YouTube or Spotify.
With the four 4.5-inch inbuilt woofers and tweeters, it can blast sound in small and large rooms the same. Because it fires sound forward, it has better chances of producing immersive sound when placed in one corner of the room.
What’s more, it is possible to connect to speakers in a stereo mode for punchier sound and volume.
Google Home Max also has far-field microphones that allow it to listen to commands. You can change playlists and control devices since it can work with SmartThings, Hue, Nest, Ring, and Wink.
It is the helper you need when you want to ask questions, turn off lights in a different room, and even sync up with other Google speakers.
The only problem with this speaker is that, when it is playing at a high volume, it has troubles understanding your voice. You may find yourself adjusting the volume manually to give it requests. It beats the reason why it has to be smart if you can’t speak to it from the other room unless it’s playing at a low volume.
If you want a well-balanced speaker that is great for music as it is for controlling devices, you can’t go wrong with Google Home Max. It is a high-end model that makes the base of any significant smart home setup using the Google ecosystem.
Sonos gives you seamless music control at your fingertips. With built-in Alexa, you don’t have to depend on the touch controls to play, pause, and adjust the music.
Sonos One is a fascinating speaker with smart capabilities. If you can’t seem to get the right sound from Echo Dot or Google Home Mini, this is the speaker for you. It comes designed to take on the Play:1 and offers greater capabilities for the price.
Seeing that it is small like the Echo Dot but with better audio quality, it stands a better chance at being the center of any smart home controls. You will love everything about its sound, especially if you like RnB, jazz, and the classics.
On the surface, you have a touch panel that allows you to play and pause music with the tap of a finger. You will find two LEDs that indicate when Sonos One is powered up and when it is listening in. Tapping one of the LEDs turns off the mic to prevent it from answering random questions.
This speaker has six far-field microphones that surprisingly pick up sound pretty well even when the speaker is at full volume.
Set up and Amazon Alexa
The first thing you do is plug in your Sonos One speaker. Then, download the Sonos and Alexa apps on your smartphone. You will need to have a Sonos and Alexa account before you start asking Sonos to deliver different commands.
When working with the Sonos app, it connects the speaker over Wi-Fi which leads you to music services like Spotify, Amazon Music and more. The good thing is that Sonos has a Trueplay Tuning system that helps it to pick out the bass and treble levels according to the room’s environment.
Apart from controlling the music using your voice, Amazon Alexa gives you access to its set of skills right from this speaker. Not forgetting, you can connect other wireless Sonos speaker and get a complete Sonos Home music system.
Amazon Alexa is limited to control music from Amazon music. It means that even if you can play music from a Tidal or Spotify, you cannot ask Alexa to skip a track on such platforms. However, Sonos is working on it, and you may soon find a new version with complete control.
Sonos One is more than just a wireless speaker. It meets expectations when it comes to its smart features. From the amazing sound to voice-enabled controls, it offers something for anyone looking for a good smart speaker.
Apple HomePod comes in an attractive design for everyone in the Apple ecosystem. It is a high-end product though Siri is a bit limited when it comes to what you can achieve with this smart speaker.
If you are looking for elegance, there’s no doubt that Apple HomePod is the speaker to pick. It may be small, but it throws in punchy audio since it can scan its environment and deliver audio according to where it is.
It is super fast to set up this speaker with the help of your iPhone, Mac, or iPad running iOS 8 and later. Plug it in and sign in to Apple Music to start listening to your favorite tunes. It comes with a free 3-month trial of Apple Music, but you will need an active subscription to experience everything it has to offer.
The elegance of this speaker stems from what’s under its hood. You will find that, unlike other speakers its size, the seven tweeters are at the bottom while the woofer is at the top. The result is sound that is fired outwards such that treble becomes manageable. The woofer fires upwards, which delivers rich bass, unlike anything we have listened to on small-sized smart speakers.
What about Siri?
Siri powers Apple HomePod. It is tailored specifically for music much so that it can learn your favorite tunes so that HomePod plays the music you love. It is exciting to find a voice assistant that has an incredible grasp of words, such that it rarely misunderstands your commands.
It won’t play the wrong tracks subjecting you to repeating the requests several times.
The attributes of Siri surround Apple Music since you cannot play music from other platforms like Spotify. It doesn’t support Bluetooth. If you want to stream music from a place other than Apple Music, then you must use AirPlaying. Even with AirPlaying, you won’t be able to control the tracks with Siri.
Apple HomePod is in a lane of its own as it is optimized for Apple music. It is excellent for streaming music, and Siri is accurate in delivering commands. With the possibility of controlling many smart devices, we don’t see why you shouldn’t join Apple’s walled-up garden.
Amazon drives innovation in the smart home world. With Amazon Echo Show, you get a convenient smart home hub that can act as a tablet.
The 2nd generation of the Amazon Echo Show sees improvements in the design. It is not a device hindered by size as the display and speakers are large, but they don’t take up the face of the Echo Show.
You will love having this visual Alexa in the kitchen when preparing complicated recipes. You will also be able to control devices in other rooms. Its main attraction is the eight-array microphone setup and the 5MP front-facing camera. Together, they allow you to be seen and heard when making video calls.
This device has physical controls for the volume, and it is also possible to turn off the camera by pressing the privacy button.
This smart screen is 17mm thick owing to the speakers being placed behind the screen. It gives you more room to watch and speak to the screen. It is pleasing that the screen has a 1280 x 800 resolution to render high-contrast life-like images.
Watching music videos and shows is impressive as it adjusts to ambient light.
As a smart screen, communicating with Amazon Echo Show is mainly through Alexa. After completing the short set up, you can watch just about anything that is compatible with this platform. You can stream live TV, make video calls with anyone with Amazon Echo Show, Echo spot, or Skype
With its built-in smart hub, you can set up Zigbee compatible devices that can be controlled with your voice. Better still, Alexa lets you in on her vast skills, which include setting alarms, checking your calendar, horoscope, etc.
Amazon Echo Show only has controls for the brightness, and that’s it. You cannot change the contrast or the granular level to suit your viewing conditions.
Amazon Echo Show is a premium screen destined for the busy, smart home. It gives you fast and easy controls on a hub that is excellent as an entertainment device. It gives you HD video, high-quality audio, and thousands of skills to go with it.
Google Home Hub is perhaps the best smart screen for a busy home. It can do it all from personalizing routines to controlling all your devices in one view; you have every reason to invest in this device.
It’s easy to see why Google Home Hub is interesting. Not because it resembles Amazon Echo Show, but because it is focused on running smooth. It is not big on audio, as you will find out.
This smart speaker has a 7-inch display and is only around 5 inches tall. This makes it ideal for squeezing in tight spaces since it is also thin. It has one full-range speaker that has mediocre sound.
You will like it for its ability to show you recipes and lyrics to your favorite songs, but not so much for its audio reproduction.
The screen boasts a 1024 x 600 pixels resolution complemented by an Ambient EQ light sensor. It adjusts the color temperature and brightness according to the lighting of your room. It has anti-reflective features that make it easy to view the screen from an angle.
The lack of a camera means you will not be making any video calls. It’s not necessarily a bad thing considering you will never have to worry about the breach of your privacy.
With two far-field microphones, Google Home Hub can pick up sound pretty easy when the volume is turned all the way up.
Google Home Hub has the Home View dashboard that brings all your connected devices on one screen. It is compatible with thousands of smart devices that are easy to control with the help of Google Assistant.
What’s more, it can provide you with recipes, news, sports results, YouTube videos, and more, without you having to raise a finger. It can also stream music from Pandora, Spotify, iHeart Radio, but it also lets you choose the tracks with your voice.
Google’s Home Hub audio will not fill a room. It lacks bass, making it less ideal for music and videos that depend on heavy bass to be immersive.
Google Home Hub is compact and intuitive. It allows you to manage smart devices while giving entertaining apps like Google Photos and YouTube. You also get a ton of help with Google Assistant for stress-free living.
Lenovo Smart Display is proving to be a competitive smart screen against Echo Show and Google Home Hub. It is exciting to see that it brings the possibilities of Google Assistant on a larger screen with even better audio.
Lenovo Smart Display comes in a sleek style on a 10-inch screen. It gives you crystal clear pictures such that you will love every minute you spend watching music videos, movies, and TV. The white trim and bamboo texture on the back gives it a contemporary look that sits well in any room.
That said, you will find that with a full-range speaker and dual passive radiator, its audio quality is destined for the indoors. We like that it has mild bass that is not lacking with well-balanced mids and highs. If you are hosting some friends where you wouldn’t want to shout over the music, this speaker system is ideal for you.
This smart screen comes with a 5MP camera to make video calls. You will be able to orient the display into portrait mode when making calls. The slider comes in handy to block the camera after you are done. This feature is unique to this smart screen to safeguard your privacy. It also has a mic mute button alongside the volume controls.
Set Up and Google Assistant
Lenovo Smart Display sets up like the Google Home Hub. It requires you to download the Google Home app and sign in to your account. The app then guides you to the display where you can follow a set of instructions to complete the setup.
Google assistant allows you to control over 5,000 devices and appliances. It allows you to control cameras, TVs, doorbells, coffee makers, and more. Together with the intuitive smart touchscreen, it opens up many possibilities. It lets you set alarms, check the weather, listen to music, organize your calendar, and view your most-viewed apps.
This smart display does not have far-field microphones. You have to be close for it to register commands correctly over loud music and videos.
Due to its streamlined design, Lenovo Smart Display is giving more prominent brands sleepless nights. It manages to bring out the best aspects of smart home hubs owing to its crystal-clear display, wide compatibility, and excellent audio.
Smart speakers have come a long way since their inception. They are capable of many useful things, and their price keeps dropping every day.
The problem is that there are so many choices out there that it is easy to make a mistake. Before you can buy smart speakers that will fulfill your needs, you need to be aware of some facts. We have completed extensive research on the topic of smart speakers, so you don’t have to.
Good smart speakers are similar to personal assistants. You can ask a question, and your smart speakers will give you an answer. They are a great source of news, weather-related information, as well as sports scores.
You can expect your new smart speakers to play music when you command them to, but you can also expect them to make phone calls for you.
Modern smart speakers bring plenty to the table, so avoid the models that don’t provide you with a multitude of uses.
Not every smart speaker has the same voice assistant. At this moment, there are three voice assistants that different devices use.
All in all, every voice assistant has its advantages and disadvantages. In the end, it boils down to your personal preference. If you are satisfied with one assistant, then you might want to stick with it if you’re not in the mood to experiment.
Before you can buy smart speakers that will satisfy your needs, you need to know what to look for. The following features may not be a part of every set of smart speakers, but they are an important factor to consider.
The biggest security issue with smart speakers is the possibility of misuse. Your children could accidentally make Amazon purchases if you have one-click purchasing enabled. Simply turn off the one-click purchasing option, and your children won’t be able to make accidental purchases.
Since Amazon, Apple, and Google support WPA2 encryption, your WiFi data will be safe.
Protect all of your smart devices with a password, if it is possible, and the chances of being hacked will become lower.
Basically, use your smart speakers as you would any other device connected to the Internet. If you want to know more about the security of smart devices, there are many websites that could help you out.