After almost six years on the market, smart speakers now come in a variety of sizes, shapes, capabilities and prices.
Whether you want a cheap speaker to keep the kids entertained, one that doubles as a digital photo frame or one that sounds so good you’ll want to yell “turn it up to 11”, here’s a quick guide to the best on the market.
Best cheap speaker: Google Nest Mini
RRP: £49 – deals from £29
Google’s Assistant is the best voice system on the market. It has better understanding than rivals, an enormous range of knowledge and – importantly – the ability to choose between male and female voices, even on a user-by-user basis as Google can distinguish between the individuals giving instructions.
The Nest Mini is the second generation of Google’s smallest and cheapest smart speaker. Available for as little as £29 (sometimes less than £20), it will put Google in any room, with improved voice recognition that’s faster and cuts down on accidental activations, which is better for protecting your privacy.
It sounds good for radio and can be used as a Bluetooth or Chromecast speaker. It is made of recycled plastic and looks like a small fabric pincushion. It can be wall mounted and has a touch-sensitive top for adjusting the volume and pausing and playing music.
Google Assistant is packed with things to entertain the children, too, from riddles and Disney games to quizzes and game shows.
Verdict: Cheap, sounds good and puts Google Assistant in any room you like.
Full review: Google Nest Mini review: better bass and recycled plastic
Best bedside speaker: Amazon Echo Dot with Clock
RRP: £59.99 – deals from £34.99
The best alarm clock replacement is Amazon’s Echo Dot with Clock. The LED display glows through the smart speaker’s mesh and dims with ambient light, so it is never too bright at night. It displays the time and your alarms when set.
Otherwise it is the same as any Echo speaker. Four buttons on top take care of volume, mute and actions. The light ring at the top shows when it is listening to you. Amazon’s assistant, Alexa, is highly capable and can do things such as creating routines – you can, for example, set it up so that when you say: “Alexa, goodnight” it can trigger actions such as turning off all of the lights and setting your alarm.
It sounds good for the money and is perfect for radio, or can pair with another Bluetooth speaker or output via a standard 3.5mm socket. It can be grouped with other Echo devices for multiroom audio, too.
Verdict: A small, simple and smart Alexa alarm-clock replacement.
Full review: Echo Dot with Clock review: Amazon’s cheap Alexa alarm clock replacement
Best mid-range speaker: Amazon Echo
RRP: £89.99 – deals from £64
Now in its third generation, the Echo is shorter, stouter and covered in fabric that makes it much more attractive. It looks and sounds exactly the same as the premium £140 Echo Plus (which also acts as a smart home hub).
Alexa is at its best with the Echo, able to hear you clearly from across the room, even over the sound of the washing machine.
The Echo sounds good, with improved bass and room-filling 360-degree sound. Music is clearly better than the smaller speakers but the Echo is still the best for voice content such as Alexa, talk radio or podcasts.
It can be used as a Bluetooth speaker or via the 3.5mm socket on the back, or its audio can be sent to other speakers by the same means.
Verdict: Solid, room-filling sound that won’t break the bank.
Best smart display: Google Nest Hub
RRP: £79.99 – deals from £59
Do you want a screen with your voice assistant? That’s where smart displays come in. Google’s Nest Hub (previously Home Hub) is the best balance of screen and price, available from about £60.
The 7-inch screen is great, matching the tone of light in the room with a special sensor, so pictures look good. It plugs into Google Photos to show your snaps, automatically picking highlights or displaying specific albums, making it a brilliant digital photo frame.
You get all the usual Google Assistant features, plus visual answers such as song lyrics, pictures of people you have asked about, week-long weather forecasts and so on. It can act as a viewer for any smart cameras you have or a touch-control centre for smart home devices, too.
You can watch video on it, from YouTube (which is handy for recipes and how-tos), BBC iPlayer, newsclips and Netflix. It dims the screen and reduces volume at night, so not to disturb those around you, and sounds pretty good for music, too, but does not have a camera.
Verdict: A small and great smart display that’s not too expensive.
Full review: Google Nest Hub review: the smart display to buy
Best-sounding speaker: Sonos One
RRP: £199 – deals from £189
If you want the best-sounding smart speaker for less than £200, that’s the Sonos One.
It takes an excellent multiroom wifi speaker and adds the intelligence of your choice of Alexa or Google Assistant.
Alexa or Google Assistant function as they do through other smart speakers but the One is not reliant on them for music. It uses Sonos’s own system that supports practically any music service commanded via an app for Android, iPhones and iPads, so you can mute the mics and still have full music functionality.
The best bit is how it sounds. It packs plenty of bass, depth and vibrancy, producing a full, room-filling sound that combines power with nuance, rivalling speakers often costing far more. If that’s not enough, you can link two for a stereo pair and add a wireless sub, too.
Verdict: The best-sounding wifi speaker you will get for under £200 is also a multitalented smart speaker with a choice of Alexa or Google Assistant.
Full review: Sonos One review: the best smart speaker for audiophiles
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