Featured Product: Google Nest Hub (2nd Gen) | $60 | Best Buy
At this point in time, it’s easier than any other point in history to not only listen to music, but to do so with a genuinely high quality of sound. It’s something that’s easy to forget when you’re just listening to your favorite band through your headphones, but it’s true. Music sounds incredible now, and while some people may favor things like vinyl, it’s natural for most to move more towards more high-tech ways of filling their homes with sound.
The most accessible of this modern-day tech has to come in the form of the smart speaker. It’s absolutely incredible to get home from a walk, unplug your headphones, and then hook your phone up to a smart speaker to keep listening to your music. There’s something bordering on magical about it.
The thing is, the market’s pretty hectic out there, and finding the right one for you can be tough. Should you go with the one featuring your AI assistant of choice, or would you be better off breaking away from that to go for quality instead? Well, have a gander at these options, and then you’ll be able to know for sure.
Best Overall Smart Speaker: Sonos One
Our first pick is not only our pick for the best overall smart speaker, but also one that works with both Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, which is quite a feat in and of itself. It means you’re far more likely to be able to use the Sonos One smart speaker without having to properly commit to one or the other, which is nice, because commitment is hard. The sound quality here is incredible too, and Gizmodo even ranked it among the best sounding smart speakers back in 2018. Plus, you can even pair two of these powerhouses together to make for an even more enveloping blanket of sound.
Best Budget Smart Speaker: Amazon Echo (4th Gen)
Remember the original Pringles can-like tube that was the Amazon Echo? The device that popularized the smart speaker has shifted in design over the years, and the latest now takes the form of a globe instead. Shape aside, the new Echo isn’t a dramatic departure from the previous model, but it brings a number of enhancements, including much better sound, Zigbee smart hub capabilities, and a more responsive Alexa thanks to Amazon’s new AZI Neural Edge processor.
Gizmodo’s Victoria Song reviewed the latest model and came away impressed by the modest enhancements, even if the design is by far the most significant of them. Still, it’s the best version yet:
“If you’re on an OG Amazon Echo or a second-generation Echo, you could probably do with the boost in audio quality. Other than the improved audio quality and the new round design, many of the upgrades just aren’t that noticeable. At the end of the day, I’m left feeling, like, ‘Well, this is the round Echo with surprisingly decent audio that does pretty much what my other Echo speakers do.’
Like I said, it’s round. That’s the story.”
Best Smart Speaker Under $50: Amazon Echo Dot (4th Gen)
If you’re looking for a new orb to ponder, then you could do far worse than the rather adorable little Amazon Echo Dot. While it doesn’t have the same sound quality as the standard Amazon Echo, it still manages to do a good job of spreading your music or podcasts about the room. It makes for an excellent choice if there’s a room you spend less time in, but still want to make sure you can have Alexa chilling on standby, or just like to know there’ll always be music when you go to the toilet. Plus, despite only being $50 normally, it sees sales fairly regularly which drop it down to $35.
Best Smart Speaker for Kids: Amazon Echo Dot Kids Edition
We said the echo dot was cute, but it doesn’t really hold a candle to the Echo Dot Kids Edition, which comes in a few different designs, our favorite of which has to be this adorable little panda. As this is designed for children, it means it features some solid parental controls to keep them away from things you think they’re too young to hear about. Not only that, but it comes with a years subscription to Amazon Kids+, which allows them to access loads of Audible books and educational games too. It’s an excellent choice for getting in a little bit of help for homework, especially if you’re not ready for the commitment that trigonometry demands of you.
Best-Sounding Budget Smart Speaker: Google Nest Audio
Looking for a capable smart speaker that won’t break your budget? Google’s newly-released Nest Audio is the best you can get for just under $100, delivering a significant aural upgrade over other smart speakers in this price range. It’s not going to beat dedicated bookshelf speakers, but Gizmodo’s Andrew Liszewski says it’s a marked improvement over the earlier Google Home:
“Knowing what’s going on under the hood, I’m still surprised at how good the old Google Home sounds, but the Google Nest Audio does a much better job at pumping out cleaner, crisper, room-filling sound that’s more natural, particularly on the lower end. The clever tricks used to make the Google Home sound as large as it did came with compromises; the bass felt a little artificial and overly boosted. But with the new Google Nest Audio it’s hard to complain about the device’s larger footprint when the dual speakers sound so much better.”
The Google Assistant feels snappier than in past speakers, too, although it still doesn’t play friendly with Apple Music. You can get around that by playing music via Bluetooth from your phone, however. That’s a small concession, though, and the price is certainly right for a great, affordable smart speaker.
Best Smart Speaker with a Screen: Google Nest Hub (2nd Gen)
There have been many different smart speakers with screens dating back to the original Amazon Echo Show, but the new 2nd-gen Google Nest Hub is that one we’d want next to our bed at night—or pretty much anywhere else it could be useful at home.
Still, bedside brings some of the best functionality via unique sleep tracking. Rather than use a camera or rely on a wearable companion device, the Google Nest Hub uses little radar sensors that can monitor your movements at night, while other sensors listen out for snoring, disturbances, and light. Collectively, they serve up a report with insights and suggestions of how you might be able to rest easier at night.
Gizmodo’s Andrew Liszewski called it the “perfect alarm clock,” but the Nest Hub and its 7” screen are also handy for pumping tunes into your home, controlling smart home devices, viewing recipes in the kitchen, and other tasks around your space. At $100 normally ($80 as of this writing), you might consider more than one so you can take advantage of all of its myriad benefits.
Best Portable Smart Speaker: Sonos Roam
They’ve finally done it: with the Sonos Roam, the high-end audio giant has released a properly compact, portable speaker that you can take anywhere. And if you want one speaker that can pull double duty around the home and on the go, the Roam is it.
It works over Wi-Fi when at home and lets you use Alexa and the Google Assistant for voice commands, and then uses Bluetooth to pull tunes from your smartphone when elsewhere. Gizmodo reviewer Victoria Song says the feature isn’t always as seamlessly executed as advertised, but that the Roam sounds great—and as the cheapest Sonos speaker on the market, it’s an ideal way to dip a toe into that ecosystem and see what you think.
“If you’re intrigued but unsure you want to commit to this pricey speaker ecosystem, I’d say the Roam is the best option to see if the whole Sonos thing is your vibe. Not only is it relatively affordable, but even if the smart features aren’t your jam, at least you still have a great portable Bluetooth speaker.”
Best Smart Speaker for Smart Homes: Amazon Echo Studio
If you’re already up to your eyeballs in Alexa-infused smart products, then it might make the most sense for you to just go ahead and grab the Echo Studio. Because Amazon have so many smart products, and a lot of companies tend to make sure Alexa plays nice with their own devices, it’s hard to deny the power of having a device like this in your home. It also features fairly good sound quality thanks to five speakers within it. As with any Alexa product though, it’s worth keeping in mind the privacy concerns some have about the whole smart assistant thing. That being said, if you’re this far down the rabbit hole, you’re probably already fine with it.
Best for Apple Users: Apple HomePod Mini
The original HomePod has been discontinued, but that’s OK: here’s an even better option for Apple fans who aren’t as fussy about sound quality and don’t want to spend an arm and a leg on a smart speaker: the newer HomePod Mini. It scales down the design to a compact ball and keeps the easy compatibility with Apple devices and support for HomeKit smart home gadgets, but it’s only $100. That’s much more appealing.
Here’s what Gizmodo reviewer Alex Cranz had to say about it:
“The HomePod Mini does exactly what it’s supposed to do, and does so at a price that is actually pretty affordable. If you’ve shied away from smart speakers in the past, this isn’t a bad one to try out, and if you’re like me and have found yourself already embracing the Apple smart home ecosystem, it’s the perfect complementary device. Previous smart home overlords have left me wanting. The HomePod Mini gave me exactly what I need.”
Best Shower Speaker: Kohler Moxie
Sure, you’ve seen waterproof speakers before—but how about a Bluetooth speaker that’s actually part of your showerhead? Plumbing giant Kohler is the brand behind this curious concoction, and the Moxie is truly a unique offering.
Essentially, it’s a showerhead that has a large recess at the center, which is where the speaker pops in and out. It’s easy to install, the sound quality is pretty good, and having the Alexa voice assistant in the shower helps with controlling tunes, getting random queries answered, and perhaps even controlling smart home devices. It’s not cheap at $200 and you don’t get multiple spray modes, but it’s a smart premise if you’re willing to spend for it.
Gizmodo’s Victoria Song writes in her review:
“It’s very easy to both upgrade your showerhead and get a decent shower speaker for under $100. But if you’re willing to splurge just a little bit, or can split the cost with roommates/a significant other? The Kohler Moxie is actually a convenient way to get a nicer showerhead and a good quality shower speaker in one easily installed package.”
This deal was originally published by Jordan McMahon in October 2020 and updated with new information by Andrew Hayward on 06/24/2021.