Featured Product: Amazon Echo Dot (4th Gen) | $50
Even amidst today’s many technological advantages and the incredible convenience of modern gadgets, I can’t avoid feeling nostalgic for my favorite tech from yesterday… whether it’s the Game Boy Advance SP’s pocket-friendly clamshell design or the handy slide-out keyboard of the Motorola Droid,
Still, I don’t miss the days before I could use my smartphone to easily control the tunes pumping out of my speaker. Tethering an iPod to my stereo was a fine upgrade at the time, but the occasional guilty pleasure blasting through the home was an occasional hazard. Luckily, times have changed and now you can keep control of your favorite bops in your pocket at all times.
And with smart speakers, the latest evolution of the concept, you may not even need the phone to command your tunes. These brainy gadgets use voice controls to cue up tunes, answer your questions, and command your smart home devices. Want Alexa, Siri, or the Google Assistant to help out around the house? Here are today’s best options.
Best Overall Smart Speaker: Sonos One
Why choose between Amazon’s Alexa and the Google Assistant? The second-gen Sonos One packs both of them in so you don’t have to pick a favorite before even trying the thing. And it sounds great, too. In a 2018 showdown, Gizmodo ranked it among the best-sounding smart speakers on the market, thanks in part to its well-balanced, room-filling sound. Add in double the voice assistants and it’s an unbeatable combo. Speaking of combos, you can pair two of ‘em to boost the stereo sensation.
Best Budget Smart Speaker: Amazon Echo (4th Gen)
The first-gen Amazon Echo took the shape of a techie Pringles can, but the design has shifted and evolved since then. The latest version? Well, now it’s a globe. Rounder aesthetic aside, the new Echo isn’t a huge departure from the previous edition, but it brings enhancements like improved sound, Zigbee smart hub skills, and a more responsive Alexa via the new AZI Neural Edge chip.
Gizmodo’s Victoria Song writes that the design is ultimately the most obvious difference, but that the generational enhancements still collectively make this the best core Echo 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)
The smaller Echo Dot follows suit with its own sphere-shaped redesign, and the end result isn’t far off from its puck-like predecessor. This affordable smart speaker puts Alexa in your home with a trade-off in audio quality for the smaller size and lower price. That makes sense given the $50 list price, so no, this isn’t the Echo to snag if you’re an audiophile. It’s the one that’s cheap, effective, and unobtrusive enough to stick just about anywhere in your home.
Best Smart Speaker for Kids: Amazon Echo Dot Kids Edition
The Echo Dot Kids Edition has more canvas to work with than the older disc, like model, and that means this Echo Dot has a face. Actually, there’s two of ‘em: a tiger or a panda, both utterly adorable and perfect for kids’ rooms. This is a simple way to get music and other kid-friendly content into their space, plus you get a year of Amazon Kid+ service with age-appropriate music, podcasts, and other audio content included. You can also add an Echo Glow smart light, controllable with Echo Dot voice commands, for another $15.
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.
Smartest Smart Speaker: Google Home Max
If you need a speaker that’s as good for controlling your lights and answering trivia as it is for shuffling through your favorite playlists, you should buy a Google Home Max. At $300, it’s not cheap, but for your money you’re getting the smartest voice assistant available according to this article last year over at Gizmodo. You can speak to the assistant from any Google device, like an Android phone or a Chromebook. If you want to control your music while you’re strutting about your apartment during your regularly scheduled weekend deep clean, this is the way to do it. And since the Home Max can get pretty loud, it’s good to know you won’t have to shout just to change tracks. Although, Gizmodo notes that this speaker is quite bass-heavy, if that’s a concern.
For those who don’t mind skipping the extra decibels, there’s the Nest Hub, which keeps all the smarts of the Home Max, but trades the high volumes for a big ol’ display you can use for showcasing your best family photos, or showcasing recipes and how-to videos as you work. At $70 right now, it’s a lot cheaper than the Home Max, so it’s just a matter of how loud you like to crank the volume (but please, take care of your ears).
Best Smart Speaker for Smart Homes: Amazon Echo Studio
Like the Echo, the Echo Studio comes with Amazon’s Alexa smart assistant, which means you’ll get more capabilities than Apple’s Siri-powered HomePod, but fewer than Google Assistant. That said, Alexa’s integrated with a ton of smart home products, and if you’re already invested in the Amazon ecosystem, it might be more cost-effective to just upgrade your existing speakers. The Studio might be costly, but it’s cheaper than Google’s comparable Home Max. And with five speakers inside, it gets plenty loud.
Fair warning, though: some early reviews noted issues with this speaker’s music playback, and there are valid privacy concerns you may want to take into consideration before hitting that buy button.
Best for Apple Users: Apple HomePod
If you’re tied into Apple’s ecosystem and want a device that’s built for it, you might want to consider the Apple HomePod. Gizmodo’s Adam Clark Estes says that it’s just fine for Apple die-hards, even though it might not be as useful for other people. The Sonos offers better sound, while Alexa and the Google Assistant are arguably smarter voice assistants in practice.
All that said, the HomePod is a stellar-sounding speaker if you’re serious about music. Estes suggests that the sound quality is comparable to the Sonos One, even gaining an advantage with bass and treble, even if the mids don’t impress quite as much. The HomePod doesn’t entirely make the case for its beastly price tag, but for Apple aficionados, it’ll do the trick.
Best Budget Apple Speaker: Apple HomePod Mini
Here’s a 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’s 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 02/16/2021.