Smart speakers have become an indispensable part of our daily lives. In fact, it’s hard to remember what we did without them.
They’re a gadget which has really caught on in recent years and we now think nothing of asking our speakers to play our favourite music, tells us the latest news headlines or even set a timer for the kitchen.
They’re relatively cheap, hugely versatile, very easy to use, and the audio quality just continues to get better with every new device launched.
Amazon and Google might have led the charge, but plenty of other manufacturers have now joined in the fun, making choosing the right smart speaker a little daunting.
So, how much should you spend? What features do you need? What is the point of the displays you can now find on some smart speakers? We'll answer all these questions for you and more right here.
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No matter what you choose, you'll find a voice-assisted speaker extremely useful. It is, after all, a do-it-all gadget that can answer questions, play music (and video), check the weather, control your smart home, manage your daily schedule, make calls and much more besides.
Best smart speakers: The Louder Choice
OK, let's cut to the chase: If you want the best smart speaker on the market right now, we think the Amazon Echo Studio is where it's at. It has fabulous sound quality, which is reflected in the higher price, but it's worth bearing in mind that it comes with the marvellous Amazon Alexa right out of the box, and it represents the smart speaker finding a new level of sophistication and power.
If you find yourself leaning more towards Google's ecosystem rather than Amazon's, then the Google Nest Hub Max should be right up your street, and takes our second-place prize. It doesn't offer quite the same sound quality as the Amazon Echo Studio, but it does have a rather nifty screen – and Google Assistant is arguably just ahead of Amazon Echo in terms of understanding and intelligence.
How to choose the best smart speaker for you
At the heart of a smart speaker is a digital assistant – Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, or Siri from Apple – which is able to respond to your voice commands. You can ask it just about anything you like: From what the weather is going to be like next week, what the latest news headlines are (although right now that can prove to be a bit of downer), when the next full moon is, and so on. Hook up your services, and you can then have them play your favourite music and podcasts, or – if there's a display attached – movies and TV shows.
Choosing the right smart speaker really comes down to which ecosystem you're most heavily invested in: Amazon, Google or Apple. If you're an Amazon Prime subscriber, it makes sense to get an Amazon Echo speaker. If all the hardware in your home is made by Apple, then the HomePod is the obvious choice. If you already own Nest cameras and a Nest thermostat, they're going to work best with a smart speaker also made by Google.
That's not to say you can't have several smart speakers dotted around the home featuring different digital assistants – but sticking with Alexa, Google Assistant or Siri will make for the most harmonious smart home.
Once you've decided on that, you can start weighing up other factors such as sound quality, price, and more technical features like audio inputs.
These are the best smart speakers right now
1. Amazon Echo Studio
The best, smartest smart speaker
Digital assistant: Amazon Alexa | Dimensions: 206 mm (8.11 inches) by 175 mm (6.9 inches) wide | Audio: Three 2-inch mid-range speakers, 1-inch tweeter, 5.25-inch woofer | Display: n/a | Features: Dolby Atmos, 3.5 mm and mini-optical line-in
One of the newest entries in the increasingly huge Amazon Echo range, the Echo Studio is aimed at people who want some seriously good sound from their smart speaker – it has five separate speakers built into it, as well as support for Dolby Atmos and music mastered in immersive 3D.
The Amazon Echo Studio is able to adapt its audio output to the room it finds itself in too, making this very much Amazon's HomePod. Add in the magic of Alexa, the always-ready, always-improving digital assistant, and the ability to act as a smart home hub, and it's an excellent all-round package.
2. Google Nest Hub Max
The best smart speaker with Google on board
Digital assistant: Google Assistant | Dimensions: 250.1 mm (9.8 inches) by 182.55 mm (7.2 inches) by 101.23 mm (4 inches) | Audio: Two 0.7-inch 10 W tweeters, one 3-inch 30 W woofer | Display: 10-inch, 1,280 x 800 pixel | Features: Doubles up as a Chromecast and a Nest cam
The Google Nest Hub Max isn't for everyone, but it's the best smart speaker with Google Assistant on board at the time of writing. That 10-inch display means you can bring up videos, weather forecasts, news bulletins, music playlists and more, besides everything the Assistant does with audio only.
You can cast audio and video to the display from your phone using the Chromecast protocol, and the device even doubles up as a Nest camera (so you can check up on what's happening at home while you're out for your daily walk). The sound quality is very good for a speaker this size, although it's not the best on the market.
3. Google Home Max
Google smarts meets excellent audio
Digital assistant: Google Assistant | Dimensions: 336.6 mm (13.2 inches) by 190 mm (7.4 inches) by 154.4 mm (6.1 inches) | Audio: Two 4.5-inch high-excursion dual voice-coil woofers, two 0.7-inch custom tweeters | Display: n/a | Features: 3.5 mm line-in
The Google Home Max hasn't changed at all since its introduction in October 2017 – unless you count the new features that are regularly added to the Google Assistant software – and we hope Google hasn't forgotten about this speaker. It offers the best sound fidelity of all the speakers with Google Assistant on board.
It's versatile too, with a 3.5 mm line-in port and Bluetooth connectivity, as well as the ability to play songs from your phone over your Wi-Fi network. Google Assistant really impresses, as does the room-filling audio, which is tweaked via machine learning to match your room's acoustics.
4. Amazon Echo Plus
The affordable all-rounder
Digital assistant: Alexa | Dimensions: 148 mm (5.8 inches) by 99 mm (3.9 inches) | Audio: 3-inch neodymium woofer and 0.8-inch tweeter | Display: n/a | Features: 3.5 mm audio in/out
If Alexa is the smart assistant for you, and you don't need a display, then get the Amazon Echo Plus. It hits the sweet spot between price, sound quality, and functionality, and is more aesthetically pleasing than ever – yours in charcoal, heather, or sandstone fabric.
Any Echo can control various smart home devices through Alexa and the power of your voice commands over Wi-Fi. What the Echo Plus does is double as a smart home hub running the popular Zigbee protocol, so on top of the Alexa control, you can do away with separate home hubs for Zigbee-compatible kit and just use the Echo Plus instead.
We haven't included the standard Echo in our list as it's so similar to the Echo Plus. If you want to save some money and don't have any other smart hubs to replace, then get the normal Echo instead.
5. Apple HomePod
The best smart speaker for Apple fans
Digital assistant: Siri | Dimensions: 172 mm (6.8 inches) by 142 mm (5.6 inches) | Audio: Seven horn-loaded tweeters, high-excursion woofer | Display: n/a | Features: Can act as a HomeKit hub
As with pretty much everything made by Apple, the HomePod is a great choice as a smart speaker if you exclusively use Apple hardware and software. However, it's not the best choice if you use anything running Windows or Android – or think you might in the future. That's the way the Apple ecosystem works, so check this works with your existing kit before taking the plunge.
The audio produced by the HomePod is unquestionably fantastic, but Siri isn't quite up to the same standard as Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant at the moment. The only 'native' music service you can use – as in, "Hey Siri, play some rock" – is Apple Music: if you want to play anything else such as Spotify, you need to stream it across using AirPlay, which is only available on Apple devices, of course. It works well, though, meaning your library of music will sound fab thanks to the HomePod's top-notch sound quality.
6. Sonos One
The best sound – and a choice of digital assistants
Digital assistant: Alexa and Google Assistant | Dimensions: 161.45 mm (6.36 inches) by 119.7 mm (4.69 inches) | Audio: Two class-D digital amplifiers, one tweeter, one mid-woofer | Display: n/a | Features: Physical buttons
Sonos has long been setting the standard for wireless audio speakers, and the Sonos One speaker introduces support for both Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa. You can take your pick when it comes to which digital assistant you want to make friends with, and control your tunes with your voice.
All the usual Sonos goodness is here too – powerful, crisp sound, support for a whole host of streaming music services – and Apple's AirPlay 2 standard as well – and simple setup and operation. The perfect choice if you don't want to commit to Amazon or Google or Apple.
7. Amazon Echo Show 8
Supercharge your smart speaker with a display
Digital assistant: Alexa | Dimensions: 200.4 mm (7.9 inches) by 135.9 mm (5.4 inches) by 99.1 mm (3.9 inches) | Audio: 1.7-inch 4 W speaker | Display: 8-inch, 1,280 x 800 pixel | Features: Camera privacy shutter switch
Amazon's Echos-with-displays speakers are called Echo Shows – you can get them with 5.5-inch, 8-inch and 10.1-inch screens, so we're going for the middle one here. The bigger and smaller ones offer you slightly more and slightly less screen space respectively, of course, plus slightly worse and slightly better sound.
The Echo Show 8 could well be the sweet spot for most people: You get all the power of Alexa, plus that screen, which can be used for viewing Amazon Prime Video and making video calls to friends and family. The sound is impressive, though other entries in this list beat it in that department.
8. Google Nest Mini
A small but perfectly formed smart speaker
Digital assistant: Google Assistant | Dimensions: 98 mm (3.9 inches) by 42 mm (1.7 inches) | Audio: 360-degree sound with 40 mm driver | Display: n/a | Features: Tap to pause and play
A smart speaker boiled down to its very essence, the Google Nest Mini brings you all the power of the Google Assistant in a small, perfectly crafted form factor – and four very nice colour options too. If you just want the smarts and are less bothered about the speaker, this is definitely worth considering.
That said, the audio packs more of a punch than you might think: It's fine for listening to a couple of tracks or a podcast while you munch your breakfast or lunch, and it can fill a small room satisfactorily. It's not the smart speaker to pick if you want great audio fidelity, obviously, but it's not going to let you down if you ramp up the volume. Also, for the price, it's hard to beat.
9. Amazon Echo Dot
Small, inexpensive, but packing a punch
Digital assistant: Alexa | Dimensions: 99 mm (3.9 inches) by 43 mm (1.7 inches) | Audio: 1.6-inch speaker | Display: n/a | Features: Pick one of four colors to match your home
The Echo Dot is Amazon's equivalent of the Google Nest Mini – if you want to get access to everything Alexa can do at the cheapest price point, this is the smart speaker for you. It's affordable enough for you to kit out every room in the house with one, too.
Now in its third-generation, and with the option of an integrated LED clock if you want to pay a little extra, you can rely on the Echo Dot to answer your questions, tell you the weather, play you some music, and much more. It's the least impressive smart speaker in our list in terms of audio oomph, but it's by no means a disaster if you want to quickly listen to podcasts or a couple of songs.