Which smart speakers should I consider buying?

Which smart speakers should I consider buying?

Monday, 29 April, 2019

The breakneck pace of technological evolution is reflected in the growth of virtual assistants.

Just a few years ago, looking up information involved tapping search strings into Google, while listening to music remained the preserve of downloaded MP3s.

Not any longer.

The development of cloud-based streaming services has coincided with improving voice recognition software, enabling us to speak rather than type our enquiries.

This quickly led to the development of standalone devices, powered by search engines but aiming to deliver additional services as well.

These are known as either voice assistants or smart speakers, since a key function involves broadcasting everything from recipe instructions to radio stations.

Like a modern-day version of the Sky Gnome, these chunky tabletop devices are designed to look stylish as well as offering practicality capable of keeping smartphones in pockets.

And adoption among UK households is soaring. The number of monthly active users rose to 9.5 million in 2018, and this figure is predicted to reach over 12.5 million by Christmas.

Growth is being fuelled by increasing connectivity throughout our homes, and voice assistants are able to control everything from locks and security to heating and lighting.

This is the Internet of Things in action, though smart speakers weren’t foreseen as a primary control method for the ever-expanding legions of web-enabled devices.

Nonetheless, there’s something delightfully indulgent about instructing your oven to raise its cooking temperature without even looking up from your newspaper (or tablet).

Of course, each voice assistant is compatible with different domestic gadgets and devices – adding a layer of complexity to any choice between rival products or manufacturers.

New speakers are also hitting the market all the time; Samsung’s Bixby-powered Galaxy Home unit is due to go on sale in the UK imminently.

These are the main smart speakers to consider, as of April 2019:

Amazon Echo. Through high-profile advertising and the ubiquity of its parent company’s ecommerce services, Amazon has come to dominate this youthful market.

It offers an array of different products including the Show, Dot and Spot, though the tabletop Echo is Amazon’s equivalent of the other products in our list.

Available in half a dozen colours, sporting WiFi and Bluetooth alongside a 3.5mm audio out socket, it’s impressively equipped for not much money.

Pros: Affordable, can control several IoT devices via a single command, it’s the system your friends and neighbours probably have

Cons: Needs an Amazon Prime subscription to deliver full functionality, limited compatibility with third-party IoT hardware, speaker lacks mid-range clarity

Google Home. Powered by the world’s biggest search engine, and owner of the world’s second biggest (YouTube), Google Home has a compelling USP.

It’s hard to think of anything this highly attractive pod can’t satisfactorily answer, giving it an immediate advantage over other Bing-powered voice assistants.

However, as core functions are currently missing, it’s tempting to conclude the next generation Google Home might be the one worth having.

Pros: Peerless streaming music services, extensive compatibility with other IoT devices, can make landline calls

Cons: Voice recognition could be better, lacks many Google services, speaker sound won’t will your house

Sonos One. Audio manufacturer Sonos’s first tilt at a voice assistant is a genuinely impressive device.

Extensive compatibility includes Alexa voice control, Spotify and Audible, Deezer and TuneIn, while the sound quality is generally regarded as being peerless.

Six microphones provide comprehensive voice recognition even above loud music, while units can be paired to deliver stereo sound or even linked into groups for whole-home audio.

Pros: Superb sound, compatible with both Alexa and Apple HomePod, easy to pair devices using the dedicated Pairing button

Cons: Appearance isn’t exciting, touch-sensitive top panel is unintuitive at first, Google Assistant still hasn’t been added

Apple HomePod. It was inevitable that Apple would develop its own voice assistant, given the Californian firm’s determination to provide full-home hardware.

For owners of existing Apple products, the straightforward installation and seamless integration offered by the stylish HomePod will be a compelling advantage.

Clever beam-forming technology ensures audio output is adjusted to suit the dimensions of a particular room, though music streaming is limited to files from either Siri or Apple Music.

Pros: Speaker sounds great, dovetails with most Apple devices, easy to set up

Cons: Requires Apple Music, not Bluetooth-compatible, expensive.

Neil Cumins author picture


Neil is an expert tech writer. He's written hundreds of guides on all things broadband!

News What's the story?

Keep up with the latest developments in UK broadband.

UK 5G network goes live – are you up to speed?

Here's everything you need to know about the new mobile broadband network.

UK 5G network goes live – are you up to speed? Read more

TalkTalk offers exclusive £80 reward to new fibre customers

The huge bonus is available to anyone signing up for a 'Faster Fibre' bundle through BroadbandDeals.co.uk

Read more

TikTok ‘gifts’ empty kids piggy banks

Children are most vulnerable to 'influencer' donation pleas

Read more

Netflix ruins 90’s cartoon, enrages internet

The streaming giant came in for criticism for 'straightwashing' Japanese cult classic anime.

Read more

Porn-block pushed back by clerical errors

Further delays to the child-protection measure, with the process mocked as an 'utter shambles'.

Read more

How to watch Wimbledon online for free

How to make sure you don't miss out on the action from your favourite sports stars.

How to watch Wimbledon online for free Read more

Fast fines for ISPs could end the “Loyalty Penalty”

But could the proposed measures mean worse deals for those who shop around?

Read more

Boris Johnson mocks full-fibre roll-out plans

The likely next PM boasts plans to beat current targets by 8 years, but is it all just hot air?

Read more

Broadband and phone companies to put Fairness first

Telecoms providers commit to raising standards.

Read more

UK to get legal right to decent and affordable broadband

New legislation will ensure minimum speeds for every UK household.

Read more

GDPR – One year on

The landmark legislation gave people the ‘right to know’ when their data had been hacked.

Read more

Help Learn with us

Make the most of the internet with our broadband library.

How to childproof your home broadband

How to childproof your home broadband Read more

Why Ofcom’s USO is more than pie in the sky

Read more

Protecting your small business against cyber attacks

Read more

Could 5G end fixed-line home broadband?

Read more

How broadband availability varies across the UK

Read more

Which social media platforms should I be on?

Read more

Will you get online on holiday?

Stay connected during your get-away.

Will you get online on holiday? Read more

Make the most of your broadband overnight

Read more

The main causes of slow internet connections

Slow broadband can be more than just an irritant - but what causes it, and what can we do to fight back?

Read more

Do you need to ramp up your broadband controls?

Read more

The different types of home computer

Read more
Back To Top