The world of connected smart home products is incredibly exciting and constantly growing. But for many, their introduction into the space comes through a smart speaker. And there are good reasons for that, not least that today’s best smart speakers are the most easily accessible and user-friendly pieces of smart home equipment. They’re designed to be easy to use, with the technology getting out of the way so you can engage with the product in the most natural way imaginable; With your voice.
The best smart speakers also, like the best phones, find themselves covered almost exclusively by two platforms. In one corner you have Amazon Alexa, in the other, you have Google Assistant. There is also an outlet for Apple’s Siri, the first real AI voice assistant we were introduced to. Others have tried, Microsoft with Cortana, and Samsung with Bixby — but if you’re getting into the smart home you’re really going to be dealing with either Amazon or Google. The good news is that most services and devices will support both platforms, so when you’re choosing a smart speaker, this at least doesn’t necessarily need to be a concern.
With all this in mind, these are the best smart speakers you can buy right now:
Best overall: Amazon Echo
The Amazon Echo is the smart speaker that really kicked off the space. And to this day, it remains a class leader for a variety of reasons. One of these is the sheer might of Amazon and the effort that has been put into building out the Alexa ecosystem. Compared to competitors, it’s able to offer a unique proposition to its partners, with the world’s biggest storefront at its disposal.
Cynics can say that the Echo is just a way for Amazon to sell more stuff on Amazon, and there’s easily some truth in that. But the Echo is far from just a mouthpiece for Amazon’s store, even if you can use it to order yourself a new toothbrush, some toilet paper, or an iPhone. But you can also listen to music from most of the popular streaming services, too. All it takes is linking it in the companion app and asking Alexa to play whatever you want, it handles the rest.
On the audio front, the full-sized Echo has always been strong, and the latest generation is no exception. Inside its spherical body lies a pair of 0.8-inch tweeters and a 3-inch woofer. It’s designed to distribute audio in all directions and unless you’re in a particularly large room, it really does produce a room-filling sound. And it’s a good sound, too, especially when you consider the asking price. And of course, if you have a Prime subscription you get a basic music library included at no extra charge. The Amazon Echo also boasts a 3.5mm connector for input and output as well as Bluetooth, so it can be integrated into your existing music setup with ease.
The move to a spherical design from the previous tower also makes it much better looking when it’s actually in your home. You’ve got a range of colors to choose from, the light is now on the bottom where it’s a lot more subtle and if you need physical controls they’re right there on the top. And they’re actual buttons with actual icons on them so you know exactly which is which (looking at you, Google). One of these is also a microphone mute button because there are always going to be times you don’t want it listening to you.
Activation of the Amazon Echo is as easy as saying “Alexa” followed by your request. That could be to play music from Amazon, Apple Music, or Spotify, perhaps play an audiobook from Audible, give you a briefing on what’s in the news, the current weather, or turn on your lights. And so many, many other commands. Everything starts with “Alexa,” though you do have some additional choices if you wish. Whichever your word of choice, it provides access to the Alexa ecosystem, and it is vast.
It’s impossible to list all the services and hardware devices that hook into Alexa, it’s simply too long. But big players like Philips Hue, Nanoleaf, Ring, and even Xbox, are all there. You can take a look through the full catalog in any web browser before you buy to check compatibility with your favorite, but the chances are it’s there. The Amazon Echo also has a Zigbee smart home hub built-in, allowing you to integrate a number of smart home products directly without having to use the cloud. There’s so much baked into the newest Amazon Echo, that it’s hard to recommend anything else.
The latest generation of the original smart speaker continues to set the bar with a nice design, great sound and the sheer magnitude of possibilities from the Alexa ecosystem.
Best for Google Assistant: Google Nest Audio
Google Assistant is the heavyweight in the opposite corner and the Nest Audio is easily the best all-around smart speaker that Google has ever released. It costs about the same as the Amazon Echo and is a stylish-looking piece of equipment in its own way. The Google smart speakers have always had a pleasing design, and this is arguably more important on a product that you’re going to fit into your home than on a product that lives most of the time in your pocket.
The Nest Audio is also just a good speaker for people who want wireless audio first and foremost with no real affiliation to any platform. It supports all the major music streaming services, including Apple Music, and once set as the default, all you need to do is trigger the speaker and ask for your songs. Google’s special sauce is the integration of the Chromecast protocol. This makes it especially easy to send audio from your mobile device to your Nest Audio. especially if you also use an Android phone.
Inside the Nest Audio, you find both a 75mm (2.95-inch) woofer and a 19mm (0.74-inch) tweeter. The result is a great sound with good performance across the spectrum, including for vocals. For a fairly small speaker, the sound is large and pleasing, even if there’s physically less speaker than you get in an Amazon Echo. Google has also packed the Nest Audio with smarts, like Ambient IQ, which can adapt to background noise in your home to ensure your audio always sounds good.
In keeping with the minimalistic style, the Nest Audio has nothing much in the way of physical controls, with a microphone mute switch joined by touchpoints to turn the volume up and down. Of course, volume can be adjusted with your voice, also, which is better than hoping you touch the right part of the speaker. And the Nest Audio is designed to be entirely voice-activated, after all.
If you already use other Google hardware, the Nest Audio seamlessly integrates into your Google Home setup. You use the same app and setting up groups with other Nest speakers is a breeze. One of Google’s strengths with its hardware ecosystem is how easy it all works together.
The final part of that is Google Assistant. It’s supported, like Alexa, by a huge range of third-party smart home products. The well-known crowd like Philips Hue, Nanoleaf, TP-Link, and so on are all official partners. By triggering the speaker with a “Hey Google” you can turn on your lights or activate your heating or achieve any number of other tasks. Google Assistant is perhaps a little less user-friendly to set up compared to Alexa, but voice interaction is just as good. It’s not essential to already be entrenched in the Google ecosystem to enjoy the Nest Audio, but it certainly helps, and it’s definitely the one to get if you like Google Assistant.
Best Smart Speaker for Nightstands: Lenovo Smart Clock Essential with Alexa
Lenovo’s first attempt at the Smart Clock Essential was a Google Assistant-enabled affair, but the latest now comes with Amazon Alexa onboard. The hardware is improved on the first-gen product but the core idea has remained. It’s essentially an alarm clock, the sort of thing that has been commonplace on nightstands for decades, but an alarm clock with smarts. The ‘display’ is simply a clock, just as you’d find on a regular old LCD alarm clock, but housed within an Alexa-enabled speaker.
It’s quite compact, perfect for the nightstand, and while there’s not a lot going on with the display, it will still auto-dim itself at night. So you don’t have to worry about being blinded while you’re trying to go to sleep. It’s high contrast LED with a simple white-on-black color scheme that makes it simple to see the time at a glance whether day or night. It doesn’t have touch support, but it also doesn’t need it, since essentially this is just a regular smart speaker but with a clock on the front. There are physical controls on the top, though, for when you just need to roll over and turn it off. There is also the freedom to make the display go away altogether if you want through the Alexa app.
The Lenovo Smart Clock Essential supports Bluetooth 5.1 as well as Wi-Fi 5, so you can use it as a target for any mobile device. It runs a custom operating system based on Linux and even has 4GB of RAM inside so it’s plenty fast enough to keep up with your every demand. The microphone mute button is present and correct, though sadly on the back rather than the top. And good news for folks who definitely don’t want a camera in their bedroom — there is no camera at all.
As far as sound goes, you should keep expectations in check. After all, this is a small, affordable device. Nevertheless, the sound is solid, with plenty of volume and clarity, more than good enough for something on a nightstand. It also comes in two colors, blue and red, and while it lacks the built-in nightlight of its predecessor, Lenovo has designed it with modularity in mind and there should be add-ons for this and even a wireless charging pad in the future.
The key feature, of course, is Alexa support, which makes the Lenovo Smart Clock Essential every bit as useful as one of Amazon’s own speakers. It supports the same music services, it can control the same smart home hardware, and it can add the same things to your shopping list. You even use the same Alexa app to control it from your mobile device. Amazon has its own clock-fronted Echo, but as a nightstand device, this definitely has the edge. The clock is much better, the price is comparable and you lose nothing in the way of smart features.
Lenovo’s Smart Clock is essentially a traditional alarm clock with the addition of an Alexa-powered smart speaker, and there’s no camera to worry about on your nightstand.
Best Smart Speaker for Multiroom Audio: Sonos One
Sonos is probably the most famous brand in connected, multiroom audio, and while it took some time to get on board with the idea of voice assistants, it’s now firmly involved. Sonos isn’t the only way to get multiroom audio with either Alexa or Google Assistant, but it is the best. The Sonos One is fairly compact but has a huge sound and a reasonable price tag which makes it more appealing to grab a handful of and put all around the home.
It’s truly designed to be used in any room, even the bathroom. Sonos designed the One to be humidity resistant, so it can easily live in the kitchen or serenade you while you take a shower. The audio hardware is made up of a pair of digital amplifiers, one tweeter, and one mid-woofer which both maximizes bass output and faithful recreation of mid-range frequencies. If you also have an iOS device, you can enable Trueplay, which will measure the acoustics of the room and then fine-tune the speaker output to match.
The Sonos One is compatible with basically everything else Sonos makes, including the previous generations of the same speaker, and in a home entertainment center setup, you can combine two to create a stereo pair. Given the punch of the Sonos One, it’s an effective, efficient way of upping your home cinema audio game.
Sonos has retained its own companion app for its speakers for those who aren’t interested in AI voice assistants, but Sonos One gets extra points for not taking sides. It supports both Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant so whichever you prefer, you can add the Sonos One to your life. It has the necessary hardware controls to interact without the need for voice, but as with any other Alexa or Google Assistant speaker, all it takes is a single command and you’re conversing with your speaker.
This means direct streaming from all the music services supported by your voice assistant platform of choice, including Apple Music, though if you own an iPhone, you can also take advantage of AirPlay 2. This also means it can be a solid companion to the Apple TV if you’re looking for extra audio but Siri and HomeKit don’t quite cut it for you on the smart home front.
The Sonos One’s biggest strength besides quality audio is that it casts a wide net. It’s the best choice for multiroom audio setups, but it’s also accessible to everyone whether you prefer Amazon or Google, Apple, or perhaps haven’t dipped a toe into the smart home at all. You would buy this if music is the first priority, but from there, the world’s your oyster.
The Sonos One doesn’t take sides, adding both Alexa and Google Assistant into your multiroom audio setup.
Best for Apple Users: Apple HomePod Mini
Those entrenched in the Apple ecosystem are well supported whatever they decide to buy, with Apple Music support on all the major platforms. But if you like Apple and you’d rather not use Alexa or Google Assistant, you have this, the HomePod Mini. Currently, it’s the only Siri-enabled smart speaker Apple sells, but fortunately, it’s really good. And in a not Apple-like way at all, it’s also quite affordable, especially when you consider the quality of the product.
The HomePod Mini is very small, making it a perfect companion in any room of the house. You get a choice of five colors, including yellow, orange, and blue, all joining the traditional white and grey. At only 3.3-inches tall, it’ll fit anywhere, but delivers a rich, room-filling 36-degree sound that honestly, is astonishingly good for something this small. The hardware is impressive, but it’s how Apple has used it that really makes the HomePod Mini stand out.
Inside it uses an Apple S5 chip which enables computational audio to pair with the custom driver. Force-canceling passive radiators deliver astonishing bass, and everything works together to produce a finely balanced sound at any volume. And it’s definitely not just marketing, you truly do have to hear the HomePod Mini to believe it. Music fans will absolutely adore it. The audio is rounded out by four noise-canceling microphones which can isolate your voice even when you’re listening to your favorite tunes as loud as you like.
The weakness of the HomePod Mini is that it simply can’t do as much with Siri as a competing product to Alexa or Google Assistant, but its tight integration with other Apple devices means it’s potentially more useful if your home is already full of Apple and HomeKit-compatible equipment. For example, you can pair up two HomePod Minis with an Apple TV in your living room and have a very competent, stylish, and compact audio system to add an extra dimension to your media.
The same integration applies across Apple’s product range. The HomePod Mini appears as a target for iPhone, iPad, and Mac audio with a single tap or click. You can answer a phone call and have the audio sent straight to the HomePod Mini, and with multiple spread across the house, you can either play music in multiple rooms or send it to a specific one just by directing Siri. It also supports an intercom system, again, integrated with other Apple devices, for quick communication, even from your iOS devices outside the house. And handoff between iPhone and HomePod Mini is fantastic. If you’re listening to audio on one device and want to transfer it to the other, you just touch your phone to the top of the speaker and it switches like magic.
Apple has also in recent times loosened up its grip on which music services can play through HomePod Mini, with iHeartRadio, Deezer, and Pandora among those now supported. Unfortunately, the big hitters, Spotify, and YouTube Music are still absent, which is a shame, but also highlights once more who the HomePod Mini is best for. If you live and breathe Apple, then it’s the one to get.
Apple’s only speaker is still a great buy for those invested in the company’s ecosystem with great sound and seamless use with your other devices.
Best Budget Smart Speaker: Amazon Echo Dot
The beauty of the Amazon Echo Dot is that it’s essentially everything great about the regular Amazon Echo, just smaller and more affordable. With the latest iteration, even the design is basically the same, with a spherical form factor replacing the hockey puck of old. There was nothing inherently wrong with the old Echo Dot design, but the latest one is much better and means it looks nicer placed around the home.
The shrink in size does come with compromises on the hardware over the full-sized model, as you might expect. The audio hardware is shrunk down to a single 1.6-inch speaker, which still sounds good, but it’s not the speaker to get for the best quality music playback. It does have a 3.5mm jack on the rear, though, so you can easily integrate this into your existing audio setup as an affordable way of adding some smarts.
The Echo Dot doesn’t have the built-in Zigbee hub that the larger model has, which you might expect, but this has no effect on its Alexa smart home capabilities. Everything you connect to Alexa is as supported with the Echo Dot as any other Echo device. The combination of the Alexa ecosystem and the price makes the Echo Dot the perfect entry point into the smart home. Bluetooth support is built-in for those times you want to connect a smartphone, and while it’s not as seamless as the combination of an iPhone and a HomePod Mini, you can use the Echo Dot to make calls and even use rudimentary voice controls on supported devices.
On the outside, all the controls you would look for are easily accessible on the top, including the microphone mute button for easy access. And as with the full-sized Amazon Echo, the ring light lives around the base so it’s a little more subtle than previous releases. Amazon also has three colors available for the Echo Dot to help you better match your home, with the traditional charcoal and white finishes joined by a rather fetching blue model.
The star of the show is still Alexa, and if you’re on a budget or just starting out then this is the perfect device to buy. It’s particularly fun for Xbox owners, as it’s small enough to place next to your console and use for voice commands. The Xbox Alexa skill isn’t a complete replacement for Kinect, but it replicates most of the old audio commands extremely well without the need for a massive camera hanging from your TV.
Almost all the benefits of the full-sized Amazon Echo, including the full Alexa ecosystem, for a more wallet-friendly price.
Best Premium Audio: Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin
For those hunting for the absolute best quality audio and design from their smart speaker, the Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin is tough to beat. The Zeppelin started life over a decade ago as a speaker with an integrated iPhone dock, allowing owners to blast out their digital tunes with unmatched performance. And volume. Lots of volume. The basic design hasn’t changed since then, it still looks the same on the outside, but it has certainly gone through some changes to keep up with the times.
Gone is the integrated phone dock on the front, because we don’t need those anymore. Instead, the latest Zeppelin is entirely wireless, with AirPlay 2 and Amazon Alexa built-in. The integration with Apple Devices isn’t as tight as you will get on the HomePod Mini, but AirPlay 2 is the next best thing and does at least open up the possibility of using this beastly speaker as an output for devices like the Apple TV.
With most smart speakers, the average buyer won’t be too concerned with what makes up the speaker system, so long as it sounds good for the price. But the Zeppelin isn’t like those other smart speakers, and if you’re interested in one then you’re almost certainly interested in what’s inside. True to form for Bowers & Wilkins, it doesn’t disappoint. With 130W total power, the Zeppelin contains a pair of 1-inch double dome tweeters, a pair of 3.5-inch midranges, and a whopping 6-inch woofer. Even though it’s larger than most smart speakers, it manages to jam in an insane amount of audio hardware.
What that means is a sound quality unlike anything else on this list. The same can be said of volume. And let’s be honest, nothing else looks as good as this. Streaming audio isn’t the only play with the Zeppelin, either, Bowers & Wilkins has its own music app to play locally stored music, it supports Spotify Connect and Bluetooth aptX Adaptive on top of whatever you can pull in through Alexa. The Zeppelin is also the only speaker here truly equipped for the highest quality audio. It supports 24-bit high-resolution quality audio from compatible sources for the absolute finest quality you’ll get on a smart speaker.
But thanks to Alexa, you can also use the Zeppelin to turn on your lights, check the news, or what’s on your shopping list. As purely a smart speaker, the Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin is overkill. But as a premium audio solution with the added smarts you get from the Alexa Platform, it makes much more sense. This is one for the music lovers first, with the convenience of controlling your connected life the icing on the cake.
An unmatched audio experience from a smart speaker with support for Alexa and Apple’s AirPlay 2 protocol, you won’t find another like this
Best Smart Speaker with Display: Amazon Echo Show 5
A smart speaker with a display? That’s exactly what the Amazon Echo Show 5 is. It ultimately replaced the Echo Spot, a round-screened smart speaker that could never really use the display to its full potential due to its size and its shape. The Echo Show 5 is a little less imaginative with its design, looking basically like a small tablet on the front. It isn’t a tablet, so you can’t install anything, but the display does add an extra dimension to the overall Amazon Alexa experience.
For one, it extends the usefulness of an Echo speaker into integration with Amazon-owned Ring devices. If you have a Ring doorbell on your home or any of the company’s other Wi-Fi-connected security cameras, the Echo Show 5 can show you live video. If someone presses the doorbell, the Echo Show 5 will notify you and you can see and speak to whoever is there using the built-in display. The Echo Show 5 is also capable of video and voice calls, though support is limited. Friends and family with an Echo Show device are the primary contacts, but there’s also support for video calling using Skype. Additional services such as Zoom support the larger Echo Show, but not this one, and the likes of WhatsApp video is nowhere to be seen. The camera can be disabled, too, simply by closing the shutter.
Video calls aren’t likely the primary reason you’d buy one of these, though, nor is being able to watch video content. It’s a bit small to crowd around and watch the latest episode of The Grand Tour, but you totally can, and it’s a nice touch if you have it placed in an office or a kitchen and just want to fire up a video. The display comes into its own really by providing a touch interface to many Alexa skills, notably controlling smart home devices. As you get more and more devices connected to your Alexa, being able to swipe and tap could be easier than trying to do everything by voice.
Sound quality is comparable to the Echo Dot, so it won’t win awards from audiophiles, but it sounds good for its size (and its price) and has lots of volume. The microphones are typically responsive as well, able to parse a cry of “Alexa” even in a noisy room. With the addition of a display you get additional controls for music playback, including on-screen play/pause, skip, and even thumbs up and thumbs down.
Essentially the Echo Show 5 is a perfect smart speaker with a display for most purposes. There are larger versions if you’re looking for a little more or want to use it in the office for communications, but for most people, the smallest is going to make the most sense. It has almost everything the larger ones do at a much more attractive price.
A compact smart speaker with a built-in display that adds an extra dimension to the Alexa and smart home experience
Best Smart Speaker for Kids: Amazon Echo Dot Kids Edition
Smart speakers are so easy to use that they can be child-friendly, and Amazon has gone as far as making a dedicated Kids Edition of the Echo Dot. Like its other Kids Editions for the Kindle and Fire Tablets, the hardware is basically the same, the price is slightly higher but it comes with additional child and parent-friendly services built-in. And with this, it looks like either a tiger or a panda, way more exciting for the little ones than a boring charcoal-colored sphere.
The Echo Dot Kids Edition comes preloaded with a year of Amazon Kids+, a curated content platform that delivers specialist content for the younger audience. This includes educational skills, suitable Audible audiobooks, and interactive games, and through the Parents Dashboard, you have complete control. Not only over the content your children can access, but also ensure explicit songs are filtered and apply time limits to their use. Bedtime is bedtime, after all. The same dashboard also gives you a complete overview of your kids’ use of the Echo Dot Kids Edition.
The controls also extend to voice calling. By setting up a curated list of approved contacts, your kids can chat to Echo-owning friends or family through their own speaker. The final piece of the puzzle, and perhaps one of the more important reasons to get the Kids Edition over a regular Echo Dot, is the warranty. Amazon applies a two-year, no questions asked guarantee on the Echo Dot Kids Edition. If it gets broken, simply send it back and Amazon will replace it completely free of charge. So while it’s $10 more than a regular Echo Dot, you get quite a bit extra for it. And it looks like a tiger or a panda. That’s crucial to remember and you’d get why, if you have kids.
Otherwise, all the same hardware applies, with the front-firing speaker, the 3.5mm jack on the rear, the microphone mute and hardware controls, and the ring light around the base. It is, essentially, an Echo Dot with some added benefits, and for use around kids, those benefits are worth every penny.
An Echo Dot with a fun design, including child-friendly content and a parent-friendly warranty
Best Portable Smart Speaker: Sonos Roam
The Sonos Roam is an intriguing product that at first glance you might look over. This is no mere portable Bluetooth speaker, despite looking like that’s exactly what it is. This is a truly wireless smart speaker, in so much as it has a built-in battery so you can take it anywhere you go. Enjoy music or an audiobook in the garden, on the beach, or while you’re camping. The only requirement is a Wi-Fi connection, so if you can provide that, the Sonos Roam can go wherever you do. It also enjoys AirPlay 2 support, as with the other Sonos speakers, for iPhone and iPad users.
The battery inside is good for up to 10 hours of playback as well, which is really impressive given its size. As is how much speaker has been crammed inside, with a pair of digital amplifiers, a tweeter, and a mid-woofer delivering a sound quality almost unheard of in something this small. The Sonos Roam is versatile, too. It can live standing up on its end or laid horizontally, with the former pairing with an optional wireless charger for endless power.
Despite being a portable speaker, the Sonos Roam is every bit the ‘proper’ Sonos speaker, even boasting one key feature the Sonos One doesn’t have. Like the One, the Roam supports Trueplay, Sonos’ technology for monitoring the acoustic environment and adjusting the audio to match. On the Roam, however, it’s an automatic feature that just happens, whereas on the Sonos One it currently requires an iOS device to enable.
In keeping with the portable nature, the Sonos Roam is shock resistant to protect against bumps and drops, as well as boasting an IP67 rating for dust and water resistance. You won’t be standing under any waterfalls but it can certainly handle an unexpected rain shower or getting splashed at the side of the pool. It’s nice to have the added peace of mind that your investment won’t fall apart the instant you take it outside the home.
Its use cases away from any connected smart home devices are limited, but Alexa and Google Assistant aren’t just about controlling such devices. The Roam gives you streaming audio, access to shopping lists, audiobooks, podcasts, news briefs, and so on, anywhere you are. If you’re in the garden and fancy a spot of Xbox when you go indoors, you can command the Xbox skill for either platform to turn on your console, ready and waiting for you to return. Sonos also has its own take on Handoff, allowing you to pass audio to and from the Roam when you enter and exit your home.
All the features of the Sonos One in a portable speaker that’s designed to take the abuse of the great outdoors
When you’re looking for the best smart speakers there really is an exceptional choice right now. At the core you have Amazon and Google, both providing an expansive platform with a voice assistant on the front end. Ultimately, you’ll be deciding which of these suits you best, but unless you already have an allegiance, the Amazon Echo is the best choice overall. It’s a great speaker for music, backed by the power of Alexa and even a local Zigbee hub for cloud-free smart home device connection.
Google has some equally fantastic devices in its stable, or you could go down the route of the Sonos One, which supports both. There’s even the Sonos Roam which allows you to take both Google Assistant and Alexa away from the home and into the great outdoors.
The fact there is so much to choose from also proves that smart speakers truly can be for everyone. Apple’s platform behind the HomePod Mini is limited if you aren’t fully invested in the company’s products and services, but for those who are, it’s such seamless integration, it makes good sense. If you want something with visual elements, you can, likewise if you’re in the market for a child-friendly smart speaker. It’s an exciting time to buy a smart speaker and it’s only going to keep on getting better.