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A new generation of smart speakers is proving that smart assistants are here to stay.
Recent releases from Amazon, Google, Apple and Sonos provide better features, more integrations and increasingly helpful smart assistants.
But which smart speaker is king, right now?
What’s In This Buying Guide
In this latest Which Bot Wins matchup, we are going to compare the best smart speakers from market leaders Sonos, Amazon, Google and Apple – our competitors today include:
- the second-generation Amazon Echo: the best-selling smart speaker in the world (by far)
- Google Home: Google’s latest entry into the smart speaker market
- Sonos One: a high-quality speaker with Alexa built-in
- the just-launched (and long-awaited) Apple HomePod
Although I will tell you my #1 pick in this guide, there really is no single winner here for everyone. Each smart speaker has its pros, cons and price point.
My goal here is to give you enough information to make your own decision.
The best speaker for you will ultimately depend on what music services you like to use, what you’ll use the speaker for most often and your own personal preferences.
Dimensions: 5.8″ x 3.4″ x 3.4″
Weight: 29 ounces
Network: Dual-band(2.4 and 5 GHz) Wi-Fi,802.11 a/b/g/n. Bluetooth with A2DP support.
Audio: 2.5” woofer, 0.16” tweeter. Multi-room playback support.
Compatible with: Fire OS, Android and iOS devices. Alexa-compatible smart home devices and appliances.
Dimensions: 5.62″ x 3.79″ x 3.79″
Weight: 16.8 ounces
Network: 802.11b/g/n/ac, dual-band (2.4GHz/5Ghz) Wi-Fi
Audio: 2” driver + dual 2” passive radiators. Multi-room playback support.
Compatible with: Android and iOS devices. Google Home-compatible smart home devices and appliances.
Dimensions: 6.36” x 4.69” x 4.69”
Weight: 65.2 ounces
Network: 802.11b/g, 2.4 GHz WiFi. 10/100 Mbps Ethernet port.
Audio: 2 Class-D digital amplifiers, one tweeter, and one mid-woofer. Multi-room support.
Compatible with: Fire OS, Android, iOS. Alexa-compatible devices and appliances.
Dimensions: 6.8” x 5.6” x 5.6”
Weight: 88 ounces
Network: 802.11ac Wi-Fi with MIMO. Bluetooth 5.0.
Audio: High-excursion woofer, custom amplifier, and seven tweeters.
Compatible with: iOS devices only. HomeKit-compatible smart home devices.
Style / Design
Style-wise, these products are quite similar.
All four smart speakers use a cylindrical design with slightly different shapes, colors and fabrics to set each apart.
Amazon Echo Design
The Amazon Echo is a simple cylinder design with a hard plastic top and fabric cover on the sides. You can get the fabric in different styles including charcoal, gray, oak, and walnut.
The control buttons for volume, Alexa and microphone are laid out neatly on the top. There is also an LED ring around the top edge that lights up blue when the speaker is active – a cool feature I have come to rely on a lot more than I thought I would.
The overall design is kinda bland, but I give the Echo points for its “clothing options”.
Google Home Design
Google Home has the same clean cylindrical look as the Echo but is tapered. It looks kind of like a barrel, an egg or a can of air freshener.
As with the Echo, Google Home does a good job of disappearing into your home decor.
If you want it to stand out more, Google offers a selection of bases starting from $20. Color options include violet, mango, coral, and marine.
Instead of using an LED ring, Google Home uses dots of colored lights on the top to let you know what’s happening.
And instead of physical buttons, the top is touch-sensitive. You tap, slide and press the top surface to interact with Google Assistant.
Apple Home Pod Design
Apple HomePod has the cleanest and coolest look of all four. It’s one continuous cylinder wrapped in a mesh cover. HomePod comes in just two colors: white and space gray.
The neutral colors combined with the smooth surface perfectly blend the HomePod out of view in your home.
HomePod also uses a touch-sensitive panel at the top. A glowing light at the top reacts to your commands and actions.
Sonos One Design
Sonos One use the same cylindrical style, though with more pronounced corners. It has a clean, minimalist style that Sonos speakers are known for.
As seems to be the trend with every smart speaker other than Echo, the top panel is touch-sensitive with a ring of lights reacting to your actions and commands.
WINNER: Apple HomePod
The Apple HomePod is beautiful. But if customizability is what you need, then Google Home or Amazon Echo are a close second.
Before I start comparing sound quality for these four speakers, I’m going to disqualify Google Home and Amazon Echo from this part of the competition.
It’s not that Home and Echo are horrible-sounding, but to be honest they’re just not in the same league as the Sonos One and Apple Home.
Google Home & Amazon Echo: Not the Best Sound
Both Home and Echo are best thought of as a “decent Bluetooth speaker”, rather than a high-fidelity sound system component.
This has to do with the inexpensive speaker hardware used in both.
For example, Google Home uses a 2” driver and dual 2” passive radiators.
The Echo uses a 2.5” subwoofer and a 0.6” tweeter.
The Echo is much louder without sound distortion, but the Google Home produces more bass.
If you want better sound quality, then I recommend using external speakers with these units – which is really easy to do with the Echo since it has Bluetooth support. Just pair it with a high-quality Bluetooth speaker.
Note: you cannot plug a line-in speaker into the Echo 2nd Gen reviewed here. That is possible with the tiny Echo Dot, however. This is how I use the Echo Dot in my home, connected by audio cable to my Sonos 5 home sound system.
With the Google Home, adding an external speaker is trickier. There is no Bluetooth support, and you cannot plug in an external speaker. The only option is to Cast audio from Google Home to a speaker over WiFi using Chromecast (built- in) or Chromecast Audio (plugged in).
If course, you can avoid all of the external speaker hassles by buying a Sonos One or Apple HomePod; both speakers were designed with audio quality as a priority.
Sonos One Sound Quality
Sonos One uses 2 Class-D amplifiers, one mid-woofer and a tweeter to provide a wider range of sounds from high-frequency tones to thumping bass.
It’s also intelligent. When you first set it up, Sonos will ask you to walk around the room with your phone in your hand as it plays a series of beeps. This allows it to learn about the room’s acoustics and deliver the best sound.
Sonos One doesn’t deliver quite as much bass as the HomePod, but the sound is more balanced than HomePod across all frequencies.
The main issue I have with Sonos One is that it is a directional speaker – it doesn’t output audio evenly in all directions. For best results, you need to face the speaker in the direction you want best sound quality.
For a concert experience or to enjoy Sono’s signature multi-room audio experience, you can pair-up Sonos One speakers with each other or with other modern Sonos speakers.
You can also adjust sound quality, bass and treble levels and access a huge range of streaming music services using the Sonos app.
Apple Home Pod Sound Quality
HomePod uses built-in microphones and intelligent algorithms to determine the acoustics of a room and tailor its output correctly.
The setup process is not as cumbersome as with the Sonos One, however. The speaker does everything on its own and recalibrates itself every time you move it to another position or room. Cool.
The best part about HomePod is the crisp sound quality in all directions. Whether you place the speaker at the center of the room or against a wall and regardless of where you are sitting, the audio is just as good.
The only problem I have with Google Home’s sound is the frequency coverage: it skews to the bass side of things and high-frequencies are a tad more muted than the Sonos One.
WINNER: Sonos One
The Sonos One’s overall sound quality is the best across all music types and frequencies.
Apple Home Pod is a really close second, however. Compared with Sonos, the Home Pod performs better on bass and a tad weaker on high- and mid-range frequencies.
Apple’s HomePod may have great sound quality, but unfortunately it comes in last regarding music streaming options. The only streaming option is Apple Music. That’s a real downer, Apple.
You can work around this by using AirPlay 2 to play music from sources like Spotify on your phone and beam it to HomePod, but this is a really awkward way to play music in your home. And you can’t Ask Siri in HomePod to play music from anywhere other than Apple Music.
With Google Home, you can of course access Google Play Music. Other available services include TuneIn, iHeartRadio, Pandora, Spotify and YouTube Music. You can also play music from other sources by casting it from your phone to the speaker.
Music streaming via Alexa in Echo and Sonos One is even better: Alexa provides you access to a LOT more options including Amazon Music, Pandora, iHeartRadio, Spotify and TuneIn, among others.
Sonos One is the best, however, because in addition to Alexa options you can access dozens more music services through the Sonos app. The total number currently stands at 57, including Apple Music, Spotify, Google Play Music, Amped, Concert Vault, CBC Music and others.
Note that all four speakers support multi-room playback. You can link 2 or more speakers and play the same music in all or select a different track for each.
WINNER: Sonos One
Sonos One gives you the greatest flexibility regarding the music services you use.
That, combined with its great sound quality, makes the Sonos One the hands-down winner for music streaming.
Virtual Assistant Technology
A smart speaker is only as ‘smart’ as the virtual assistant powering it.
And there are big differences among the three virtual assistants that power these 4 speakers:
- Alexa (Sonos One, Amazon Echo)
- Google Assistant (Google Home) and
- Siri (Apple HomePod).
Let’s first take a look at Alexa, the most popular and field-tested virtual assistant technology used today. It sets the benchmark for the others.
Alexa (Echo and Sonos One)
- Recognizes different voices and supports personalized functions (e.g., music, calendar, alarms) for each user.
- Great at ordinary tasks such as weather, calendar look-up (multiple calendars), recipes, setting a timer and setting alarms.
- Free voice calls to landline and mobile numbers. You can also make calls to other people with an Echo device. Note that this is only possible on an Echo device. You cannot make calls with Sonos One even though it has Alexa.
- Broadest compatibility with smart home devices and appliances.
- Pretty good at answering questions.
- Follow-Up Mode lets you to issue a series of commands and Alexa will execute each in order. For example: “Alexa, turn on the lights, ask Roomba to start cleaning, play music.” You have to wait for Alexa to say OK before saying your next command, however.
- Not as good as Google Assistant in directions and answering questions.
- Not as good as Siri at finding the music you want.
- No support for calls to businesses or emergency services.
Google Assistant (Google Home)
- The best at answering general and factual questions.
- Recognizes multiple voices and provides a personalized experience for each user.
- Good for everyday tasks like calendar, weather, to-do list, recipes and news briefings.
- The best at directions and traffic updates.
- Free voice calls to mobile and landline numbers as well as businesses.
- Good at finding music you like.
- Best at handling multiple commands – without the need to say “Hey Google” for each command. You can say something like, “Hey Google, turn off the lights and make it cooler.”
- Good compatibility with leading smart home devices and appliances (though still lagging behind Alexa).
- Can only handle two commands at once.
- No support for emergency calls.
Siri (Apple Home Pod)
- The best at DJ’ing – Siri understands your music tastes better than Alexa or Google Assistant.
- OK at the ordinary tasks like weather, directions, alarms and so on.
- OK answering questions.
- You cannot look up your calendar.
- Limited smart home compatibility.
WINNER: Alexa (esp. in Amazon Echo)
This would have been a tie with Alexa in the Sonos One, but Sonos One doesn’t yet support voice calls, text messaging nor some kinds of alerts.
Beyond managing your music playlist, Siri has a LOT of limitations compared to Alexa and Google Assistant. Apple is simply not keeping up with Google and Amazon in terms of the overall usability and intelligence of its AI / voice assistant technology.
That said, knowing Apple this will likely improve in time.
Smart Home Compatibility
If smart home control is a priority to you, then I cannot recommend the Apple HomePod. Yet.
The new HomePod it is a great-sounding speaker but not much beyond that.
Yes, HomePod can do a few things here and there like fetch you the weather or give you directions, but not much else.
That said, HomeKit integration is growing fast, and some of the more popular smart devices like Phillips Hue Lights, Ecobee4 thermostat and August Smart Lock are compatible with HomeKit.
In contrast, Google Home, Sonos One and Amazon Echo can be connected to hundreds of smart devices today.
And the usability of Google’s and Amazon’s voice assistants is far better than Siri.
If you want a smart speaker that will integrate smoothly into your smart home, then forget HomePod…for now at least.
Comparing Google Home vs. Amazon Echo, Echo has more smart home device and services compatibility. Virtually every smart plug, device or appliance works with Alexa.
But Google Home is catching up quickly. More and smarter stuff now work with Google Assistant or both Assistant and Alexa.
So don’t shy away from Google Home if it’s the one you want.
WINNER: Amazon Echo & Sonos One (w/ Alexa)
Alexa has the broadest smart home device and platform compatibility, making it the easiest to integrate into a smart home.
But this battle is not over. The landscape is changing fast, and manufacturers are making more and more of their products compatible with Google Assistant and HomeKit.
Let’s first look at the list prices for these four speakers.
- Amazon Echo (2nd gen) is the least expensive at $84 – though some styles cost $105.
- Google Home comes in second, with a $129 price tag.
- Sonos One is the second-most expensive smart speaker at $199.
- Apple HomePod is by far the most expensive at $349… but there are rumors a cheaper HomePod 2 is in the works and could be released later this year.
The value of each speaker, however, totally depends on what you want a smart speaker to do for you – and how many other services and devices you want it to control.
For example, if you use only Apple products and Apple Music, then the limited intelligence of Siri may not change your perception of the HomePod’s value. You will probably buy the Home Pad.
If, on the other hand, you use Android phones and want a smart speaker that uses lots of different music services and answers questions well, then Google Home is probably your best deal.
Or, perhaps you don’t care that much about sound quality and instead want an intelligent assistant that handles a wide range of tasks for you – calls, recipes, video chats, news, smart home control. In this case, then the Amazon Echo is probably the best value. Amazon Echo is also the cheapest option.
Finally, if you care most about the sound quality of your smart speaker, then your best “value” is a Sonos One. You also get most of Alexa built-in – so it’s a really good value, too.
WINNER: Sonos One
For me right now, Sonos One is the complete package.
It comes with Alexa built-in, so you get almost all of the services you’d enjoy owning an Echo.
And the sound quality is far, far better. Finally, the Sonos Ones’s $199 price tag is really good considering the sound quality.
Overall Winner: Sonos One
Sonos One is my #1 pick right now, thanks to its superior sound quality and built-in Alexa smarts.
Check out this 1-minute video to learn more about the Sonos One:
Amazon Echo is my second pick. It comes out ahead in many areas including smart home integration and the most useful virtual assistant. The sound isn’t that great, but if you want higher-quality sound, just buy a $40 Echo Dot and plug an external speaker into it. Done.
Google Home is my #3 pick, thanks to its great intelligent assistant and a fast-growing smart home integration capability. Unfortunately, the sound quality is so-so and it’s really difficult to push streaming music into another speaker to make up for this.
Apple HomePod is my #4 pick. Despite great sound quality and music smarts, the HomePod has a ways to go before it catches up with the other three in terms of the quality of its intelligent agent and compatibility with third-party services and devices. But if you’re an Apple fan, then this observation probably won’t change your mind. 😉
Which One Should I Buy?
Your priorities and needs will determine which smart speaker works best for you.
If you live in an Apple-based smart home or use a lot of Apple services (especitally Apple Music) then buy the HomePod. It will integrate better with your devices and services. It’s also a great choice if you want a great-sounding speaker. Expensive, though.
If you want a voice-activated intelligent agent that integrates with lots of different services and devices, is easy to interact with and affordable, then buy the Amazon Echo. Alexa is the most intelligent agent for smart home owners and folks who use a lot of different services and brands in their home. Affordable, too.
If you want a smart speaker that answers questions intuitively and is great for directions and managing your daily schedule, then buy the Google Home. It also the best choice if you use a lot of Google Services, depend on Android phones, Google Play Music and YouTube Music.
If you demand the highest-quality sound and want to access the best intelligent agent in your home (Alexa), then buy the Sonos One. In addition to having Alexa built-in, it is one of the best sounding WiFi speakers you can buy today. Bonus: the price is extremely reasonable.