The Best Smart Home Speakers 2017

Amazon Echo Home Assistant

Smart home technology has been gaining traction, slowly, for about 20 years now.

Smart home speakers with artificial intelligence (AI) are the latest piece of the smart home puzzle, and they promise to make home automation a whole lot easier to use.

Smart home speakers, like Amazon Echo and Google Home, give you control over a wide range of devices and services – from your thermostat, to searching the web, to scheduling your day, to ordering a pizza… all controlled using your voice.

These small and nondescript WiFi speakers can be placed nearly anywhere.

They’ll patiently await your voice command to play music, to open a web page, or to dim the lights in your kitchen – with a few spoken words.

Smart home speakers also talk back – to confirm your requests, to walk you through directions, and to remind you of important tasks.

At this point, there aren’t very many models on the market.  But this will change, very soon.

Even with the limited choice, though, you still probably need to read buying guides like this one to help make your decision, because there are so many things you can do with these devices, and there are important differences among the leading models, right now.

Before we get to that, however, let’s first explain what a smart home speaker is and how it fits into your smart home.

What’s In This Guide

What is a Smart Home Speaker?

Alexa combined with My Chef can help you cook

If you know anything about smart homes, then you know they can be controlled in many ways – most often with an app on your phone or through what’s known as a “smart home hub.”

While devices such as Google Home and Amazon Echo are not smart home hubs, per se, they can perform many of the same functions.

These devices are basically a WiFi-connected speaker with a voice recognition system embedded that can control some of the aspects of your smart home and smart home devices.

This mainly includes doing things like dimming lights, or turning a thermostat down.

Amazon Echo is Compatible with a myriad of devices

Bottom-line, a smart home speaker is not a hub or a controller.

Think of a smart home speaker as just another smart home device that happens to be capable of issuing commands over WiFi to your other devices.

SpeakerOur RatingLearn More
Amazon Echo4.5 Star RatingLearn More
Amazon Echo Dot4.4 Star RatingLearn More
Google Home4.4 Star RatingLearn More
Lenovo Smart AssistantNo Ratings YetNo Ratings YetLearn More

Why Do I Need A Smart Home Speaker?

Smart home speakers are a new technology that many are trying to wrap their heads around.

You probably don’t actually NEED one, yet.

That said, getting one will definitely make your life easier at home.

This explains why more than 5 million Echos were sold last year, making it Amazon’s best-selling product ever.

Hands-free assistance is the major selling point, and it’s one of the best new capabilities you can have in your home. Think about the number of situations where your hands are occupied but you need help – right now.

There are plenty of situations where a smart home speaker can help you: from reading you a recipe while you stir, to reporting the score of a game while you are working on a project, to reading your daughter a story at bedtime (yes, really).

Using a smart home speaker, you can also control home appliances using your voice.

Oh, yeah, in case we forgot: they play music, too.

Best Overall Home Speaker:  Amazon Echo

Best Overall Home Speaker: Amazon Echo

  • Dimensions: 25″ x 3.27″ x 3.27 inches
  • Weight: 5 ounces
  • Wireless: 802.11a/b/g/n wi-fi. Bluetooth. MIMO WiFi.
  • Audio: 0-inch tweeter, 2.5 inch woofer.
  • Compatible With: iOS, Fire and Android devices. Smart home device control available through third party apps.

Amazon Echo is the best selling smart home speaker today – by far – and for a reason. If you are a major Amazon Prime and Amazon Video/Music user, then look no futher – this is the right one for you.

The Echo actually serves three different purposes, combined into one vase-like device that doesn’t really draw much attention to itself:

  1. Echo is a portable, 360-degree wireless bluetooth speaker that can stream from online services like Amazon Music.
  2. Echo is your personal AI assistant, who can answer questions and schedule your time.
  3. Echo is your virtual butler, standing by to perform specific tasks for you – using Alexa Skills (keep reading).

The Echo is ready to use, out of the box. It just needs to be connected to your wifi and to an app on your phone or tablet.

The speaker is not the greatest in terms of sound quality, but it’s perfectly functional and good enough for its size. Great for when you need some background music, or want to listen to talk radio while doing dishes and such. I’d rate it on-par with most other bluetooth speakers in the same price range. Of course, Echo does a heck of a lot more than other speakers.

On the other hand, the voice recognition of the Echo is really impressive, and you don’t have to spend time “teaching” it how to take commands. As long as you are consistent and use exact phrases, Alexa will know what you want to do.

The microphone immediately hones-in on your voice when you say “Alexa,” eliminating the need to repeat yourself. Echo can also tell the difference between different people in the home.  Impressive – and better than Google Home, in this regard.

Alexa is a capable AI assistant right out of the box, able to query the web, play music and check your schedule without complex configuration.

When you ask Alexa a question, she performs a search using a proprietary Amazon database or by contacting Amazon if it’s product- or shopping- related. You can do everything from checking the status of an order, to dimming the lights if you have a smart light system.

Some people claim that Google Home is better at answering web-search questions, but I found they are both incomplete search solutions, whose accuracy totally depends on the type of query you give them.

Amazon’s Alexa app offers access to a massive library of skills you can teach Alexa, such as reading a bedtime story, getting weather updates, or even “inspiring” you with an inspirational quote or two, each morning.

There’s a skill for pretty much everything, and it makes using Alexa a lot of fun.

Amazon echo skills march 2017 - education and factsRight now there are thousands of skills available, and you can easily customize your Echo to provide you with a broad range of used and assistance that is tailored to your preferences and needs.

Admittedly, most of the skills aren’t very good – but you can use Amazon’s excellent user review system to sort the wheat from the chaffe.

More skills will continue to come out, further enhancing the Echo over time. Alexa Skills is probably the biggest reason to choose an Echo over a Google Home, right now.

External speaker controls are limited, but you can mute the microphone if desired. You just twist the top of the speaker to adjust volume.

The Echo comes in black and cream colors, giving you a bit of versatility with your decor, but not as much as Google Home. Still, most will be okay with the two colors.

Overall, the Echo currently sets the standard for what a smart home speaker should be, and there really isn’t all that much to improve other than adding more skills and perhaps improving the speaker quality somewhere down the line.

We think the Echo and Echo Dot are the best home speakers / smart home assistants currently available.

Best Budget Smart Home Speaker: Amazon Echo Dot

Best Budget Smart Home Speaker: Amazon Echo Dot

  • Dimensions: 3.3 x 1.5 inches
  • Weight: 250 grams
  • Wireless: 802.11a/b/g/n wi-fi. Bluetooth. MIMO WiFi.
  • Audio: 0-inch tweeter
  • Compatible With: iOS, Fire and Android devices. Smart home device control available through third party apps.

The Amazon Echo Dot is a much smaller version of the Echo, and also costs about one third of its larger cousin’s price. It’s a great way to get all the features and capabilities of the Alexa service, but in a much smaller package. This probably explains why it sold out quickly, last Christmas season.

Like the full-sized Echo the Dot has three uses, including audio player, AI assistant, and performing of various Alexa Skills. Amazon Prime and Music support are included, and the Dot is ready to use right out of the box as well.

The audio quality is not anything to speak of, but that’s not the point of the Dot. However, unlike the Echo, you can use an auxiliary cable to connect the Dot to an external speaker, which is very handy and completely changes things up.

While the Dot doesn’t use the same speaker as the Echo, it still uses the same microphone system, so it’s just as responsive and able to hear and recognize your voice commands even when there’s background noise.

Adding skills to Alexa is the same as with the Echo, and all of the skills can be accessed through the app. It also comes in the same two colors and obviously maintains a much less intrusive presence due to its significantly smaller size.

The only real drawback, aside from the lack of a real speaker, is the fact that the Dot still has to be plugged in. This is mainly an aesthetic issue however, as most aren’t lacking for electrical outlets in their home, and these speakers tend to be on nightstands, kitchen counters, or somewhere in a living room.

If you don’t care about having a portable stereo speaker, but still want all of the same AI and Alexa features as the Echo, the Dot is a great buy, and offers all of these at a much more affordable price.

8 of the Best Alexa Skills

Alexa has thousands of available skills, but these seven are among the most popular and useful

Philips Hue

Philips Hue smart bulbs are compatible with Alexa, so you can use Alexa to turn lights on and off, or dim them to your desired level as well. There are other ways to control lights with your speaker, but this is the easiest way that doesn’t involve using other hubs.

Philips Hue Smart Home LED

Samsung Smart Things

This skill allows you to control smart Samsung devices without the use of a hub. Alexa communicates directly with Samsung devices anywhere in your home connected to Wi-Fi, from stereos, to televisions, to DVD players.

Jeopardy! J6

This fun skill gives you six daily Jeopardy questions, all in the form found on the television show.

My Chef

This helpful cooking skill can look up recipes for you, and then guide you through the actual cooking process by asking it questions as you go. You can also use the Chefling app to log all of your grocery purchases, which you can use to ask My Chef to help you choose recipes based off of what you have in the pantry, and even ask when things groceries are expiring.

Alexa combined with My Chef can help you cook

Magic Door

Magic Door is a sort of “choose your own adventure” story that you can guide yourself through basef of your decisions. It’s set in a fantasy world, and includes multiple storylines that are all dependent on that you choose to do. Great way to pass time when you are doing housework.

Ride Sharing (Uber and Lyft)

Alexa can be taught to call your favorite ride-sharing service after you’ve entered your information in with the app. After doing so, ordering a ride is as easy as asking Alexa to do so.

Alexa Understands when you call for Uber

The Bartender

The Bartender is a drink and cocktail skill that contains over 12,00 different drink recipes. You can ask for recipes based off of certain liquors, or other inclusions as well. Very helpful when entertaining friends, or when looking for your new favorite cocktail for the season.

Inspire Me

By simply asking Alexa to inspire you, the service will immediately play famous quotes, book excerpts, and famous speeches in a matter of seconds, all set to appropriate music that further enhances the experience.

7 Minute Workout

Looking for a personal trainer? Alexa has you covered — at least in the form of a quick workout. The 7 Minute Workout skill walks you through a high-intensity workout, explaining each move and motivating you along the way.

7 Minute Workout Alexa

Best Smart Home Speaker For Smart Home Geeks: Google Home

Best Smart Home Speaker For Smart Home Geeks: Google Home

  • Dimensions: 79 x 5.62 inches
  • Weight: 10 ounces
  • Wireless: 802.11b/g/n/ac (2.4GHz/5Ghz)
  • Audio: 2” driver + dual 2” passive radiators
  • Compatible With: Android & iOS devices. Smart home devices include NEST thermostats and many others.

The Google Home smart home speaker is more tuned to smart home features and control, and lacks many of the capabilities of the Echo and Dot. Regardless, it can still perform all the basic tasks associated with smart home, and has some better audio qualities as well.

Google Home’s setup is fairly simple, as you just connect it to your wi-fi, and download the control app for your phone or tablet. After that, you’re all set. While you can’t download third party “skills” like with the Echo, Google Home does everything else you’d need it to.

Google Home can perform tasks like tracking appointments and other alerts, dim lights, change your thermostat, and all of the other capabilities of a smart home. It can also play music, and has a much better access range for services, as it comes with YouTube Music and Spotify.

This helps you take advantage of the richer sound from a better speaker, especially as far as low end is concerned. Things get a little more distorted at a louder volume, so it’s best to put the speaker near a corner if possible so that sound bounces out more at a lower volume.

With that said, I’d venture to say that Google home is more geared towards those who will be using their smart home speaker mainly as a music device. You get better sound, and more options for streaming.

Google Home is also smaller than the full-size Echo, and many would argue that it looks better. You can even order different colored bases to swap out to better match your surrounding decor. Overall, it’s a little less distracting, so if you’re concerned about aesthetics, you’ll appreciate that.

This speaker has fewer microphones than the Echo, but it can still pick up your voice just fine, although you’ll have to sign in a different user if you wish for someone else to give it commands. If you live alone, that’s not a big seal, but bigger households may find that a bit annoying.

Still, Google Home is certainly a great option for people who are more concerned with running their smart home features than some of the extras that Alexa provides. If you love Google products, you’ll appreciate Google Home. It’s versatile appearance and better sound are a bonus, and it is cheaper than its Amazon counterpart.

Best New Smart Home Speaker:  Lenovo Smart Assistant

Best New Smart Home Speaker: Lenovo Smart Assistant

  • Dimensions: TBA
  • Weight: TBA
  • Wireless: TBA
  • Audio: 10W Woofer, 5W Tweeter
  • Compatible With: Android & iOS devices. Smart home devices include NEST thermostats and many others.

Lenovo debuted their new Smart Assistant speaker January 2017 at trade shows, and the speaker is set to makes it debut in May of 2017. The Smart Assistant builds off of the designs of both the Echo and Google Home, and integrates most of the same features.

Amazon is allowing other companies to use their Alexa technology as a way to give them more footing and presence in the smart home market. The Smart Assistant utilizes Alexa technology, which means you get all of the same features and capabilities of the Echo.

The Smart Assistant aims to be a better version of the Echo, retaining all of the same capabilities, but offering improvements in the areas that the Echo and Google Home fall short in.

The main allure of the Smart Assistant is its sound quality. The Echo has passable audio quality, and the Google Home is better, but the Smart Assistant has the best sound of the three. It uses a 10 watt woofer, and a 5 watt tweeter, giving better low end and clearer treble.

For $50 more, consumers can upgrade to the Harman Kardon Edition, which offers enhanced sound, along with a 2-inch sound cavity that pushes the speaker quality to the next level.

The Smart Assistant also offers a better voice command experience,using 8 microphones instead of the Echo’s 6. This allows users to give the Smart Assistant commands from up to 16 feet away. Testers at the recent trade shows verified this capability, ordering the Smart Assistant to do everything from dim lights, to play music from nearly twice the distance of an Echo.

The other main aspect of the Smart Assistant is its abundance of colors, similar to the Google Home. Green, red, and orange are all available trim colors, which all match the slight metallic minimalist style of the Smart Assistant.

The Smart Assistant is also in the same price range as the Echo and Google Home, so it will certainly be a huge competitor thanks to its better audio, more colors, and Alexa capabilities. Look for it to become a topseller as soon as it’s available on the market.

How We Evaluate Smart Home Speakers

Curious about our rating system? Listed below are the features we consider when arriving at an overall score:

  • User Interface – In this case, the interface refers to the apps you use to control and customize aspects the home speaker, as it’s entirely voice commanded.
  • Voice Assistant – Artificial intelligence such as Alexa and Siri aren’t anything new, but they are improving. We look for how quickly the AI responds, what it’s capable of, and how accurate it is.
  • Voice Recognition – Nobody wants to have to repeat themselves to their smart home speaker, so gauging how well it recognizes and acts off your voice is important.
  • Smart Home/iOT Integration – This refers to how well the smart home speaker integrates with smart home features, and how much you can control from it.
  • Built-In Capabilities – Additional services such as Youtube Music, Amazon Prime, and Spotify help improve the speaker’s overall ability and convenience.
  • Third Party Apps – These apps allow you to enhance and expand what the speaker can do, such as ordering food, reading you a story, and setting an alarm. This is done from additional apps that are compatible with the speaker.
  • Search Features – We assess what the speaker can search for from a command, such as asking about a historical event’s date, a television listing, or even a trivia question.
  • Shopping Features – Smart home speakers such as Amazon Echo allow you to order products from Amazon by simply commanding the speaker to do so.
  • Customizing For Your Home – Some home speakers have ways to customize their appearance, mainly with different colors.
  • Network Compatibility – This gauges the speaker’s ability to connect to anything from wifi to Bluetooth.
  • Expandability – Can the speaker be used with other models at the same time? Can it connect to other devices with an auxiliary cord to Bluetooth connection?
  • Security – Smart home speakers need to be able to be muted when you don’t want it picking up your words and prevent intrusion from non-approved users.
  • Setup / Installation – This gauges how easy it is to get the smart home speaker up and running, along with any corresponding apps.
  • Price – How much value are you getting for the money?

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