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How to choose the best smart speaker for your home

Fed up of having to pull out your phone to google a recipe while cooking? Well, welcome to the new age of voice search. Speakers are not just for playing music anymore, you can use them to help you while you’re busy entertaining, working, reading, cooking, training or just getting organised. By calling out what you need, your smart speaker delivers what you want e.g. “Play 90s music”, “set a timer for 10 minutes” or “look up damper recipe”.

So what is a smart speaker, should you get one, and then how do you find the right one? 

A smart speaker according to “….is a wireless and smart audio playback device that uses several types of connectivity for additional functions. … Some smart speakers feature voice-activated digital assistants and can operate as home automation hubs”. 

There’s quite a few to choose from with Google HomeAmazon EchoApple HomePod and other companies Sony and Panasonic also releasing products. But it’s not just the speaker to consider they each have a digital assistant Amazon has Alexa (you may have seen the “Alexa loses her voice” SuperBowl Commercial this year), Apple has Siri and Google is has its own one too.

“As of January 2018, there were an estimated one billion voice searches per month” – Alpine.AI  

So when did voice searching and smart speakers become so popular? In 2014, the first smart speaker “Echo” was released by Amazon into the US market. But it took until July 2017 for a smart speaker to be released to the Australia market, with the Google Home (not Amazon Echo). 

Since its release, approximately half a million Australian households currently own a smart speaker, (mainly Google Home devices) …predicted to grow to around 3 million by 2022 according to Foad Fadaghi, Managing Director for Telsyte.

What are the benefits of owning a smart speaker, other than they are the latest cool gadget to own? Well, they give you the option to wirelessly listen to your music, keep track of your day,  catch up on the news, and some have a multi-room feature so you can listen(and speak) all over the house, talk with any other smart devices in your house e.g. Philips smart light blubs or just be your very own smart assistant. 

But not all smart speakers were created equal, here’s a top line comparison between products offered by the top three companies Google, Amazon and Apple.

“Ok Google” – Google Home – AU $199 (or Mini AU$79)

☑ Cheapest market offering(mini)
☑ Great assistant 
☑ Access to entire YouTube music library 
☒ Requires precise phrasing of words
☒ Missing Google Features 

“Alexa” – Amazon Echo – AU $149 (or Echo Dot AU$79)

☑ Competitively priced 
☑ Smart assistant in Alexa 
☑ Nice new design (2nd generation)
☒ Average speaker

“Hey Siri” – Apple HomePod – AU $499
☑ Fantastic speaker sound 
☑ Premium quality
☒ Average assistant
☒ Limited to Apple Music for streaming
☒ No multi-room feature 

In summary 
It depends on your priority(speaker or assistant) and budget are if you’re a die-hard Apple fan and just want a fantastic speaker and only occasionally use an assistant then Apple HomePod is for you. But if you’re not quite sure about these home assistants and want to dip your toe in the water the Amazon Echo Dot or GoogleMini is good way to do it. If you’re also worried about the security of having a smart speaker check out our article on using a router with VPN capabilities you can set one up at router level to make sure your data is protected while having full use of your smart speaker. 

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