The smart speaker is growing in popularity for several reasons, and tech-savvy users are clamoring to get their hands on one. Amazon is pushing new users to the Amazon Echo, and is seeing record sales, while Google has unleashed its Google Home device, and other tech giants are racing to create the ultimate smart speaker.
But are these new devices worth all the hype? Is it worth buying one?
Smart Speakers in a Nutshell
Each smart speaker is a little different, but they do share several functionalities in common:
- Wi-Fi connections. Each smart speaker connects to your local Wi-Fi, enabling it to stream content, perform searches, and carry out other tasks and functions.
- Voice commands. The big draw of smart speakers is their ability to receive, interpret, and carry out voice-based commands. These commands can be used for most of the other functions on this list, enabling a convenient and hands-free digital interaction experience.
- IoT connections. Smart speakers are also known for their ability to connect with and control different IoT devices, such as smart thermostats and kitchen appliances. It’s the “missing link” of smart home technology.
- Search functionality. Smart speakers can conduct online searches, and present you with basic information about the results, such as the current weather forecast, or historical facts.
- Timers and reminders. You can also use smart speakers as personal assistants, having them take notes on your behalf, and setting alarms and/or reminders about the events in your near future.
- Messaging and phone calls. Some smart speakers are set up to make phone calls and/or send messages, which is especially helpful if you need to ask a contact a quick question, or if you’ve suffered a personal injury and need help.
Most people use their smart speakers to stream music, listen to the news, set reminders for themselves (such as what to pick up at the grocery store) and remotely control things like smart thermostats.
Do You Need One?
The big question is, do you really need one? Only you can answer that question, but as with most technological advancements, you don’t “need” one—it simply makes certain things easier. You might find significant extra value from a smart speaker if:
- You have multiple IoT devices. If you already have multiple IoT devices, it’s incredibly helpful to have a central operating device to stitch them all together. It’s a matter of convenience.
- You search for basic information frequently. If you find yourself frequently consulting your phone to find out who starred in the movie you’re watching, how long to boil eggs, and what time the grocery store down the street closes, a smart speaker could be immensely beneficial. It’s not ideal for browsing the web, but it’s good for collecting quick information.
- You listen to music throughout the house. These are smart “speakers,” after all. If you listen to music throughout the house, or want a more convenient way to turn on your favorite tunes, a smart speaker is an ideal investment. If you want better sound quality, you can also sync them up to more powerful speakers, or remote speakers throughout the house.
- You don’t always have your phone handy. If you use your phone often, but don’t like carrying it around the house with you, a smart speaker can serve as a viable alternative for most functionalities.
Which One to Buy?
Right now, Amazon Echo, Google Home, and the upcoming Apple HomePod are the current big players in the industry. Each one has a different size and quality of speaker, but other than that, the biggest differences between speakers are the services, apps, and brands they support. Obviously, each company’s smart speaker pushes for its own line of music and similar products; for example, HomePod will presumably rely heavily on iTunes. Amazon is the exception to this, as it supports many third-party services that the others do not.
If you already have brand loyalties, get the speaker that aligns naturally with that brand. Otherwise, all three options are fairly similar, except in terms of overall speaker quality and cost.