The Smart Speaker market has absolutely exploded in the last couple of years. While the original kid on the block, the Amazon Echo, remains a strong player as well as the most familiar name, its main big tech rivals have also been quick to get in on the action. With such an increasingly crowded market and range of features that can send even the tech-savviest head into a spin, it’s tricky to decide which of these increasingly intelligent speakers to invest in. We’ve weighed up the main current and soon-to-be-released contenders to help you decide:
Three years into its lifespan, the majority of tech commentators agree that Amazon’s pioneering offering is still top of the pile. While it may fall down on audio quality, it compensates with unparalleled support for a huge number of smart home devices, from Phillips Hue and LIFX smart bulbs and Nest Thermostats to Belkin’s smart outlets and Samsung’s SmartThings platform, which in turn provides even more connectivity.
The Echo is lauded for its versatility. You can easily sync its voice integration system, Alexa, to Amazon’s vast range of services, including Amazon Video and Prime Music. It also connects to an array of non-proprietary services such as Google Calendar and Spotify. This flexibility is keeping the Echo ahead of its rivals….for now.
Google’s smart speaker is, in a sense, ‘smarter’ than the Echo. It has a larger pool of knowledge to draw on thanks to its uniquely snug integration into Google’s huge search engine, and works remarkably smoothly with Chromecasts. The Home connects to fewer devices than its Amazon rival, though the two are much of a muchness when it comes to supported services.
Tech commentators have noted that Google Home is adding strings to its bow at a rapid pace, including multiple user voice recognition and hands free calls to anyone in the US or UK, no setup required. So, while the Echo might be most experts’ speaker of choice for now, it’s certainly worth keeping an eye on Google if you’re planning to wait a few months to invest.
Harmon Kardon Invoke
The forthcoming offering from Samsung/Microsoft boasts a notable feature not available on either the original Echo (the new Echo show is a different beast) or Google Home: it can both make and receive voice calls, thanks to its integration with Microsoft’s Skype.
As well as the ability to control a range of devices and connect to services such as calendars and traffic reports (though precise details won’t be known until its release later in the autumn), the 360 degree cylindrical speaker harnesses Harman’s audio tech knowhow. Its sophisticated noise reduction and echo cancellation algorithms mean it’s able to ‘listen’ over challenging ambient noise, and it’s also likely to have wonderful audio quality thanks to its pedigree. Certainly one to look out for.
Another yet to be released newcomer to the market, the Apple HomePod also promises to pack some serious audio punch. It features seven tweeters and a four inch woofer, which will – according to its manufacturers – give an extraordinary level of distortion free sound, which will obviously be fully supported by Apple Music.
The HomePod’s smart home capacity is less developed, as it uses Apple’s HomeKit platform, which is currently still under development. Watch out for further reviews in the tech press as we get closer to the product’s release date to see whether its AI lives up to Apple’s big promises. True to company form, the speaker also comes with a higher price tag than its competitors, and it remains to be seen whether the HomePod will provide enough sparkle to convert non-Apple devotees.