The best smart speakers 2019: which one should you buy?

The best smart speakers 2019: which one should you buy?

The best smart speakers 2019: which one should you buy?

Remember when the idea of a fully-automated smart home seemed like the stuff of science-fiction? Well, we may not have a robot butler just yet, but many of us have at least a few smart home products these days – and it’s all thanks to smart speakers.

Speakers with built-in smart features and AI-powered voice assistants like the Google Home, Amazon Echo, and Apple HomePod continue to dominate the smart home market.

According to some recent stats, US smart speaker ownership grew more than 40 percent over 2018 and has reached 66.4 million, which is 26.2 percent of the US population.

It’s (kinda) official: Alexa, Siri and Google Assistant are as important to most households as pets – or even distant relatives you don’t see much, but don’t tell them we said that.

The popular virtual assistants have taken our homes by storm, with many now considering smart speakers to be the future of home automation. That’s because they can do so much, from answering almost any question, playing music, telling you the news and not only controlling your smart home devices (like your Philips Hue bulbs or your smart locks), but running everything from your fridge to your living room lights – sometimes without much help from you.

[Update: Many people are now buying smart speakers to be used by the whole family, or even kid-specific smart speakers to go in your child’s room. But we asked: are smart speakers really safe for children?.

In other news, rumor has it that Amazon is about to release a beefed-up, better-sounding Amazon Echo speaker, with built-in woofers and higher-quality speakers. We’ll be reporting live from today’s Amazon launch event in Seattle – head over to our Amazon 2019 launch liveblog for the latest news.]. 

best smart speaker
Here’s the table lamp with WiFi speaker from the IKEA and Sonos SYMFONISK collection. Image Credit: IKEA

Whether that’s exciting to you, scary or just a bit gimmicky will depend on your view of always-on tech within your home. But it’s hard to argue that these devices aren’t unbelievably handy.

Imagine a world where you don’t have to get up to change the thermostat or find the remote to change the channel. Imagine turning off your garden security lights using your voice or using Alexa or Google Assistant to pull up a live feed of your outside cameras.

If you think that you can live happily without these features, then you’re probably right. But we’ve found that once you’ve had them, even for a week or two, it’s very difficult to go back.

So if you need help finding your next personal assistant, take a look at our guide below and find the smart speaker that suits your current setup, your budget and the aesthetics of your home – each of the speakers are hand-picked by our editors, and while each have pros/cons, all of them are great in their own way.

(For UK readers, you might want to check out the Pure DiscovR smart speaker too.)

Not seeing the perfect speaker for you? Don’t worry. Be sure to keep checking back, as we’ll be updating this list with the best smart speakers, as well as the top rumors about the new speakers to expect soon at the end.

Sonos One speaker
The Sonos One now supports Amazon’s Alexa and Siri via AirPlay 2. Image Credit: Sonos.

Best smart speakers FAQ: quick questions answered

What can smart speakers do? Smart speakers can do lots of things. First up they’re speakers in their own right, from the fantastic-sounding Apple HomePod through to the simpler Amazon Echo Dot.

But they also have lots of special features thanks to the smart voice assistants that are built-in. These smart assistants are voice-activated, which means you can literally ask them to do a range of things, including playing music, answering questions and controlling other smart home devices. And that’s just the beginning.

Which voice assistant is best? On the whole that’s subjective. Some people have always liked Apple products the best and stay loyal to Siri. Others really like Alexa after snapping up an Echo as soon as the smart speaker was first launched.

The general consensus seems to be that Google Assistant is, largely, the most accurate voice assistant. If you’ve got a lot of Apple products, of course Siri is the best and for overall compatibility, you’re best opting for Alexa. But they’re not hard and fast rules.

Is Alexa better than Google? For starters, the choice might depend on which speaker you like the look of the most. Sure Amazon’s Echo range is very similar to the Google Home, but the Show, Spot and Dot look quite different.

When it comes to the smart assistants within the speakers, they’re both extremely capable. Amazon’s Alexa has many, many Skills, which set it apart from the rest. But Google has been a leader in the AI game for a long time now, well before the smart speaker market emerged.

Is there a monthly fee for Alexa? No. You don’t need anything other than the free Alexa app. However, you will get plenty of perks if you’re an Amazon Prime member.

The best smart speakers 2019

best smart speaker
Image Credit: Sonos

Sonos’ debut Alexa speaker is a cleanly-designed, feature-rich and great-sounding device that brings together the best of both ecosystems. You’ve got the ever-improving Alexa on the one hand, and on the other you’ve got Sonos with its own multi-room smarts and mostly unrivalled sound performance.

There’s also a new feature in the mix that promises to change the game: AirPlay 2. With it, the Sonos One can talk to Siri and form a multi-room pairing with the Apple HomePod, making it the most versatile speaker on the list.

If there’s anything holding the Sonos One back from greatness it’s the fact that Google Assistant is still MIA after the update was postponed in November 2018 and is still nowhere to be seen nearly halfway through 2019.

If Google Assistant support hits at some point this year (we hope), the Sonos One promises to become the market leader in smart home speakers.

If you like the Sonos range but you’ve felt a little underwhelmed by its designs to date, then you’ll be happy to find out the brand has launched a new range of in-wall, in-ceiling, and outdoor speakers, the Sonos Architectural line.

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Apple HomePod
Image Credit: TechRadar

The highly-anticipated Apple HomePod finally entered the smart speaker battle for your bookshelf in early 2018.

The obvious benefit of an Apple HomePod over an Echo or Google Home device is that it’ll play nice with your other Apple products. So if you’re a die-hard Apple fan the HomePod may be a no-brainer.

But it’s worth asking the same question you should always be asking yourself when you want to splurge on a new Apple product: how much of a premium should you pay for owning a device that fits only seamlessly into the Apple ecosystem?

When we reviewed the device we were torn because we were really reviewing two things at once: how the HomePod weighs up as a premium speaker and how it fares as a smart home hub.

In the former category, the HomePod is excellent, as it boasts incredible sound and a very intuitive set-up. But in the latter, Siri is only middling in its implementation, and the fact that you’re not able to break out of the Apple ecosystem for many key functions also rankles.

Apple is said to be working on the Apple HomePod 2, or a cheaper, more compact HomePod Mini, rumored to launch at some point in 2019 – we’re halfway through now and we’re still waiting. Fingers crossed it’ll be worth it.

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Amazon Echo smart speaker
Image Credit: Amazon

If you’re after a smart speaker that’s affordable and sounds good enough to play your favorite tracks, the latest version of the Amazon Echo is your safest bet. In fact it’s our current top pick for the best smart speaker on the market right now.

The newest, 2nd-generation Echo sounds better than Amazon’s Echo Dot, but it’s cheaper than the Echo Plus and Apple’s HomePod.

We don’t think you should be using it to replace your hifi, but at the same time it’s a really great place to start if you want to try out what the smart home life is like.

Amazon has also improved the Echo’s style since the first version was released in 2015. The new fabric finishes will suit most living rooms better than the brushed aluminum of the original.

The only downside is the Echo doesn’t have the neat volume dial of Amazon’s Echo Plus. It’s also worth mentioning that Alexa often doesn’t seem quite as intelligent as Google Assistant. At the price, though, it’s a great option that should suit most people’s needs.

The best smart speakers 2019: which one should you buy? 2

Google Home
Image Credit: Google

For starters, you might never appreciate just how much music is on YouTube without buying a Google Home. We’re not saying Google Home is capable of playing any song you can think of, but after dredging the depths of the ’90s we still couldn’t find a tune Google Home couldn’t track down and start playing.

While Google Home excels as a DJ, it’s also a surprisingly intelligent smart home hub. It already hooks into some of the largest platforms now available by including Nest, Philips and Samsung’s SmartThings, and given a few months that number will grow even more.

But we’re torn when it comes to recommending the Google Home. In some ways it’s disappointing and doesn’t live up to be the coveted center of the smart home Google has marketed it as.

That’s because it’s just not there yet. It’s a little too rigid in its language comprehension, its list of smart home devices is growing but still a bit underwhelming, and, perhaps the biggest disappointment of all, it doesn’t have many of Google’s core services built into it.

It has the potential to develop to compete with Amazon’s Echo in the future, but for now the Google Home is simply a smart novelty with access to YouTube Music, built-in Google Cast and the ability to save you a trip to the light switch.

Over the past year, the Google Home has received a number of notable updates, including the fact you can now use the device to make calls to landlines in the UK. Google Assistant has also been updated to included bilingual capabilities, Continued Conversation and Multiple Actions. A more recent update has also brought Google Assistant to Nest Security alarm systems.

UPDATE: Google is reportedly working on a Nest Mini smart speaker that boasts big sound. The Nest Mini – if that is what the rumored device will finally be named – will feature a better soundscape than the Google Home Mini and will be wall-mountable.

The best smart speakers 2019: which one should you buy? 2

Amazon Echo Plus
Image Credit: Amazon

The Amazon Echo Plus is the higher-end choice among its tower speakers. You should consider buying one if you want decent sound quality but don’t want the display of the Echo Show or Echo Spot.

With the second generation model recently launched, the Echo Plus has ditched the two-tier look in favor of a subdued fabric design, more like the original Echo.

It’s louder and bassier than the standard Echo, which is particularly useful for music. Does it sound as good as the Sonos One? No. But like Amazon’s other Echo gadgets, its price is competitive. It costs $149.99 (£139.99) with a Philips Hue bulb included to kickstart your smart home future.

Like other smart home systems, Amazon Alexa is a work in progress. However, it’s easy to recommend the Amazon Echo Plus. It’s a convenient one-stop solution for both audio, smart assistant functions and Internet of Things controls, with Alexa still going strong as the most feature-rich voice assistant.

But the strength of the Echo range, especially at the lower price tiers, still makes these top-of-the-line models a harder sell: the Echo Dot has comparable smarts for a fraction of the price, for example, it just doesn’t sound as good. Likewise, the built-in smart hub is a great addition, but isn’t yet feature-complete, meaning committed smart home users may not want to make the jump just yet.

In short, if you’re looking to enter the world of the connected home, the Echo Plus is a great place to start. Just be aware that more economical options may, for the time being at least, suit your needs just as well.

The best smart speakers 2019: which one should you buy? 1

Pure DiscovR smart speaker
Image Credit: TechRadar

The Amazon Echo range is still the market leader for smart speakers – in terms of sales, at least – but for all their hands-free convenience, they’re not speakers you’d look to if you want genuinely high-quality sound.

The Pure DiscovR manages to bundle top-class audio with all of Alexa’s smarts, and the intuitive touch controls to make using it by hand or voice a real pleasure. The ability to save voice commands as presets is invaluable, and something the rest of the smart speaker market could learn from.

The arresting design helps too. The rounded cube shape, and raised speaker – which can be compressed down into the casing to mute Alexa’s microphone – feels hugely innovative in a crowded market, while the flashing colors around the LED rim make for much more of a light display than the Echo’s meek blue.

You won’t get your hands on this in the US, though. The Pure DiscovR is exclusively sold through John Lewis in the UK, with plans to roll out to Europe later in 2019. The speaker is available in either graphite and silver finishes – listed at John Lewis as black or white.

If you’re on the lookout for a quality smart speaker that delivers on voice control, sound quality, and an innovative design – and with an eye firmly on user privacy – the Pure DiscovR is exactly what you need.

The best smart speakers 2019: which one should you buy? 1

The best smart speakers with a screen 2019

Google Home Hub
Image credit: Google

With the recent onslaught of smart display devices from the big tech companies, there’s more choice than ever if you want a screen included with your smart speaker.

The Google Home Hub is one of the latest crop of smart displays, and it certainly gives its closest rival, the Amazon Echo Show a run for its money, with intuitive voice control and well designed first party apps.

That being said, this is not a speaker for audiophiles – it works well enough to play music in the background while you do chores or read, but it doesn’t pack big enough of a sonic punch to serve as your main speaker for listening to music.

Where the Google Home Hub does excel, is as a control centre for your digital home, supporting over 5000 smart devices from 400 companies – plus, at around $80/£80 cheaper than the Amazon Echo Show (the difference in Australia is a whopping AU$150), it’s pretty good value for money too.

The best smart speakers 2019: which one should you buy? 1

Amazon Echo Show
Image credit: Amazon

The updated Echo Show is a step in the right direction, with better design, a clearer screen, and superior sound, but it has limited support for third-party streaming services.

The touchscreen is 1280 x 720 px – so it won’t blow you away up close, but it looks fine from a distance. It also features adaptive brightness, although the screen isn’t the main way you interact with the Echo Show – it’s optimized for voice activation via Amazon Alexa, and it’s great for using while you potter about the kitchen.

Its not the cheapest smart display on the market, however, it adds value by combining devices you already have and ones you could buy at a lower price elsewhere – just look at the Amazon Echo Dot, for example.

Put everything together though, and the new Show is a marked improvement on the original version, and if you’re keen on watching cooking tutorials or listening to music as you cook, it deserves a spot on your kitchen counter.

[Update: The Amazon Echo Show 5 is now available to preorder – this diminutive third-gen smart display is less than half the price of the current second-gen Echo Show model, and will start shipping in June and July. 

The best smart speakers 2019: which one should you buy? 2

Amazon Echo Spot
Image credit: Amazon

In our opinion, the Amazon Echo Spot is the best-designed Alexa device Amazon has ever created – it’s a gadget you’d happily have in your bedroom, on your desk, in your kitchen, and pretty much anywhere else.

The Spot is versatile – it doesn’t have a chameleon-like ability to adapt to the room you put it in, but this is certainly not just a smart alarm clock, something Amazon has been very clear about.

It does everything the Echo Show does, but it all feels better in this smaller form factor. The design is great – it’s available in black and white – and we can easily see the Spot being used in the bedroom, kitchen or even on a desk. In fact, you may want it in all of these places.

That’s the thing with the Amazon Echo Spot: much like other Echo devices, Amazon wants you to have a multitude of them in your home so you always have access to video chat no matter where you are.

Essentially, it wants the Echo Spot to replace the Echo Dot. The Amazon Echo Spot is a little more expensive than the new Echo, though, and in turn much more expensive than an Echo Dot.

This is because of the addition of the screen. While we still haven’t seen that killer Skill for the screen, it does enhance the look of the Spot and opens up the possibilities for it being much more than just a smart speaker.

We’re just hoping that Amazon’s Skills become much more video-friendly – once this happens, the Amazon Echo Spot will become an absolute must-have.

What could be coming soon?

Those are all of the best smart speakers on the market right now, but with the huge success of these voice-activated smart home assistants, this selection is likely to be just the beginning.

Right now a number of other companies, including some of the biggest names in tech, are also working on their own smart home audio products. Whether they shake-up the market or turn out to be a load of hot air remains to be seen.

But in the meantime, here are just a few of the highly-anticipated upcoming releases and rumors circulating right now:

Image of the spotify logo
Image credit: Spotify

Spotify smart speaker

There are loads of speakers on the market that already allow you to connect your Spotify account. But that doesn’t mean the popular streaming service can’t make its own product to compete with the biggest names in tech.

Rumors suggest Spotify has been working on its own voice search interface, but it hasn’t yet lifted the lid on a speaker that could compete with the likes of the Amazon Echo or Google Home.

That hasn’t stopped us from dreaming up what a Spotify smart speaker might look, sound and behave like.

samsung speaker
Image credit: Samsung

Samsung Galaxy Home smart speaker

This is now official, though details are still scarce – Samsung showed off the Galaxy Home smart speaker at its Unpacked 2018 event, promising high-quality audio alongside some integrated AI smarts provided by Bixby.

As yet we don’t know a price or release date, though we’re assuming it will work with Samsung’s SmartThings ecosystem.

The launch of the Samsung Galaxy Home has been rather stop-start since the Bixby-controlled smart speaker was first announced in August 2018 – but now we might have a release date to look forward to. Sort of…

Speaking to the Korea Herald, Kim Hyun-suk, one of Samsung’s co-CEOs and the President of the Consumer Electronics division, said that the company is aiming for a “mid-second half of the year” launch. Fingers crossed we get this speaker before 2019 is out.

The best smart speakers 2019: which one should you buy? 9

Everything is a smart speaker

Maybe the future isn’t about which smart speaker you should buy after all, but will be much more focused on integrating voice-activated smart assistants into other products.

Earlier this year at CES 2019, lots of manufacturers were boasting of voice assistant integration; Alexa and Google Assistant found their way into cars, bathroom mirrors, and even smoke alarms.

While that may sound a little gimmicky, it actually solves one of the major niggling points of the smart home: you want to have access to your voice assistant in every room but don’t really want to fill your home with speakers.