Smart home devices have been around for some time now in the form of things like smart thermostats and lighting. Only recently have smart speakers been introduced, with the main aim of linking all of your smart devices together. They are voice activated and providing you have it linked together with your other smart home devices, all you need to do is say things like “Turn the heating up to 20°C in the living room” or “Set a reminder on my smartphone to get milk” and it will do it. Other functions include playing music, searching the internet and even more as updates are released. But which smart speaker is the best for you?
First of all, the Homepod only really makes sense if you have got an iPhone or other Apple devices. Otherwise you are better off with one of the other two. It is the newest of the three speakers and unlike the others it is currently only available in one size, 172 x 142 mm and comes in White and Space grey. But knowing Apple they are not ones to miss out on competition so there could be other versions in the works. To set it up you just plug it in and providing you already have an iOS device it will detect and connect to it. Yep that simple, then you can get going blasting out your favourite tunes.
The main features that Apple boast about are it’s music capabilities, which include a library of over 45 million songs, seven tweeters to provide sound from every angle, spatial awareness which allows it to automatically adjust to give you optimal sound wherever it’s placed in the home. Literally place it anywhere in any room and it will automatically detect the room size and adjust to make optimal sound quality.
HomePod doesn’t only play music, it also learns what music you like and will suggest other songs it thinks you might like. It also has a mode where you can just let it do it’s thing and create a playlist based on your music tastes. Also if you are listening to music on the Homepod before leaving home, all you need to do is open the Apple music app on your mobile and you can continue where you left off with Homepod.
HomePod is’nt just great at playing your music. It can also tell you the latest news, traffic, sport and weather. You can set reminders, send an SMS and even make a hands free phone call. It can also be a hub for controlling your other smart home accessories if you have them. Things like turning on a light or turning the heating down. Just say “Hey Siri, turn on the lights” or “Hey Siri, make the room cooler”. You can also set different scenarios for certain voice commands. For example, you could make it so that when you say “Good morning” it turns the lights on, boils the kettle downstairs then update you on what the traffic and weather are like today (although it can’t quite make a cup of tea just yet). It really is that clever!
Find out more here – https://www.apple.com/uk/homepod/
The Google Home comes in three different sizes. The standard Google Home is 96.4 x 142.8 mm and comes as standard with a white slate fabric case. However the cover is easily replaced so you can match it to your home decor with a fabric coral case, metal carbon or metal copper case which can all be purchased separately from the Google Store. Then the Home Mini which is the space saving variant is 98 x 42 mm and comes in chalk, charcoal or coral but they are not interchangeable on the Home Mini. Finally the Home Max which is a more traditional rectangle speaker shape 335.28 x 187.96 x 152.4 mm and comes in chalk or charcoal.
All Google Home devices are easy to set up. Literally plug it in, download the Google Home app and away you go. They are compatible with both Android and iOS so will work on any device (unlike the Apple Homepod which only works with iPhone’s and iPad’s).
It has a lot of main selling features all designed to help you get answers to questions, play music, manage your reminders/events, control your smart home and also manage your entertainment all from one hub. It uses the Google Assistant voice technology which will recognise your voice and answer almost any question. Like “What is the weather going to be like today?” or “How tall is the Eiffel Tower?”. Google Home can also manage your events and reminders. To set a reminder just say something like “Add bread to my shopping list” and when the time comes it will remind you. In the morning you can ask “What’s my day like today?” then it will tell you the weather and any meetings you have scheduled for the day. After a while of having the device the Google Assistant will get to know you and tailors notifications to you, like letting you know what the traffic is like just at the right time so it knows you can get to work on time.
It doesn’t stop there, Google Home is compatible with 100 other smart home devices from other companies, so you can ask it to turn the lights on in a certain room or even turn the heating up. It also works with Chromecast, so that you can stream films, YouTube, your favourite TV shows, music and more to your TV or speakers. Just say “Hey Google, play the latest Game of Thrones episode on Netflix” and the Home device will connect to your TV and play it. Another handy feature is hands free calling, just say “Hey Google call my Mum” and as long as their is a contact in your phone it will make a call through the speaker.
You can also listen to music through the Home smart speaker. You can set up different playlists then just say “Ok Google, play my party playlist” or you can also play an individual song, ask for a song recommendation based on others that you play and turn the volume up or down, all with your voice. The supported music services are Google Play, YouTube Music, Spotify, Pandora and many more, so you can listen to over 40 million sounds on the high excursion speaker. Google Home also supports audio book apps to be able to listen to your favourite stories through the smart speaker.
The Home Mini has all the same voice capabilities as it’s bigger brother, the only difference being that it has slightly poorer sound quality, so the Home or Home max are better for you if playing music is the main reason you are buying one. It comes in a smaller package so is ideal for somewhere space is limited like your office desk.
Finally there is the big daddy, the Google Home Max. It includes all of the same features as the other two, but it is more focused towards being a speaker. It is designed to produce the best quality sound in any space at all in your home using machine learning to automatically adjust the equaliser settings to match the acoustics of your room. It features Acoustically transparent fabric, Dual 4.5″ woofers, rigid housing to keep the audio composed and custom tweeters for crystal clear highs. Unfortunately the Home Max it is not currently available in the UK but it is set to be realesed very soon.
Find out more here – https://store.google.com/product/google_home
The same as the Google Home, Amazon Echo smart speakers are not limited to one smartphone type, so it is compatible with both Android and iOS devices. It uses Amazon’s friendly voice assistant Alexa as it’s main input, instead of a keyboard, although it does also have buttons on it too. All 3 main variants use a cylindrical design theme just with different variations of size and speaker power. The Amazon Echo is 148 x 88 x 88 mm, Echo Dot 32 x 84 x 84 mm and last but not least the Echo Plus 235 x 84 x 84 mm.
The Echo is available in lots more colours and finishes than the Google or Apple devices, helping you pick the best colour to match your house. The Echo is available in a range of fabrics and finishes including charcoal fabric, heather grey fabric, sandstone fabric, oak finish, walnut finish and silver finish. The Echo Dot Comes originally in black or white but can be customised with the optional Echo Dot Case which is available in saddle tan leather, bordeaux leather, midnight leather, indigo fabric, charcoal fabric and sandstone fabric. Finally the Echo plus which is available in black, silver or white.
The Echo was the first smart speaker to launch so has evolved a lot more. Its voice assistant Alexa updates automatically and is continually learning, adding new functionality based on voice commands from other users. The more use Echo gets across the world the more it adapts to different accents and speech patterns.
To use the Echo just say “Alexa” then ask a question, and it can search the internet, set a reminder, speak to other smart devices in the house and more. Also as it uses Amazon it can order products for you online, as well as order an Uber and even order a takeaway for you. With smart home connectivity you can use Amazon Echo to control lights, locks, power sockets, TVs, thermostats and more.
It also features device calling where you can talk through the speaker to other Echos or anyone with the Alexa app installed. One example of that would be calling the other rooms that have an Echo in your house letting everyone know that dinner is ready. You can also use it to send messages via voice or text.
Echo also includes music playing capabilities and has a large library of songs. If music is the only reason you are buying an Echo then you will be best off with the Plus as it has larger speakers, although not as good quality as the Apple Homepod or Google Home Max. If you’ve got another Echo device in the house you can also say “Play my pop playlist in the kitchen”, or play the same song in all rooms in the house. You can also ask Alexa to play a song it thinks you might like based on other songs you have listened to, the more you use it the better this feature will get.
As well as that there are two versions available with built in screens, the Echo Spot and Echo Show. They include all the same features as above just with built in screens to watch videos, see pictures and the spot’s smaller screen also defaults into a clock display.
It’s only real shortfall is the Alexa voice assistant. It is not quite as responsive and can sometimes confuse what you are saying to it. Also uses the Bing search engine which is not as good as Google.
Find out more here – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Amazon-Echo
Which is best?
There are other smart speakers available from companies like Harman Kardon and SONOS but these three are the main contenders. The best all round is by far the Google Home, although Echo does come in very close second, only losing out due to it’s voice recognition. The Apple is a usual Apple product, only compatible with other products of theirs so in tern it does limit it’s functionality. Although without actually getting our hands on them it’s hard to make a decision from the stats and info alone so if anyone from Google, Apple or Amazon are reading this feel free to send us a demonstrator to help out with our reviews in the future 😉.
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