In recent years the main tech giants: Amazon, Samsung, Google, Microsoft, and Apple have been going head-to-head with the latest products and releases. Now they have ventured into the market of speakers and music by combining their own virtual assistants and AI’s with hardware designed for use around the home. What makes them special is the multiple uses they have because they not only deliver wireless audio content but many can aid in home automation, shopping, as well as organization. They primarily use microphones and voice recognition to reduce the need for remotes and touch buttons or sensors (although some models retain these as well.)
Smart speakers seem to be the latest trend in technology, allowing them to integrate seamlessly into the home and make our lives easier. So, let’s take a closer look at the main speakers available and the features behind them.
A common favorite and one of the first on the market as Amazon paved the way with this model. Although now comparatively quite large to other models on the market the speaker provides great sound quality and the height allows the microphones to have extra reach and pick up a larger voice recognition area in your home. The Echo is generally a favorite because it is very compatible with other Home Smart devices from light bulbs to outlets and thermostats and uses Amazon’s Alexa as the personal assistant. You can add a variety of skills to Alexa, meaning that these speakers are very multi-functional and would be perfect for those with a home office. Its main features include:
- Voice Messaging and Calling
- Link to Spotify, Amazon Music, free music streaming, and radio stations
- Listen to audiobooks, including the integration of Kindle
- Alarms and timers
- Smart Home control
- News, sports, and weather updates
- Amazon Prime shopping
- Google Calendar sync
- 10-15 ft voice range
The other Amazon counterpart in the range is inherently smaller and almost half the price of the Echo but doesn’t restrict on features. The Echo Dot is essentially the top part of the Echo, which uses the Alexa controls and personal assistant without the larger speaker at the bottom. This means that the voice recognition distance has been reduced, as well as sound quality with some comparing this speaker to a laptop sound system. However, it is also capable of extending the reach of the Echo and cover more area rather than as a standalone speaker. This would be particularly useful for those in smaller apartments, offices, or flats.
For those who are conscious of the aesthetics of speakers, this could be the choice for you as it has customizable bases for better blending. The other feature that set it apart from its competitors is its ability to cast two-way which means you can not only cast from your phone to the speaker (as normal) you can also cast from the speaker to your phone which can be handy. It also includes other features such as:
- Large library of songs
- Different base color options
- Connects to a variety of streaming services including Spotify, Pandora and Google Play Music
- Wi-Fi enabled
- Connect to Home Smart devices
As with most Apple products, the HomePod has a sleek design that comes in two color choices and can both seamlessly blend into your home as well as stand out as the latest tech gadget. It contains the chip found in the iPhone 6 and uses Siri as the assistant while also being a loud, punchy speaker with a powerful kick, even if it is a little bass-heavy. Its features include:
- Top touch sensitive speakers
- “Hey Siri” turn on mode
- Lights to show activation
- You can pair with other HomePods to create your own Hi-Fi system
- Seamless pairing with the iPhone
Harman Kardon Invoke
This combination of expertise sees Microsoft’s Cortana and speaker industry expert Harman Kardon get together to create the Invoke which will not only have the Cortana AI assistance but an emphasis on the speaker making it one of the higher quality sounds available, particularly with 3 times more woofers and drivers than the Echo. What sets this model apart is that it will be integrated with Skype (as it is also now owned by Microsoft) allowing support for landline and phone calls within the Skype environment. Some of the main features include:
- Schedules, Calendar, and Reminders
- Smart Home Devices Control
- 3 X woofers and drivers than the Echo
- Voice activated
- Two colors
- Touch top model
- Cortana personal assistant
With Samsung releasing their new personal assistant Bixby with the release of the Galaxy S8, they have now confirmed that there will be a “Bixby Speaker called Vega” to include in their range of products. Although it is not yet available and the project itself has been very hush hush, what we do know is that it is going to happen and the rumored features include: noise cancelling microphones for better voice recognition, Wi-Fi connectivity and Spotify support as well as the usual streaming and voice calling capabilities.
Smart speakers are becoming the latest competitive product complimenting the virtual personal assistants, and we’re seeing an increase in tech and capabilities, so they are worth keeping an eye on.
Which do you own or have your eyes on?