Do you need a smart speaker like the Amazon Echo?
What's a smart speaker?
Sure, it's a speaker, so it plays music, but what makes it smart? Well, unlike conventional speakers, smart speakers come with built-in virtual assistants that you can interact with by simply talking to them.
Those virtual assistants can answer questions for you (think of it like Googling something with your voice), set reminders, purchase products, tell you the news and weather, call your friends, find and play a song for you and more.
What's the difference between Siri, Alexa and Google Assistant?
Those three are the names of the virtual assistants you'll most commonly find in smart speakers. The Apple Homepod smart speakers come with Siri, of course, while Amazon's Echo smart speakers use the Amazon Alexa smart assistant. Smart speakers from other brands most commonly use Google Assistant.
Apple's Siri assistant is the most limited out of the bunch in terms of smart home device and app support, but if you're already using Siri on your phone and are happy with it, you'll also be happy with the Apple Homepod smart speaker.
Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant are about equally capable and both support a huge range of smart devices that they can operate for you, like smart lights, doors, thermostats and the likes. So if you're planning to use smart appliances around your home, it's best to choose smart speakers that come with one of those two smart assistants.
In any case, when buying smart bulbs, thermostats and other smart home tech, it's always good to check which smart assistants they're compatible with. Those will most often be Alexa and Google Assistant. If your smart appliances are compatible with your virtual assistant, it usually means that you'll be able to ask your assistant to control them (e.g. by saying "Open the garage door"), which is super convenient.
Why do I need a smart speaker when my phone has Siri or Google Assistant?
Great question, and one I personally wasn't able to answer myself until a few years ago. Then I started visiting a family with Amazon Echo smart assistants in each room of their house. After observing that family and their interactions with Alexa, it became clear to me why smart speakers are good to have, even if your phone already has a virtual assistant.
If you have children who are too young for smartphones, they'll likely love having smart speakers around to ask questions. My nieces often ask Alexa to play them a song, turn lights off and on (e.g. in the garden, before they go out) and to help them with homework.
The virtual assistants in smart speakers could be great friends to young children who are starting to explore the world and always have questions. Virtual assistants can also play simple but fun games with children and tell them jokes.
That's not to say something like Alexa can take on the responsibility of parenting children, not at all, but it can definitely be helpful to all in the family, grownups too.
Adults can find similar uses in having smart speakers around, like getting quick answers to questions. One can ask Google Assistant or Alexa, for example, to help them with a recipe while cooking, play a podcast, tell the news, turn off all lights in the house when it's time for bed, call a friend or even send a message to every room in the house (where there's a smart speaker), kind of like making a family announcement.
What's the difference between normal smart speakers and the "mini" ones?
When shopping for smart speakers, you'll notice that the big-brand ones often also have small, cheaper versions. The Amazon Echo smart speakers have the smaller Echo Dot variant, while the Apple Homepod has a cheaper Homepod mini version.
The smaller smart speakers simply provide lesser sound quality, which only matters if you'll be listening to music on them. They come with the exact same voice assistant as their bigger variants and the same smart capabilities.
You'd normally want the big smart speaker in your living room, where you're most likely to play music, and small, cheaper variants of the same speaker for the kitchen, bedrooms, garage, etc. Places where you still want to have access to a smart assistant, but don't really need the best sound quality.
Obviously, if you can afford it, you'll be happiest with the biggest and best-sounding smart speaker in every room, but if you're on a budget, there's nothing wrong with just getting small smart speakers like the Amazon Echo Dot.
What are the best smart speakers to buy right now?
Check out our best smart speakers list, where along with the top smart speakers we show you which virtual assistants they're using, each speaker's weight, dimensions, price and more.