Best Smart Speaker 2018 – Buyer’s Guide

Voice assistants, virtual assistants, smart home speakers; whatever you call them, they’re pretty inescapable at the moment.

They all use Artificial Intelligence (AI) to do their job and do exactly as their names suggest – make your home smarter by controlling everything from music to security alarms and your shopping lists.

Smart Speaker ownership in the UK doubled in the first half of 2018 according to a YouGov poll, and 1 in 10 households now have one. And with demand has come choice, with dozens of models currently available.

People use them for a range of applications, from playing music and ordering products online to answering general questions and setting reminders or alarms. They can also interact and control other smart devices, and as demand for these increases, there is no doubt that speakers will become even more popular in line with this.

The choice out there is massive, so to help you decide which is best for you we have reviewed the best available:

The Best Smart Speakers – Our Top Picks

Best Overall Smart Speaker: Amazon Echo
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Amazon Echo
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  • Size: H14.8 x Dia.8.8cm
  • Multiple Colours Available
  • Platform: Alexa
  • Required Apps: Alexa App
Best Mini Smart Speaker: Amazon Echo Dot
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Amazon Echo Dot
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  • Size: H3.2 x Dia.8.4cm
  • Colours Available: White, black
  • Platform: Alexa
  • Required Apps: Alexa App
Best Sound: SONOS One
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SONOS One Wireless Smart Sound Speaker
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  • Size: H24.3 x W17.4 x D17.4 cm
  • Colours Available: Black, white
  • Platform: Alexa
  • Required Apps: Amazon Alexa

Best Home Smart Speakers

Amazon Echo

The original voice controlled Smart Speaker. If you have the Dot or Spot but hate the fact they’re not that great at actually doing the ‘speaker’ part with music, then the larger Echo may be your answer.

All you have to do is ask, and you can get answers about the weather and football matches, as well as making and receiving phone calls and messages.

Surround 360° technology is delivered via the 2.5” down-firing woofer and 0.6” tweeter, so you get crisp vocals and dynamic bass throughout the room.

As usual, you can control other smart devices from thermostats to lighting. You can also control other Echos throughout your home, telling it to play the same song downstairs or play your ‘going out’ playlist in the bedroom before you go up and get ready.

You can also send messages to anyone with an Echo or the App within your house as well, telling them dinner is ready or asking them a question without either of you leaving the room.

Love the idea of controlling your lighting with a Smart Speaker but need to buy the relevant products? Just add them on as an extra before the checkout.

We like

  • Greater speaker sound than the mini version
  • Very generous choice of colours
  • Ability to buy it with Philips Hue Starter Kit as extra

We disike

  • Can be difficult to connect to Wifi initially

Final Verdict

For the relatively low additional price compared to the Dot, it is worth it for the sound quality

+ Specifications

  • Size: H14.8 x Dia.8.8cm
  • Multiple Colours Available
  • Platform: Alexa
  • Required Apps: Alexa App

+ Downloads

Amazon Echo Starter Guide

Download

Google Home Smart Speaker

This voice-controlled speaker is a diary and personal assistant in one. Just like the Google Home Mini, as it is from the search engine giant, it can give you very accurate answers to most questions (all models struggle with some).

Like the Sony LF-S50G, there is a touch panel at the top, so you can play/pause/adjust the volume of your music. Press it for a long time, and Google will start listening rather than you having to bark “OK Google” (handy if you’ve lost your voice or are sick of the phrase).

It will give you answers, set reminders, get news or even ask it to tell a joke. Connect it up to other smart technology so you can control most of your home with a voice command.

Google Home can recognise the voices of up to six different users for personalised results to answers.

Google has tried to make sure the whole experience is made as natural as possible, as well as ensuring Home is your go-to device. The more you ask it to do, the more it recognises your personality.

So if you greet it with a “Hello” and then ask it for the news every morning, it will soon pick up this pattern and give you the broadcast automatically. It will even sing you a song if you wish.

And, it can now understand up to three commands at a time with the latest update. “Set an alarm for 6 am, tell me the latest news and play some Lady GaGa”. Sorted.

We like

  • Personalisation
  • Fun aspects paired with functionality
  • Multi-task update at one time
  • Design - looks like an automatic air freshener rather than a random black tube

We disike

  • Slightly more money than Amazon’s Echo products
  • Not quite as wide choice of third-party app integration available compared to Echo

Final Verdict

A bit of a digital butler for users, with rapidly growing knowledge and technology to keep it up-to-date at all times. The downsides shouldn’t be enough to put anyone off

+ Specifications

  • Size:14.3 x 9.6 x 9.6 cm
  • Colours Available: White/grey
  • Platform: Alexa/Google Assistant/Siri
  • Required Apps: Google Home

+ Downloads

Google Home Smart Speaker User Manual

Download

SONOS One Wireless Smart Sound Speaker

SONOS. World-renowned for their speakers already, and now making things even easier for us. As opposed to some of the other non-Amazon/Google/Apple smart speaker makers, this one uses Alexa as opposed to Google.

Because of the origin of SONOS as a company, it comes as no surprise to say this has been curated with music lovers in mind first and foremost. It has the biggest selection of music app pairing available: Apple Music, Spotify, Amazon Music, Deezer, Google Play, SoundCloud, Tidal, Groove, Qobuz and Mix Cloud.

This makes it great for anyone frustrated that the most popular voice speakers will only support one or two of the above, especially if you steer clear of them.

It can be connected to any SONOS Home systems to control music in every room and play a different song in the kitchen to the one being played in the bedroom.

Trueplay technology assesses the room around the speaker, adjusting its sound to suit. Touch commands can be made via the app on your smartphone, and it promises that the more you use it, the more helpful it will become over time.

Don’t just think it is solely for music fans though – you can also use Alexa to manage your compatible smart devices, as well as checking news and traffic updates, and enjoy the full set of Alexa skills.

We like

  • Unsurprisingly unbeatable sound
  • Play different music in separate rooms
  • Good choice of platforms and control for music aficionados

We disike

  • More complex to set up than other speakers
  • Alexa sometimes struggles to pick up quieter commands

Final Verdict

Not as great with all of the voice assistant help as other models, but the right choice if music and sound is your number one priority above all else

+ Specifications

  • Size: H24.3 x W17.4 x D17.4 cm
  • Colours Available: Black, white
  • Platform: Alexa
  • Required Apps: Amazon Alexa

Panasonic SC-GA10

Panasonic audio combined with the helpfulness of Google, and with Google Play Music, Spotify, Deezer and TuneIn radio services on hand, the choice of fabulous music is virtually endless.

The three-way speaker and 180° sound give clarity which fills the whole room, no matter where it is situated or the size. Built-in Bluetooth lets you connect your phone or tablet so you can control music from it or use it as a speaker when showing friends your home videos.

The design is minimalistic so it won’t look completely obscene on your coffee table or side table. It is really easy to use and set up, so would be great not only for those who know what they are doing but also completely new starters who are just being introduced to the world of virtual assistants and voice activation and AI.

We like

  • Design
  • Good choice of music streaming apps available
  • Simple to use

We disike

  • Aux cord sometimes provides poorer sound quality

Final Verdict

The flexibility for the user, combined with the sleek look and Panasonic build, makes this a good choice for anyone looking for a new smart speaker, whether it be your first or next of many

+ Specifications

  • Size: H28.4 x W10 x D10cm
  • Colours Available: White, black
  • Platform: Google Assistant
  • Required Apps: Google Home

+ Downloads

Panasonic SC-GA10 User Manual

Download

Sony LF-S50G

A Smart Speaker made by tech giants Sony, but with the popular Google Assistant built-in.

The 360° system has a two-way facing speaker, two-stage diffuser, and bass reflex duct ensure renowned Sony sound quality, whether it be playing music or answering your questions. Just say “OK Google…” and you’re ready to go.

The hands-free aspect makes it great if you want to know the answer to something quickly but can’t get to your phone or tablet (or just don’t want the hassle).

The ability to control your smart appliances is still there, including with your Google Chromecast for your TV. However, the one thing that makes it slightly different to most of its competitors is the touch-free and voice-free control. Play, pause and control audio by waving your hand over the top of the device – it understands motion.

We like

  • Can see the clock at all times through speaker
  • Really easy to set up
  • Fast response from software

We disike

  • Gesture control (a selling point) is a bit hit and miss

Final Verdict

No massive differences between this and the competitors, but great if you are a fan of the idea of Sony’s manufacturing quality combining with Google

+ Specifications

  • Size: H16.2 x W11 x D11cm
  • Colours Available: Black, white
  • Platform: Google Assistant
  • Required Apps: Google Home

+ Downloads

Sony LF-S50G User Manual

Download

Apple HomePod

Possibly one of the front-runners regarding the sound and bass, which is no surprise given their technology leads in creating Apple Earphones thanks to the Apple A8 Chip.

The HomePod is a product for all of those Apple advocates out there. It senses its location and adjusts the sound to suit, providing an immersive experience. Pair it with your Apple Music subscription for access to 45 million songs. The usual phrase is ‘at the touch of a button’, but actually, all you need is your voice.

It also learns to adjust to your music library and tastes, offering you recommendations and new music. Friends connected to your WiFi can stream their music straight to your HomePod, and you can AirPlay other content such as movies, TV, Apple TV and Mac.

It isn’t just limited to music, as it can also keep you updated on news and events and set reminders. Also , if connected to your Apple Home App to control switches, power points, air purifiers, sensors and even Velux windows.

Now for the downsides, when comparing it to the technology of Amazon and Google products. Firstly, Siri can’t differentiate between voices, so while Alexa and Google can give personalised responses and allow certain users to do specific things, the HomePod doesn’t have this capability. Which could become a problem.

You also can’t make phone calls through the device, only using the HomePod as a speaker from your phone. And this phone must also be an Apple iPhone – Android users may not have much use for it.

We like

  • Great sound
  • Good addition to existing Apple products

We disike

  • Price
  • Limitations for anything other than music pairing

Final Verdict

Despite its downsides, all Apple fans will much prefer this to the other speakers and voice recognition models on the market. Apple loves its updates, so further technology will probably closely follow

+ Specifications

  • Size: 17.2 x 14.2 x 14.2 cm
  • Colours Available: White, space grey
  • Platform: Siri
  • Required Apps: Apple Home and an iOs device

+ Downloads

Apple HomePod User Manual

Download

Amazon Echo Show

You may be thinking that a lot of Smart Speakers are pretty limited to just reading answers out to you, or controlling your Smart Home products. If you don’t have any of these and are quite happy just typing in questions to your search provider, your uses are even more limited.

However, if you are somebody who makes a lot of video calls and prefers to see information rather than have it read out, then the Echo Show could be for you. It combines voice control with video technology to make the first product of its kind – and will have you running out to make your home as smart as possible.

The big difference between this and the older, smaller Echo models is that you can make video calls, or use it as a screen to view camera action (such as baby monitors or security cameras).

The list of compatible smart devices is ever growing and now includes intelligent door locks so that you can lock the door while in bed.

Download Amazon Skills for free from your app store, and you can do even more, such as ordering your takeaways or getting travel updates.

We like

  • Video control and security monitoring
  • Surprisingly good sound for the size

We disike

  • Not a big choice of video apps such as Netflix or YouTube

Final Verdict

A brilliant (almost) all-in-one product which shows that Amazon is trying to outweigh and possibly replace other products such as tablets and laptops with Smart Speakers

+ Specifications

  • Size: H18.7 x W18.7 x D9 cm
  • Colours Available: Black, white
  • Platform: Alexa
  • Required Apps: Alexa App

Ultimate Ears MEGABLAST

For something pretty different and out-there if nothing has caught your eye so far, the Ultimate Ears range has combined portable speaker style with AI.

It is super stylish, tough wearing and surprisingly powerful. And Alexa means you can control it with just your voice, making it that bit more 21st Century than ordinary music speakers.

The power source isn’t just limited to the mains connection. You have 16 hours of battery life if you want to take it out for the day to the beach or a picnic. Because of this, there is fully-immersive 360° audio from an impressive speaker array of two 25mm tweeters, two 55mm active drivers and two 85mm passive radiators.

As it is built for the rugged outdoors, it is waterproof for up to 30 minutes in water up to a metre deep, thanks to IP67 Technology.

It will pair with up to eight other Bluetooth devices so you can play sound from them. You can even keep the music playing if you have a phone call to answer. It is expensive, but there are less advanced models available if you wish.

We like

  • Great if you want something a bit different
  • Portable
  • Colour choice is bold and varied

We disike

  • Instructions are hard to follow
  • App struggled to find the speaker

Final Verdict

Will appeal to those who want more of a music speaker than an AI device and the portability will surely come in handy for everyone

+ Specifications

  • Size: H23.7 x Dia 8.8 cm
  • Colours Available: Black, blue, green, red
  • Platform: Alexa
  • Required Apps: Amazon Alexa

Best Mini Smart Speakers

Amazon Echo Dot

The original mini Smart Speaker from Amazon can control your music, as well as provide the latest news, weather updates, sports scores and information. Just say the wake word “Alexa”, and the device picks up your voice and gets ready to answer.

Capabilities include being able to order food from Just Eat, book an Uber, get the latest train times direct from National Rail, and letting you know product ratings and reviews before you buy. Control lights, switches, TVs, thermostats and more with compatible connected devices from Philips, Sony, Hive, Nest and many more.

And because it is from Amazon, you can even reorder regular products through it. Simply say “Reorder paper towels/super glue/pet shampoo”, without having to click any buttons.

If you have several Echo’s in your home, the nearest to you will be the one to respond, thanks to Echo Spatial Perception. Its sleek, small design makes it perfect for any room as it doesn’t take up much space, and can blend into any environment.

Use it in the bedroom as an alarm clock and to remotely control your lighting, or in the kitchen to set timers and read out recipes when your hands are too messy to cope with a cookbook. The price means you can even have one in every room without breaking the bank!

Alexa automatically updates through the cloud, so it is always aware of the latest information and how to deliver this to you. The more you speak to it, the more it learns your speech patterns and the kind of answers you want.

We like

  • Easy ordering through Amazon
  • Gets used to your individual voice and colloquialisms
  • Can connect to other speakers via Bluetooth

We disike

  • Can struggle to find more ‘obscure’ music through Amazon Music
  • Sound quality is mediocre

Final Verdict

The original Smart Speaker in small form, so naturally still has the edge over its competitors regarding capability. If you are after something affordable yet advanced, this is the best choice

+ Specifications

  • Size: H3.2 x Dia.8.4cm
  • Colours Available: White, black
  • Platform: Alexa
  • Required Apps: Alexa App

+ Downloads

Amazon Echo Dot User Manual

Download

Google Home Mini

We all know Google is a powerful tool which can help you quickly search for terms online and pull up the best results. You can now even search using your voice.

The convenience of voice interaction has now been made even more accessible with the invention of the hands-free Home Mini. You can ask it questions, such as what the weather is going to do, and get it to do things, such as read out recipes or set alarms.

Thanks to voice recognition, it can distinguish you from the rest of your household, so you get especially catered results and don’t risk any little ones hearing the wrong thing. Far-field microphones ensure it will listen no matter how far away you are, although due to its size it doesn’t pick it up as clearly as the full-sized model.

It works to control your television and other media items, as long as they are connected to a compatible device such as a Chromecast. All you have to do is tell it what to do, such as pause the current song or play a certain show on Netflix.

The voice control also works to monitor compatible devices from brands such as Nest, Philips Hue, Hive and Samsung SmartThings, such as thermostats and smart lighting. You can also control apps such as Spotify, YouTube and Google Photos.

It gives really good sound for things like music, especially considering its size, but not the best out there. As a bonus, however, you can make completely free phone calls (via the wifi) which doesn’t even touch the data on your phone.

We like

  • Control of a wide range of other devices and apps
  • The small size will fit nicely anywhere
  • Brilliant low price for what you get

We disike

  • Other Smart Speakers have a better sound performance for music

Final Verdict

A Smart Speaker with the power of Google Search up its sleeve to give you great accurate results, and the ability to control an entire selection of third-party apps and services. Brilliant for those who are not tech-minded in the slightest too

+ Specifications

  • Size: H4.2 x Dia 9.8cm
  • Colours Available: Charcoal, chalk, coral
  • Platform: Google Assistant
  • Required Apps: Google Home App

+ Downloads

Google Home Mini User Manual

Download

Amazon Echo Spot

The Amazon Echo Dot is a Smart Speaker fan favourite, so it is no surprise that Amazon was going to jazz up the design and abilities at some point.

The Echo Spot features a 2.5” screen, so it can’t only tell you things but also show you things. See the weather, see news headlines, or see song lyrics. Personalise with clock faces or a photo from Amazon Photos.

The compact design and angle at which the Spot sits makes it a perfect addition to any work desk, bedside table or kitchen bench. Hands-free control lets you choose music from Spotify and TuneIn, and you can also play Apple Music from your phone through the device. As there is a screen, it will show lyrics, album artwork and what is playing next.

You can place calls through the Spot to anyone else with a similar Amazon device or the Alexa App. Alexa is always updating skills through the cloud, and you are now also able to order food from Domino’s, connect your Fitbit and control your TV with Sony pairing.

We like

  • Use as a clock, photo frame and weather station too
  • Ordering and connecting to third-party devices
  • Small, compact design

We disike

  • Faces difficulty at times to turn off alarm
  • Price - paying over twice the price of the Dot for screen technology

Final Verdict

Great if you’re a big fan of the Alexa Dot and want something with that bit of extra technology

+ Specifications

  • Size: H10.3 x W9.1 x D9.7cm
  • Colours Available: Black, white
  • Platform: Alexa/Google Assistant/Siri
  • Required Apps: Alexa App

Help and Resources

Smart Speaker Buying Guide

Alexa vs Google vs Siri

This all boils down to preference. iPhone users may love Siri already (it is the original voice assistant, after all) or you may want something completely lifelike like Alexa, or your priority could be ordering items hands-free. Google can answer questions better than the others, but the others also have their benefits over Google such as sound quality or app compatibility.

If you don’t already have a favourite, however, pick the speaker which sounds best for your needs. At the end of the day, most can do the same things!

Price

This varies from around £50 for the mini versions to a few hundred for the more advanced big name models. If you want basic functionality or just love the idea of fun products, spending a wild amount of money may not be necessary.

But if it is sound you’re after; it may be worth spending that bit extra on one that will give you excellent quality without the need for extra speakers connected up to it.

Bear in mind there may be extra costs too – it’s all well and good if you like the sound of it working with Spotify, but you need a subscription. You may need extra bits like Chromesticks or Firesticks to be able to control your TV. And making your home fully smart with special compatible light bulbs and switches and plug sockets also costs, too.

FAQ

Do I need Wifi?

All smart speakers need Wifi, and it needs to be strong and fast as well so it can quickly do what you ask and understands you.

Also, make sure your connection is secure. You may live next to a cafe with free wifi which you use to go on Whatsapp all the time, but secure connections are the only way forward for smart technology due to the risk of hacking or stealing personal details.

What do I need to be aware of?

Obviously, no technology comes without its negatives even if it has hundreds of benefits. But smart technology is something that has a lot of sceptics, especially with rumours floating about with just how much they know about us.

Alexa does listen at all times, not just when “Alexa” is said to wake her up. It hears every conversation for personalised results when needed, which can be a bit off-putting for some. But it’s your decision whether this is off-putting for you. Amazon is also very intent on promoting its shopping service, so you do get quite a lot of pushes in that direction.

Google Home doesn’t have this motive, and there is also a mute button on the back for stopping it from listening in to your conversations. But it can have problems with certain questions – until it gets used to you, you may have to ask it things as you would type them into the search engine.

There are also security issues. If you want to know the traffic status of your commute to work, it needs to know where work is. Same with schools or basically anywhere you go. There is no problem with that, but some may be concerned that the info is ‘out there’.

They also can’t answer every single question you throw at them. While Google uses its own search engine for the most accurate results, it won’t necessarily answer complicated questions, vague questions or anything you say in a local dialect or accent, for instance. But maybe one day.