Smart speakers have come a long way since the first Amazon Echo
quietly hit the market back in 2014. Now it’s hard to imagine that that original speaker cost nearly $200! But at the same time, it was completely revolutionary in terms of bringing together a host of smart functions that most consumers couldn’t access previously.
Fast forward to 2021. There’s an entire market of smart speakers spanning all kinds of price tiers, ecosystems, use cases and levels of audio quality.
Not sure which one to buy? These are the best options available for use at home in 2021.
Before You Begin: Decide What Matters Most to You
Before diving into top recommendations, you should first decide what matters most to you. Is sound quality the biggest deciding factor, trumping smart functionality? Are you already invested in one ecosystem (meaning Google, Apple or Amazon) much more heavily than the others? Do you need portability, or do you want to use your smart speaker outdoors?
These and other factors will contribute to your decision of what “best” means to you. So make sure you know what matters most to you before you start shopping.
Sonos One: If Sound Quality Is Your Top Consideration
is the best smart speaker in 2021 in terms of sound quality, and it wins this competition by a mile. Sonos devices are known for sitting near the top of the non-hi-fi consumer audio market, and the Sonos One is no exception. Yes, it’s stripped down compared to Sonos’ $500 and higher speakers, but it still retains the core sound and build quality Sonos is known for.
This speaker is a little larger than some, measuring roughly 6.5 by 4.7 by 4.7 inches. In that footprint, you get 2 class-D digital amplifiers powering a mid-woofer and a tweeter that produce truly great sound.
This isn’t a portable solution, though: it’s not battery powered and must remain connected to AC power.
The other trade-off is ecosystem-related. Sonos is an independent company, so integrations aren’t as deep. That said, it does have Alexa and Google Assistant support and can connect to Siri via AirPlay 2.
Amazon Echo 2020: Best from Amazon
Early Echos were all cylindrical devices, but this model is different. The 2020 Amazon Echo
has a spherical shape (with a flat bottom for obvious, non rolling away reasons). It also boasts an improved aesthetic and is available in a few different colors. The Twilight Blue offering is particularly pleasant.
The biggest draw here is the deep Amazon and Alexa integration. If you’re most invested in Amazon for your smart home and media usage, then choosing an Echo is pretty much a no-brainer.
As far as audio quality, Amazon has continued to make improvements, even cramming a second tweeter into this small speaker. Still, some listeners will wish for more volume than the 2020 version of the Amazon Echo can produce.
Apple HomePod Mini: Best (Only) from Apple
Apple fans who want to keep everything together in Cupertino’s ecosystem have a single option in the smart speaker category: the Apple HomePod Mini
. Apple killed off the original HomePod, which was just too expensive for mass market appeal, even if it sounded great.
In its place is this oddity. It’s quite small — less than 4 inches in any direction. Yet Apple has managed to produce a surprisingly rich sound using a full-range driver and two passive radiators. The sound — especially considering the size — is deeply impressive.
The big draw here is that Siri is built in. If you’re all-in on Siri, this is the only realistic choice to make.
There are some notable downsides, though. First, an Apple Music subscription may not technically be required, but you’re going to want one to get the most out of this speaker. Second, fewer smart home devices work well on this platform than on Amazon or Google’s.
Google Nest Audio: Best Google Option
Priced similarly to Apple’s and Amazon’s options, Google Nest Audio
is Google’s best smart speaker
to date. The integration with Google Assistant is deep and quick to respond, and the speaker includes support for both Bluetooth and Google Cast.
In terms of audio quality, clarity wins out here. It’s clear that Google prioritized intelligibility for spoken interactions over high-end music listening. That’s both a compliment and a criticism: the highs are solid and crisp, but the lows are lacking in comparison.
You’re still getting a better audio experience (by far) than in the Google Home Mini
. But it’s not as good as the competition.
Choose the Speaker That’s Best for You, Then Protect It with Upsie
The speaker that’s best for you is the one that meets your needs and supports the apps and functions you want to use it for. These four choices are all near the top of their class within their particular ecosystems and use cases. And whichever one you choose, don’t forget to protect your new smart speaker with the extended warranty that’s at the top of its class: an Upsie extended smart speaker warranty
Upsie’s warranties are the perfect protection for your smart speaker, and they even cover accidental damage from drops, spills and more.
Don’t get stuck with a dead smart speaker. Get Upsie protection instead.
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