Smart Speakers: Say the Word and Make It Happen
Anybody who's ever used a laptop or desktop computer, smartphone, or tablet has encountered a time (or maybe many times) when using the keyboard, mouse, or touchscreen results in an unhealthy level of frustration. Like the time we used a phone to find the closest fast food restaurant and ended up getting directions for a five-day drive to the other end of the country. (True story!)
Wouldn't it be great if you could simply tell a computer what to do, and it would do it? No buttons to fumble with or text entry fields to get scrambled by autocorrect – just speak a simple command and the computer responds. Well, thanks to smart speakers, this futuristic level of convenience is now a reality.
Read on to find out what a smart speaker is and how it can enhance your life, then browse our selection to find the best smart speaker (or speakers, for multiple rooms) for you.
What Is a Smart Speaker?
On the most basic level, a smart speaker is a device that contains a speaker and a microphone, and needs to be connected to the internet and a power source (wall outlet). These smart speakers contain voice assistant software, like Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, which listen for spoken "wake words," such as "Alexa" for the Amazon Echo or "Ok Google" for the Google Home. They then perform specific actions according to your voice commands.
Voice assistants, otherwise known as personal digital assistants, also live in smartphones, such as Google Assistant on select Android phones and Siri on Apple's iOS devices. However, for this article we're focusing on the home-based smart speakers.
The two main players in the smart speaker space are Google and Amazon. Both the Google Home and Amazon Echo come in multiple form factors, designed for different use cases. For example, the smaller size of the Google Home Mini is perfect for tighter spaces.
It can be easy to confuse the name of the voice assistant (software) with the smart speaker (hardware). For Amazon's products, the family of smart speakers are called Echo (e.g. Echo Dot, Echo Show, etc.) and the voice assistant contained within is named Alexa. Google's smart speakers are called Google Home (e.g. Google Home Mini, Google Home Max) and the voice assistant is – big surprise! – Google Assistant.
The Main Features of Smart Speakers
Here are just a few of the things you can command a smart speaker to do:
- Provide the weather forecast
- Control smart home devices like a smart thermostat or smart lighting
- Play music (including songs in different rooms, if you have multiple voice assistants or compatible speakers like wireless multi-room speakers or Bluetooth speakers)
- Select movies or TV shows to watch on your TV
- Make hands-free phone calls
- Provide translations
- Do simple internet searches
- Get details about local businesses
- Tell jokes
Since smart speakers are "smart" (i.e. internet-connected) devices, the list of features and capabilities is growing all the time.
Smart speakers can serve different purposes, depending on which model you choose and which room you put it in. A Google Home Max or Amazon Echo Plus is perfect for the kitchen or living room, where you can make good use of the full, rich sound quality. In the bedroom you might prefer the smaller form factor of an Amazon Echo Dot or Google Home Mini, which can act like an alarm clock on your nightstand.