In the age of the smart speaker, the Hi-Fi seems like a distant memory. The monolith of black or grey plastic that housed your tape deck, radio, turntable, and CD player have now been replaced with a simple speaker that can connect to the internet or your phone via Bluetooth to find music. Not only that, but they can talk to you, answer a series of questions, and even turn on other devices around the house. Smart speakers really are a revolution, and not just for their space saving. Though Amazon’s and Google’s voice assistants rule the roost in this market, there are also alternatives from Microsoft and Apple. Here’s our pick of the best currently on offer. Note that not all of these devices are currently available in Hong Kong, but they will work here.
Amazon Echo Dot
Amazon’s entry-level smart speaker lacks the sound quality of its larger cousins, but connects easily to other Bluetooth speakers and is an affordable choice for kitchen or bedroom use, and for controlling your smart home connections. This second-generation model features a 0.6-inch speaker and a 3.5mm output to connect directly to speaker devices. Seven microphones provide access to the voice recognition assistant, Alexa, and it provides access to tens of thousands of ‘skills’, from ordering an Uber to turning on your lights.
Priced around $390* amazon.com
Amazon Echo Show
There are currently five devices in the Echo range and the Echo Show is the flagship, featuring a seven-inch display that can show visual answers to commands, video, and items from the internet. It can provide flash video briefings of news from news channels, video call to other Alexa users, and access any security or nanny cameras in your smart home. The screen also makes it handy for viewing recipes in the kitchen. The device also features dual two-inch speakers for music and nine microphones for the Alexa voice recognition.
Priced around $1,780* amazon.com
Apple may have arrived late into the smart speaker market, but with the integration offered between other Apple devices, the HomePod cannot be overlooked, despite the cost. Slightly shorter and fatter than Amazon’s Echo Plus, the design is as clean and simple as one would expect from Apple. With a real focus on audio, it features eight speakers (seven tweeters and a top mounted woofer) for room-filling sound. It connects using Apple’s Airplay 2 and can be paired with a second HomePod for stereo sound. It uses six microphones and the A8 chip to allow its Siri voice assistant to process your voice into commands and automatically tunes itself to optimise the sound based on its surroundings.
Priced around $2,740* apple.com
Google’s voice assistant offerings (like Amazon’s) are now popping up in a range of third-party speakers, but its original Home device is definitely still worth a look. This went head to head with the Amazon Echo on launch, and the two have sparred well, in terms of accuracy, sound, and features. It has the advantage of YouTube integration for music, Chromecast for TV, and Nest for smart home, as well as controlling other smart devices, and the ability to make calls direct to phones in some countries. The original Home stands just under six inches tall and features two 2-inch speakers. There is now both a mini and a max version available to suit every budget and need.
Priced around $780* assistant.google.com
JBL Link 20
Unlike most of the smart speakers here, the JBL Link 20 is not tied to your apartment. This is a battery powered and waterproof speaker, designed to go wherever you go, thanks to a 10-hour charge, and includes the Google Assistant for voice control. With 2x10W of power and dual microphones, the Link 20 is Bluetooth and Wi-Fi compatible, and has Chromecast built in so it can be grouped with other speakers for multi-room playing. The device must be connected to Wi-Fi for the Google Assistant to work, but when it is, it can control your smart home and do most of the other tricks that the Google home can.
Priced around $1,400 jbl.com
The Sonos system has gained an impressive reputation for its sound quality, and the One speaker is no exception. This features an Amazon-powered Alexa voice assistant (though not officially supported yet in Hong Kong), as well as AirPlay 2 for flawless connection to a range of Apple devices. Inside the device is a tweeter and mid-woofer speaker, each with its own amplifier, and a six-microphone array for the voice assistant. Part of the strength of the Sonos range is being able to pair units together for multi-room sound, or surround sound set ups. The One can be paired with any of the Sonos range, including the TV sound bar. The Alexa assistant allows you to control your playback but also stream music, control smart home devices, and all the other tricks of an Echo device.
Priced around $1,680 sonos.com
Lenovo Smart Display
This newly released device comes with either an 8-inch or 10-inch screen and features the Google Assistant. A direct rival of the Echo Show, this Lenovo has an aesthetic advantage over the echo, and thanks to Google’s YouTube integration, it is an excellent fit for pulling up video content. This makes it particularly useful as a kitchen device, pulling up recipes and cooking instructions. The device has a couple of unique features too, such as the ability to use it both in portrait and landscape mode, and a sliding lens cover for the webcam. Like other Google Assistant devices, it works with Chromecast, controls your smart home, and can make handsfree calls.
Priced around $1600* (8-inch), $2000* (10-inch) lenovo.com
Harman Kardon Invoke
If you needed proof that the smart speaker market isn’t completely dominated by Google and Amazon, Harman Kardon’s Invoke uses Microsoft’s Cortana digital assistant (though its Allure speaker is Alexa powered, should you prefer it). The Invoke is a cylindrical device, though slightly broader at its base and stands just under 10-inches high. It features Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, houses three woofer and three tweet speakers, and seven microphones for voice control. Being a Microsoft system, it ties in with Skype for voice calls and your Office 365 or Outlook for calendar services. It also syncs with Android and iPhone devices and has a wide range of skills for controlling your home and beyond.
Priced around $1,600* harmankardon.com
*Device not available for shipping to Hong Kong