The best smart speakers 2017: which one should you buy?

Smart speakers, virtual assistants or smart home speakers, whatever name you decide to call them, they’re pretty frickin’ cool. 

Many consider them the future of home automation, not only controlling other smart home devices like Philips Hue lightbulbs and smart locks but also contain within them the smarts and versatility to manage your schedule and record this week’s shopping list. 

Each of the speakers that follow have something called an artificial intelligence (“AI”) inside of them. Everything we just mentioned is done with some help from the AI and, without it, the Amazon Echo, Google Home and Apple HomePod would just be, well, regular speakers. 

While there’s no doubt that each of the aforementioned speakers are capable in their in own right, you’re here because you want to find the absolute best smart speaker – the one that syncs up to the most smart devices, understands the most enquiries and, ultimately, sounds the best when its time to rock out. 

You’re in luck, because that’s just about to happen. 

Amazon Echo

All things considered, the Echo is still the best smart speaker in the game

Most egalitarian device
Decent audio performance
Tons of developer support
Sound quality could be better

It’s no small wonder that the smart speaker who pioneered the entire category is still on top three years into its existence. The Amazon Echo had more time to incubate than the Home has and a whole lifetime of experience over Apple’s still unreleased Apple HomePod smart speaker. 

But what is it that makes the Amazon Echo so great? 

Well, for one, it supports dozens and dozens of smart home devices including the most popular ones to date: the Nest and Honeywell Smart Thermostats, the Philips Hue and LIFX smart light bulbs, Belkin smart outlets and even the Samsung SmartThings platform that extends to even more devices. 

More than a capable smart home controller, the Echo can sync up to Amazon services like Amazon Music Unlimited and even, believe it or not, connect to your Google Calendar. Audio performance might not be its strongest suit and it’s not the best at answering every enquiry you might have, but it does provide the best combination of all of the above. 

Read the full review: Amazon Echo

(Image: © GE)

Google Home

Coming in a close second, Home is great for Chromecast owners and inquisitive types

Better sound quality
Good smart home integration
Missing Google's own services
Requires precise phrasing

Coming in a very close second is the Google Home. It has a somewhat bigger brain than the Amazon Echo in the sense that it knows a bit more about the world thanks to its tight integration into Google’s search engine, and it can control Chromecasts like it’s nothing. 

It connects to a few fewer devices than the Amazon Echo – although the list of supported services is nearly identical – and only sounds slightly better than the Echo. What might put the Home ahead of the Echo is the pace at which it’s catching up to the market leader. In less than a year’s time, the Google Home has learned quite a few new tricks, including the ability to recognize different users and be able to call anyone anywhere. Stranger, however, the Home will soon have the ability to connect to Bluetooth devices, a feature Google is adding via a firmware update despite nothing changing on a hardware level.

We like that Home is a bit smarter than its corrival, and sounds a bit better, too. But considering the Echo already has Bluetooth, Echo-to-Echo calling and a few new tricks up its sleeve for 2017 as well, it’s probably the better pick of the two.

Read the full review: Google Home

Amazon Echo Show

Like an Echo, but with a screen

Echo with a screen
Same functionality
...but with visual cues!
Costs more than an Echo

The Amazon Echo Show is a bit of a strange one. It’s more or less the Amazon Echo but with a screen that gives you visual notifications to go along with audio cues. It’s a bit more expensive than the original Echo and, honestly, hasn’t quite proven to be worth that extra fee. 

Most of that has to do with the Echo Show’s age – it’s the youngest of the group, and only became available to purchase in the US on June 28. 

With time, and a lot of help from developers, the Show could combine the aspects from the Amazon Echo that we’ve come to appreciate like its ability to speak to smart home devices, answer enquiries and play music on command with a more familiar tablet-style interface.

Read up on everything we know about the Echo Show

Apple HomePod

The wildcard from Cupertino

Powerful audio
HomeKit integration
Siri isn't up to snuff

So far we’ve painted the Apple HomePod as an Amazon Echo or even a Google Home competitor. It’s not. The HomePod is probably better described as a Sonos alternative packing a still-in-development AI under the hood. (Sorry Siri, you’re just not there yet.) 

To that end, the Apple HomePod packs a pretty serious seven beam-forming tweeters and a four-inch upward-facing woofer that Apple promises will rock the house with distortion-free audio. And while the HomePod seems primarily focused on providing the best audio experience it can, bolstered by Apple Music no doubt, it will also pack in some smart home functionality as well in the form of Apple’s HomeKit platform. HomeKit, still in its early stages will allow you to control the home from your iOS device and the HomePod itself via voice commands when it launches in December of this year. 

The reason HomePod is ranking below the others is because, at the moment, we’ve only had the chance to play around with it at Apple’s busy Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) – and even then, Siri wasn’t properly up and running. We’re excited to try the smart speaker out in our own homes, however, and will certainly re-calibrate this list when that time arrives down the road.

Read our hands on review: Apple HomePod

Amazon Echo Dot

A small-but-mighty entryway into the smart home category

Great, smaller design
Stellar voice recognition
Line out functionality is very useful
Limited voice control

Last up on this list is the Amazon Echo Dot. While it shares many of the admirable traits of its full-size progenitor, the Echo, it’s pretty limited in the music playback department and . But the reason you’d buy an Amazon Echo isn’t for its pristine audio performance – no, the real reason is because you can hook it up via 3.5mm Aux to any speaker in your house. That’s right, awesome sound quality from the speaker you already own plus a pretty smart artificial intelligence who can help you out around the house. It’s a win-win. 

Add to that the Amazon Echo Dot’s crazy-low price point and you’ve got all the makings of a perfectly affordable entryway into the burgeoning smart home category. Don’t worry, you can thank us later.