Amazon helped popularize smart home devices and smart speakers with the original Echo and the now-famous virtual assistant known as Alexa, but today you have a variety options from several different companies. As far as hardware, the differences largely come down to size, price and audio quality. If you don't need much oomph from your music, you can save money and get the same smarts in a smaller body.
Our favorites, the Amazon Echo Dot and the Google Home Mini, are both awesome smart devices. Pretty much all of your options, including the two above, let you turn on the lights, play music, ask a question, set a reminder and more with simple voice commands. If that sounds appealing to you, it might be time to give in to the growing hype of this burgeoning category and buy a smart speaker.
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If you have an affinity for one of those brands in particular, your job of picking a speaker is pretty easy. Head here for help picking an Amazon smart speaker model. Here's a guide if you want a Google-equipped smart speaker. The $350 Apple HomePod is your only option if you want a Siri-enabled smart speaker, but the good news is it sounds great.
If you're platform-agnostic, the range of choices might seem intimidating at first. But picking the best smart speaker can be easy if you know what you're looking for. We're here to help you do just that.
Note that the products discussed here are independently chosen by our editors. CNET may get a share of the revenue if you buy anything featured on our site.
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Alexa's still the best. Amazon's voice assistant still has more capabilities than Google's Google Assistant and Apple's Siri. If you don't want to deal with the nitty-gritty of the category and just want to try out a smart speaker, get this one.
The third-gen Amazon Echo Dot looks and sounds better than previous versions and still only costs $50. It offers all of the same smarts as more expensive Echo devices. You sacrifice some audio quality for the size and price, but it plugs into your own speakers, so you can easily make up for that difference.
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The about-$200 Sonos One allows you to pair two units to play stereo sound or multiroom audio, but even a single speaker sounds awesome playing a wide variety of music genres and it costs significantly less than other smart speakers with premium sound quality like the Google Home Max and the Apple HomePod.
Better yet, the Sonos One has both Alexa and Google Assistant built in — simply pick which one you'd like to use during setup. Plus, Sonos has Apple's AirPlay 2 so you can control it with any Siri-enabled device, including your iPhone.
Add it up and the Sonos One is a great-sounding, reasonably priced smart speaker that can fit into households centered around Alexa, Google Assistant or Siri. That's a tough pitch to beat.
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Amazon used to be the unquestioned ruler of the smart speaker world, but Google has done an admirable job of catching up. At this point, picking between the lowest-price models from the two companies — the Amazon Echo Dot or the Google Home Mini — comes down to splitting hairs. The Dot is still our favorite overall, but by a small margin.
Google Assistant now has almost as many capabilities as Alexa, making the $50 Google Home Mini a solid alternative to the Amazon Echo Dot. Plus, Google Assistant is a little smarter than Alexa. It responds more flexibly to commands if you can't remember the exact name of your smart home devices, and Google's grouped commands, called routines, work with more types of devices than Amazon's similar routines. Google Assistant can recognize multiple voices, so it'll give you and your spouse different answers if you each ask about your calendars, though Alexa can now do this too.
Overall, Google still has the edge in assistant intelligence, and the Google Home Mini is a great, low-cost way to take advantage of those smarts.
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Deciding which assistant you want at the center of your smart home is a tough call. Both Alexa and Google Assistant work with lots of devices. Both help you organize and control them easily. While Google Assistant is a little smarter, Alexa works with more smart home devices and makes setup easier.
Ultimately, we'll give the smart-home edge to Amazon thanks to Alexa and the $150 Echo Plus. Alexa can send alerts if your smart speaker hears glass breaking or a smoke detector blaring. The Echo Plus combines the usual Alexa smarts with a speaker that sounds good and has a smart-home hub built in so you can sync your small sensors with it instead of needing to buy more gear.
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Siri's first smart speaker adapts its sound to the room you're in and sounds fantastic playing all genres of music. Its sound quality outclasses the Sonos One and even squeaks by the similarly priced Google Home Max. Thanks to Siri, you can also use an Apple HomePod to control your smart home and ask for help as you would with the other smart speakers.
The HomePod is a bit more limited than the rest, however. You can only play music from Apple's music service with voice commands. Other smart speakers give you a few popular streaming options to pick from, like Spotify. As for the smart home, you're limited to devices that work with Apple's smart home platform, HomeKit. So the HomePod has a few limitations the rest don't have, but that shouldn't matter to you if you've already invested in Apple products and just want great sound quality.
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