Every smart home begins with a smart speaker, which works as your in-home assistant and a control panel for the entire home. You walk into your home and greet your voice assistant, and she greets you back and turns on the lights so you’re not fumbling with your bags. She sets the stage for the stress-free atmosphere of a smart home so you have the help you need. But how do you choose when there are so many smart home speakers on the market?
Take the time to educate yourself on what’s available before you commit:
Choose the Voice Assistant That Works For Your Home
Hardware and aesthetics vary from model to model, but the assistant software stays the same. Microsoft products offer Cortana, Amazon speakers bring you Alexa, and of course Apple has Siri. Let’s take a look at each and see where their strengths and weaknesses lie:
Cortana is remarkably straightforward when it comes to scheduling tasks. She excels at following simple rules, such as “turn the lights off at 8” or “turn on the home security system,” and commands rarely fail.
Cortana suffers from being the latest on the bandwagon, launched in 2014, an entire four years after Siri’s introduction. Microsoft is a few years behind on the same speech recognition innovations that Siri emulates so effectively. Unfortunately, Cortana tends to have more problems with hearing commands than either of the competitors.
What Are the Best Cortana Smart Speakers?
So far, the Harmon/Kardon Evoke is the only Cortana smart speaker on the market. It features 360-degree voice recognition with 7 microphones so it can hear you no matter where you are. Uniquely, the Evoke can make and receive Skype calls, which no other smart speaker on the market can do. Unfortunately, Skype calls probably aren’t a good enough reason to opt for the Evoke over the Echo models, or the HomePod.
Alexa holds the distinction of being the first smart assistant to have a place in the home with the Amazon Echo system. She was designed specifically for helping you run your home seamlessly, and she does a great job of it. You can speak to her directly, or if you’re at work and need to turn on the lights for the babysitter, you can tell her through the Echo app. There’s also the obvious benefit of using Alexa to shop on Amazon.
Alexa’s biggest weakness is that when she doesn’t understand you, she doesn’t always tell you that. Sometimes she’s just silent, and you don’t know if she’s understood the command and silently adjusted the room temperature, or if she didn’t hear you. You could end up repeating the same command several times before she speaks up. Luckily, her voice recognition is mostly solid, so it’s not often that this is a problem.
What Are the Best Alexa Smart Speakers?
Alexa was the first one on the scene, so she’s the only voice assistant currently featured on multiple available models:
- Amazon Echo: The revolutionary world’s first smart home hub speaker, the Echo offers full control and intuitive use. Available with improved, second-gen Dolby sound, and it comes in sleek metallic colors that blend into your decor.
- Echo Plus: The Echo Plus does everything that the Echo does, but with extra-powerful noise cancellation for better voice recognition. It also comes in many more style options than the original Echo, including natural wood grain and luxe grey fabric.
- Amazon Echo Dot: A compact version of the Echo you can rely on alone, or use to inexpensively add new Echo functionality to every room.
Everyone who’s had an iPhone knows that Siri’s best strength is understanding language the way we do, so you don’t have to memorize specific phrases to get her to do what you need. You can say “Siri, lights off,” “Siri, please dim the room,” or even “Siri, it’s bedtime!” and the results are the same: she turns the lights out. And while she’s at it, she wishes you a good night, because she’s practically human.
Siri’s only real downside is that she’s somewhat slow at responding when you need to work with a third-party app. If your smart TV has its own apps, Siri may lag when trying to make requested updates to your DVR; or she might not be compatible with it at all (Apple can be picky about third-party app support).
What Are the Best Siri Smart Home Speakers?
Sadly, the Apple HomePod didn’t make it to a 2017 release as the whole world was hoping. We’re now expecting to see the HomePod come out in early 2018, and it’s rumored to be the very best smart home speaker on the market, thanks to Siri’s ultra-intelligent language skills and Apple-engineered audio technology.
So, what’s the verdict? The right smart home speaker for your home depends largely on your preferences and needs as a homeowner, but if you’re going solely on functionality, the best bet is to wait a couple of months for the HomePod to release so you can enjoy the seamlessness of Siri as your personal assistant. If you need options and tried-and-tested value, then any of the Echo models are a great bet. Sadly, Cortana’s Evoke is somewhat lackluster, offering no added functionality over its competitors. On the brightside, whatever you choose is sure to add more efficiency and fun to your home!