You’ve seen the commercials and heard the glowing reviews from friends and family. But do smart speakers, i.e. Google Home and Amazon Echo, live up to the hype? In today’s post, we discuss what they’re commonly used for and examine the products from the big three brands.
What is exactly is a smart speaker?
Think of them as Bluetooth speakers with built-in voice activated software and access to the Internet. Linked to customized accounts, you can pose questions like, “What’s the weather at home today?” or, “When is my next appointment?” They can also talk to smart home devices including Wi-Fi enabled plugs, which allow the turning on or off any connected electronics.
Amazon was first to market with Echo, featuring the digital personal assistant Alexa, launched in early 2014. Two years later, Google countered by announcing Home. In 2018, Apple released HomePod, the most luxurious of the trio. Let’s take a closer look at each one.
Sold in a variety of sizes, such as the original full-size Echo, compact Dot shown above and screen-equipped Show, Alexa is the heart and soul of the system. Via the smartphone companion app, users can install any of over 3,000 “skills” enabling her to do everything from giving the top news headlines of the day to teaching common Klingon phrases. She has the ability to learn as well, adapting to individual speech patterns and vocabulary.
Not surprisingly, a big differentiating factor for Google’s answer to the Echo is compatibility with in-house products YouTube, Google Play Music and Chromecast. For those that have the streaming media adapter, a simple verbal command will queue up a favourite video to be played on the T.V. And since the search engine giant is behind the project, Home has the ability to take partial queries and fill in the blanks. For example, asking it to play a song from a certain movie rather than saying the full title.
The HomePod is the latest to arrive on the scene, and its focus is on a premium listening experience seamlessly integrating the Apple Music service and boasting seven tweeters and a woofer. Similar to the iPhone, processing power is provided by Apple’s proprietary A8 chip, and Siri plays the part of virtual liaison. Standing a little over 170 millimetres tall, setup is as easy as connecting some AirPods — just place another Apple product next to the HomePod to pair. And sorry Android and PC users, this speaker won’t work without iOS or macOS.