You want the best smart speaker money can buy, but how do you make a choice? There are more models than ever to pick from, and a host of choices to make long the way: do you want Alexa or Google Assistant powering your speaker? Do you perhaps need both? What size speaker are you looking for? Should it have a screen or not? Is price a crucial consideration or not?
Finding the best smart speaker for you is a lot more straightforward when you've got our guide to consult: we'll take you step by step through the sorts of specs and features you need to be looking out for, and together we can quickly narrow down your search to get to the right product.
When you've made a purchase, you can get on with the business of making the most of it! From controlling the best smart bulbs in your home and asking about your upcoming schedule, to entertaining the kids and playing some tunes, there's plenty to explore – these are smart speakers we're talking about, after all.
Given the affordability of some of these smart speakers go for, you might think they're pretty poor for pumping out your tunes – but some of the best Alexa speakers and best Google Assistant speakers are actually built with music in mind, giving you a delicately tuned, high-fidelity audio experience to make sure your tunes always around perfect.
Below you'll find our guide to what's available, from small and cheap smart speakers, to clever smart screens that can can play video – whatever you want from your device, our list can help.
What to look for in a smart speaker?
Digital assistants are a good starting point: the most common options for smart speakers are Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, and for most people, it’s a choice between these two. Apple’s Siri is also an option, but it’s only available on one current and one discontinued smart speaker at this point, and generally isn’t quite as capable as the other two overall, so it’s more of a niche option for those reasons – though later, we’ll go into why it still may be worth choosing.
As we've said, for the majority, it’s Alexa or Google Assistant. And actually, for most people, the choice won’t make too much difference still – they’re both able to play music pretty comprehensively, they can both answer most question types, they both offer a lot of smart home control, and so on. For more details, see our in-depth Alexa vs Google Assistant guide.
The gist of all this is that we’d slightly recommend Alexa more overall, because it’s a bit more flexible and has more cool additional abilities you can add. Google Assistant ties into the Google ecosystem better, though, so if you’re deep into Google services, that will probably the choice you want to go for. Honestly, if talk of advanced extra skills and ecosystems makes you shrug, you can choose either and be happy – it will probably come down to the hardware.
For the speakers themselves, consider their size, design, audio quality and any of the additional hardware features we've talked about, such as having a screen or a smart hub inside. Price will obviously be a major factor, but it's likely to be something you'll consider in combination with the above – you might well choose a smaller and nice-looking option if it’s going prominently in your living room, but if you want a powerful music speaker for the office, your priorities will be a bit different. When it comes to speakers of all kinds, bigger usually means better sound.
Finally, a vital component of a smart speaker is the microphone, naturally. Everything we’ve recommended has a strong mic setup, designed to pick voices out from other sounds, and to hear you from across a room.
The Amazon Echo Show 10 is the most comprehensive Alexa smart speaker to date, capable of doing the most, and with a unique trick: its large screen rotates to follow you around the room, so that you can always see it clearly even if you need to move around. This is so useful, it was a big part of why it won Best Smart Speaker at the T3 Awards 2021.
Smart screens have often found a home in the kitchen, where they can be used for recipe videos or fun videos to keep you entertained, and that's a great example of there the Echo Show 10 excels: if you need to move from position to position in the kitchen, then screen just turns to go where you go, and you don't need to touch it with your dirty hands to be able to see what's going on.
But equally, if you want to make a video call in the living room, it doesn't matter where you sit – when you invoke Alexa, the screen turns straight to you, using the direction of your voice. And sound quality from the built-in 360-degree speaker system is rich.
In terms of what Alexa can do, it's the same as other Echo products, with the smart assistant become more useful than ever, with smarter responses to an ever-growing range of enquiries – and you can add Skills for things it can't do, of course.
The big screen is also ideal for making the most of what a smart display can do, and videos look good on it – the only downside here is that Alexa isn't the strongest for video service support (with its half-hearted YouTube integration being the biggest sore point). It's also more expensive than simpler smart speakers, but we can't begrudge it than when it's so useful. You can read more about it in our full Amazon Echo Show 10 review.
This is the biggest smart display in the Echo Show series, but if you wanted something a little more modest, then check out the Amazon Echo Show 8 (2nd Gen, 2021) which is a little smaller and cheaper.
The new Amazon Echo is bigger than the previous model, but that's because it beefed up its speakers and features as well as its shape. A large woofer and two tweeters provide better balance and clarity for music, while the Zigbee smart home hub functionality that used to be part of the Echo Plus only has been moved into the standard Echo.
Alexa is as capable as ever, but it can also respond a little faster to some queries in this model, thanks to Amazon's new learning chip, which can process some common voice requests on the device itself, making it quicker to respond to questions such as turning the lights off.
We think the new design is a little less decor-friendly than the old one, but that's made up for by all its new improvements – it's the best Alexa speaker overall, as our full Amazon Echo (4th gen) review reveals.
This was the winner of our T3 Awards 2020 award as the best smart speaker, because it does absolutely everything in one package. By all means, if you'd rather run the compact Nest Mini, or opt for a smaller screen in the Nest Hub which came before it, you can. But for the most full-on Google Assistant smart speaker experience, this is the way to go.
Why? It's the combination. The screen is a crisp 10-incher so you won't need to squint. The speaker is a heavy, loud and great quality cone. There's a camera for video calls, and you can use it for double duty security camera purposes. And Google Assistant is a great smart environment to play in.
Assistant is made even better with that screen on board: you can poke at your music with touch controls, watch videos, skim through photos and a lot more, and this also works as a Chromecast speaker and display. Here's our full Google Nest Hub Max review.
The full-size HomePod was an incredible-sounding thing, but next to the competition it was hard not to look at its price without wincing. Apple has, with customary casualness, taken its time in bringing home a HomePod for the rest of us. Now the HomePod mini is here, it's clear the folks from Cupertino have pulled off a cost-effective sequel in magnificent style.
This is a quality little speaker with all the brains of its chunkier cousin – including, importantly, the ability to act as a HomeKit hub to control smart home devices – and even some new capabilities; support for up-and-coming smart protocol Thread means it may help the growth of your smart network. Siri's focus may be on mobile, but don't discount it as the driver here either. If you're using an iPhone, going HomePod is the slickest phone-to-speaker experience there is… although be warned that Siri continues to lag behind Alexa and Google Assistant for overall smartness, and hasn't looked like catching up in recent years.
The HomePod mini also packs a surprising punch in the sound department, with 360-degree audio filling most rooms without issue, and sounding truly excellent as a pair. It's the size of the Echo Dot, yet sounds as good (arguably better, depending on preference) to the full-size Echo or Nest Audio. Here's our full HomePod mini review for more on where it excels, and where it stumbles.
Sonos has been making top-quality wireless speakers for years, capable of streaming tunes from multiple online services and local media libraries all around the home. With the Sonos One, they've started adding voice assistants to the mix – specifically, Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. You can choose which you prefer.
You get the usual Sonos quality plus the ability to use your voice to change songs (and check the weather and so on). It's an appealing combination, and the Sonos One is easily one of the best smart speakers around in 2020 if you listen to music a lot. It's more expensive than the similarly-sized Echo (4th gen) or Nest Audio, but in terms of audio quality it's closer to the pricier Echo Studio or Google Home Max.
The level of detail and balance is just a level above here – thanks to Sonos' expertise with hi-fi. You can play music using the voice assistants, or via Sonos' app and Apple AirPlay 2. It works as part of a multi-room system with either of those options, too.
The mic quality isn't quite as good as the latest from Amazon and Google at picking up your voice over other noises, but it works more then well enough. Just bear it in mind if your house is regularly chaotic.
All the smarts of Alexa in a little ball that fits in the palm of your hand make the new Echo Dot a very appealing option in our best smart speaker list – especially considering its latest refresh, which upped the audio quality. There's also a clock-packing version for the bedroom and a snazzy kids edition too, which cost just a little more.
If you're just getting started with smart speakers then the Echo Dot is an excellent entry point, or as a way to add Alexa's ears to a new room. As ever, don't pay full price for this – look for 30% to 40% off in Amazon's regular sales. Here's our full Amazon Echo Dot (4th gen) review.
What sets the Amazon Echo Flex apart from all of the other smart speakers on this list is its size. It looks more like a smart plug than a smart speaker and you plug it directly into the wall so there’s no messy wires or chunky devices hanging about the place. There’s a USB port on the underside as well which lets you charge your devices or plug in optional attachments like a motion sensor or nightlight.
Because it’s so small, you don't get particularly good sound from it so don’t expect to use it for streaming music, but you can hook it up to your other speakers using Bluetooth or a 3.5mm audio cable. That means you can actually use it to control even the most basic speakers. Of course, it can be used to play music through your multiroom devices as well.
You can use the Amazon Echo Flex just about anywhere in your home be that by your bedside, in the garage or in the hallway - it’ll be a great, cheap way to get Alexa smart home control in every room.
If there’s one thing that Audio Pro knows how to do, it’s making great-sounding speakers. The Audio Pro G10 is no different. Not only does it produce crisp, loud audio for such a small speaker, but it also has the Google Assistant built-in. Get all of your burning questions answered or skip to the next song in your playlist using your voice. Just ask Google.
With Chromecast and Apple AirPlay 2 support, you can hook the Audio Pro G10 up to your multi-room system, or seamlessly play music over Spotify Connect. Setup is painless through the Google Home app, and you can control its bass and treble settings there too, though admittedly they don’t make much of an impact.
What sets this speaker apart from the rest is a few small features that will actually go a long way for some, including a power button to save on energy and to switch the Google Assistant off without needing to unplug it. There’s also a 3.5mm auxiliary port. Read our full Audio Pro G10 review for more on where this speaker impressed us.
The Sonos Roam is a great choice if you want your smart speaker to double as a battery-powered mobile speaker. It's around 6.5 inches long, so it's easy to toss in a backpack or a coat pocket to take on a trip with you. At home, it works on Wi-Fi, with Sonos or Apple AirPlay 2 multi-room capabilities, plus your choice of Google Assistant or Alexa as a smart assistant.
On the go, it uses Bluetooth, which kills its ability to be a smart speaker, we should note. It provides around 10 hours of life on its battery, which is fine, though other (less smart) competitors offer 15-20. But we're happy with that compromise – it's still great to take in the garden with you, or to the park for a day. It's also fairly tough, and waterproofed against showers, splashes or short dips in a pool.
It sounds good for such a compact speaker, but there are cheaper and larger options here that sound better for less money. So it's best to think of it as a portable speaker that doubles up as a nice smart speaker when at home, as our Sonos Roam review explains.
Bang & Olufsen's smart speaker department is pushing hard right now; the Beosound Balance and second generation of Beosound A1 both make the grade here, and this newest entry in the canon falls somewhere between the two in the price department - but given that it's falling between a £170-ish portable speaker and the sky-high asking price of the Beosound Balance, you'll probably appreciate that this is still rather expensive.
For the money you get a (currently) Google Assistant-only smart speaker with some serious attention paid to the audio side of things. Stood on its edge, it'll beam out some room-filling sound from its five individual drivers; laid down flat, it can pull off 360-degree audio. There's also an optional wall-mount charging stand, which is perfect: the various finishes of the Level, either cloth-covered or wood, beg to be displayed.
Given that you can charge it, it follows logically that you can carry the Level around - and it employs active room compensation to ensure it sounds good wherever you happen to put it. Brilliant hardware, then, as long as you can afford it. Here's our full B&O Beosound Level review.
Watch out Sonos and Apple, because Amazon has unveiled its best-sounding Echo yet: the Amazon Echo Studio. It comes with support for the Dolby Atmos and Sony 360 Reality Audio standards, so it's capable of filling a room and then some with rich, vibrant acoustics. Three 2-inch midrange speakers, one 1-inch tweeter, and one 5.25-inch woofer are fitted inside.
As well as the superior sound quality, you do of course get all the smarts of Amazon Alexa, and it's reasonably priced too. Amazon recently launched a HD version of its music streaming service as well, which is probably the perfect app to pair with the Amazon Echo Studio.
The smart speaker category continues to be invaded with smart speaker/display combos, which brings us to the Amazon Echo Show 5 (2nd Gen, 2021) – it's obviously intended to go head to head against the Nest Hub, with a smaller display (5.5 inches) than the standard Echo Show 10.
It's significantly smaller than the big Echo Show but it's significantly cheaper as well, and has all the magic of Alexa on board. The screen is still perfectly readable when it comes to weather forecasts, recipes, calendar entries and so on.
Besides the rebranding that's taken place to reflect Nest becoming the umbrella label for everything in the Google smart home range, the Nest Mini adds a wall mounting hole and boosts the audio from the original Google Home Mini.
Voice detection should be improved with the introduction of a third microphone, and Google has brought back the tap controls as well – just touch the top of the speaker to pause or resume audio playback, and slide along it to change the volume.
Otherwise the Google Nest Mini is very much like the Google Home Mini: all the power of the Google Assistant in a very compact, aesthetically pleasing form factor. Your choices for colours are chalk, charcoal, coral or sky. Here's our full Google Nest Mini review.
Google's replacement for the Google Home upgrades the sound over its predecessor by including a woofer and dedicated tweeter, giving a more full sound overall – though the audio doesn't quite match the new Amazon Echo, and definitely not the likes of the Sonos One.
The new tall, slim design is attractive, and is smaller than it comes across in photos. It has hidden controls on top – slightly too hidden, in our view, but if you know they're there, it's nice not to have the look broken up.
Google Assistant is excellent, of course, and though there are no unique features to it on this device, it's a really good balance of speaker quality and capability for those in the Google ecosystem, as our full Google Nest Audio review says.
You don't have to be a genius to work out what the story of the Amazon Echo Show 8 is – it's another smart speaker display from Amazon, this time with an 8-inch screen. That puts it right in the middle of the 10-inch and the 5-inch Amazon Echo Shows that were already on the market.
The price is in the middle too, so it might be the sweet spot for some people. For us, it kind of falls between two stools: either you want a compact display, or you want a large one... why would you want a middling one? We do like the design though, which continues to improve with each Show.
Relatively new to the best smart speaker scene – or should that be the smart display scene? – is the Google Nest Hub, essentially a Google Home with a tablet attached. It acts as the centre of your smart home operations, controlling other devices and all your Google apps.
So, you can watch YouTube videos, see a slideshow of Google Photos, change the temperature on your Nest thermostat, ask Google a question, and so on and so on. We like the style and feature-set of the Google Nest Hub (originally called the Home Hub), and there's no camera to worry about.
Sonos' jump to the outdoors isn't just a battery-powered Sonos One, even though we would have been happy with that. The Move has been engineered for outside. It's weather resistant, with an IP56 rating; that first digit means there's dust protection, and the second means it should be protected against strong water jets. It's drop resistant, too, making this by far the most rugged speaker Sonos has ever made. There's also a carry handle moulded into the casing.
Sonos states 11 hours of battery life, which obviously depends on volume and usage, and there's a charging base included which means this doubles nicely as an indoor speaker when you're not carting it around - it also charges via USB-C if you're looking to power it from a power bank.
Hook it up to Wi-fi and you can choose your smart ecosystem, as Sonos has joined Bose in offering both Alexa and the Google Assistant, and you can obviously tap into Sonos' rich app and multi-room expertise to expand your playback possibilities.