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The 5 Best Smart Speakers in 2020

best smart speaker assistant

We tested 23 smart speakers. The best for us is the Amazon Echo Plus. The virtual assistant from Amazon does not know quite as much as the Google Assistant, but the operation works better and the many skills that are now available for Alexa mean the Amazon assistant is in Everyday more useful. Alexa cuts a particularly good figure as an entertainment assistant for music and radio plays, provided you have a subscription to a streaming service. When it comes to offering smart speakers, Amazon is currently a bit broader than Google Home. But there are also more and more third-party manufacturers who bring out speakers with Alexa and Google Assistant support.

Virtual language assistants are in and are finding their way into households more and more. Although there were already virtual assistants with Apple’s Siri and Google Now, they were linked to the smartphone – and not yet particularly intelligent. The new generation of assistants is accommodated in the form of a loudspeaker or mini-display in the living room, kitchen, bathroom or office.

On the one hand, we carefully tested the »software«, ie the voice assistance systems from Amazon, Google and Apple. We also looked at 23 devices that can be used to communicate with the voice assistants. Here are our recommendations in the brief overview.

What are the best Smart Speakers?

1. Amazon Echo Plus

Echo Plus
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Echo Plus
  • Meet the Echo Plus – Same great sound as our Echo (3rd Gen)…
  • Enjoy premium sound – Personalize your listening experience…
  • Voice control your music – Ask Alexa for a song, artist, or…
  • Voice control your smart home – Turn on lights, adjust…
  • Keep your family in sync – Use your Alexa devices like an…

The Amazon Echo Plus is designed as a standalone speaker for listening to music. It sounds much better than the small Echo Dot, but its sound doesn’t come close to similarly sized speakers from Sonos or JBL. Those who do not place too high demands on the music quality will also be satisfied with the Echo.

With the line-out output you can connect the Echo to a stereo system and listen to music over it. If you intend to do this, you better use the Echo Dot and save some money, because you don’t need the better sound of the Echo.

2. Google Home

Google Home comes with two microphones, not seven like the Echo and Echo Dot (six on the HomePod). Nevertheless, we rarely had communication problems in the test. A smartphone can be connected to the home speaker via Bluetooth using the Google Home app. Music can be played over the Google speaker, on the one hand locally stored tracks and those from music streaming services. In this way, services can be used that Google’s Assistant has not yet supported itself.

Advantage for Google Home: The speaker supports multiroom, i.e. a group of connected Bluetooth speakers play music synchronously. Echo and Echo Dot can currently only do this with speakers from Sonos.

3. Sonos One

Sonos One
  • Sonos One – The powerful smart speaker with voice control…
  • Brilliant sound – Get rich, room-filling sound with Sonos…
  • Voice control – Amazon Alexa is built right in so you can…
  • For every room – The compact design fits just about any…
  • Stereo sound with two – Pair two Sonos Ones together in the…

Sonos One puts both the speakers from Amazon and Google Home in the shade. Only when it comes to the bass does it have to give way to the HomePod. It is really remarkable what comes out of the small boxes for a rich sound.

The Sonos One is therefore the right choice for everyone who has high demands on sound quality and at the same time wants to remain flexible in terms of expandability and music services. If you already have Sonos speakers at home, you can expand your multiroom system with the Sonos One Alexa-enabled – at no extra charge, because the Sonos One costs exactly as much as a Play:1.

4. Bose Home Speaker 500

Bose Home Speaker 500
  • Fill any room with impressive wall to wall stereo sound from…
  • Built in voice assistants, like Alexa and the Google…
  • With Wi Fi, Bluetooth, and Apple airplay 2 compatibility,…
  • Play integrated Wi Fi services like Spotify, music and…
  • Experience superior voice pickup from a custom designed…

The design of the Bose Home Speaker 500 is, as is typical of the brand, relatively conservative, but the technology is tough. Not only are the two broadband speakers angled sideways from each other for particularly spacious sound, they are special. The oval housing also contains a total of eight microphones in which Bose relies on its many years of expertise with headsets.

The sound detached itself from the housing very well and gave the impression of a larger sound source. Voices seem very differentiated and very pleasant despite a slightly bright and somewhat puffed up tendency with reverb effects. The appearance was rounded off by lively, but by no means intrusive highs. In terms of functionality, the Bose Home Speaker 500 does not quite come close to the original from Amazon, but in terms of sound quality, Bose irons out pretty much all its competitors in this area, especially Amazon.

5. Amazon Echo Show 8

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Amazon Echo Show 8
  • Alexa can show you more – With an 8″ HD screen and stereo…
  • Connect with video calling and messaging – Call friends and…
  • Be entertained – Ask Alexa to show you movie trailers, TV…
  • Control your smart home – Voice control compatible devices…
  • Make it yours – Show off your albums from Amazon Photos….

Our number one display is the brand new Amazon Echo Show 8. It is compact with its 8-inch screen, but still brings a sound into the living room that puts the other displays – and also many smart speakers – in the shade. Microphone and webcam can be switched off and you can optionally connect a music system via Bluetooth or jack cable. Alexa is a sophisticated assistant who has almost the entire SmartHome world at his feet and with which you can play through almost all entertainment ambitions.

All You Need to Know: Smart Speakers

The smart speaker or screen in the living room should not only help with music selection and regulate the volume, but also take over many functions of the smartphone and act as an interface to the smart home. You can use him to ask about the weather, have the news read aloud, check your e-mails and inquire about the nearest garage. Equipped accordingly, you can also dim the lights, lower the blinds and switch on the alarm system – even with a single voice command.

This works via so-called “routines”. With them you can trigger a chain of commands with a single voice command. Setting up the routines is relatively easy and can be changed at any time. For example, if you have saved the command “Alexa, dinner”, the light above the dining table can be switched on, the television switched off, a certain playlist started and the blinds closed. There are almost no limits to the imagination.

Alexa, Siri and Google’s Assistant can capture the language of adults almost perfectly: Even with background noises such as music, shower or saucepan, the commands usually arrive properly across the room. If it is quiet, you can even speak a little louder through the hallway or from the next room and Alexa & Co. record the request correctly. From a close distance of two meters, even a whisper is enough to make Alexa sit up and take notice.

The children also quickly got used to Alexa, Google and Siri, but their high voices and lack of discipline when choosing words resulted in a high error rate. “I don’t know how I can help you” was a common answer to a child’s question.

This basically applies to most of the new inquiries that come to mind. There are still far more things that don’t work than things that work. In fact, you yourself learn more quickly what the language assistant can and cannot do than the language assistant learns what you want from it.

While the selection and control of music and radio plays and the creation of watch lists seem quite mature to us, you quickly notice that the artificial intelligence of the assistants is still at the very beginning. They can neither answer all the questions nor understand all the information on the Internet.

Siri, Alexa and Google Assistant can process context-based questions, so in a second question you can take up the facts of the previous question.

In the medium term, a Google search on the screen will still show the better results for most issues – simply because people read selectively and contextually. So far, the virtual assistants have not managed to do this very well. Google, Siri and Alexa will only be able to answer difficult questions once they have learned a lot about their users. In turn, some users don’t want that at all because the assistants would have to collect a lot of data about the speakers.

Is a Smart Speaker spying on you?

What you should know: When you get a smart speaker, you are falling into the clutches of a company that wants to make money from you. Amazon’s Alexa only works with an Amazon account, a Google assistant only with the Google account, Apple’s Siri only with an Apple ID.

So that the voice assistants understand your commands, microphones are built into the respective devices that wait day and night for the keyword “Alexa”, “Ok, Google” or “Hey, Siri”. They can of course be muted if desired, but hardly anyone will do that in practice, because then you have to activate the function manually, which is of course not the point of a smart speaker.

Even if Google, Siri and Amazon do not constantly record the spoken word from your household and assign it to your account for marketing: Just using the smart speaker will significantly increase your web search time, i.e. you will enter even more keywords than before with the tablet or in the Chrome browser on the PC. Google, Apple and Amazon have their customers under surveillance almost around the clock.

On the one hand, this is done so that the assistant becomes more intelligent and therefore more useful. The more he knows about the user, the better he can help him in everyday life. In addition, Amazon, Apple and Google gain very useful data with which they can earn money.

Apple, on the other hand, does not earn its money with advertising or shopping, but solely by selling its products. The Californians promise to protect the customer’s data and not otherwise use it. In contrast to Google and Amazon, the HomePod does not create any user profiles. This makes Siri a smaller data octopus, but she also remains stupid for life, because she is not allowed to learn anything about the user in order to provide better answers later.

But Siri also needs to know some personal details of the user in order to be useful. And Apple has to save this data somewhere, with which it is in principle vulnerable. After all, the group promises an encrypted transmission of every user request via HomePod.

If all this is a horror because you have the feeling that the corporations already know way too much about you, you should distance yourself from a smart speaker or display. However, experience shows that, on the one hand, most people like to complain about the data collection frenzy of corporations, but on the other hand they like to reveal their data for a little bit of convenience. You can see that just by how widespread Facebook’s social login has become.

Learn how to use it

So that living together with a smart speaker works well, not only does the assistant have to learn a lot about the user, the user also has to adapt to the language assistant to a certain extent. We clearly noticed this at Alexa from the names we used to name routines or smart home devices

Alexa and Siri as well as Google do not allow alternative names for smart home devices or routines. Sometimes we had to change the name of a routine again because Alexa very often understood “light staircase” to “light corridor” and of course did not find any device under it. In this case, »Staircase light« worked perfectly.

Regionally different pronunciations are also a weak point.

Who is the Smart Speaker Market Leader?

With 200 million units by the end of 2020, smart speakers & displays are the fastest growing consumer technology. At the beginning of 2018, Amazon led with 50% global market share, Google was 21%. On the other hand, there are other systems, of which Apple-Siri (HomePod) and AliGenie (Alibaba Group) are probably the most notable worldwide.

Google has launched a series of smart speakers with Google Home, and Google Now became the Google Assistant. Apple also has a smart speaker at the start with the HomePod, which has been on the market since mid-2018.

While Apple’s Siri is operated exclusively in the Apple universe, Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Assistant are open platforms that other hardware manufacturers can also use. A large number of manufacturers have loudspeakers and smart displays for Alexa and Google’s Assistant on the market. Read more about the models available so far below.

This article gives an overview of the two most important assistants, Alexa and Google Assistant. We also choose what we believe to be the best smart speaker. Soon we will also choose the »best smart display«, until then the smart LCD panels will be mentioned in this article, but will not be rated.

While Apple’s Siri is operated exclusively in the Apple universe, Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Assistant are open platforms that other hardware manufacturers can also use. A large number of manufacturers have loudspeakers and smart displays for Alexa and Google’s Assistant on the market. Read more about the models available so far below.

The 3 Smart Assistants in the test

As far as workmanship and accessories are concerned, the Echo family, Google Home and Apple don’t take anything. The processing of the devices is high quality, stable and without imprecise gaps. With the exception of the Echo Dot, all models are covered with a textile covering, which is available from Google in seven colors.

While the Dot is only available in black or white, the Echo can be purchased in sandstone, anthracite and light gray. The HomePod is only available in black (very dark gray) or white, whereby the body is covered with tight perforated fabric.

Amazon Alexa

After eBook readers, tablets, smartphones, set-top boxes and HDMI sticks (Fire TV), the Echo voice recognition system is the next big step in the Amazon ecosystem for the mail-order giant: Equipped with these products, you can hardly avoid one or more Subscribe to Amazon’s payment services.

Basically this is not objectionable, Apple, Google or Samsung handle it as well. At Amazon, of course, there is also the shopping mile: Alexa accepts shopping requests, places products on the watch list and also executes orders for Prime members (the voice order option must be activated separately for this).

So that not too much goes wrong here, Amazon has built in some hurdles. Clothing, watches, shoes or jewelry cannot be ordered by voice, but you can add them to the shopping list. Optionally, an order process can only be completed using a four-digit code that is previously specified in the app. Strangers cannot place an order – but their own children can still. Probably they can remember the code once mentioned better than you can anyway.

Speech input with the voice of an adult is fully developed, even though the error rate due to misunderstood music titles or names is still 10 percent. The family members quickly got used to saying “Alexa” first and then clearly articulated “Switch on Radio Teddy”.

In fact, you first have to get used to addressing a non-material computer being in the room – without hesitating or making promises. Because while people ignore such ambiguities, Alexa thinks the question is over or she interprets the accidentally pronounced word. Over time, however, you learn a handful of frequently used commands, and communication works better from day to day.

Anyone who has a human Alexa in their family can also change the keyword to which “Alexa” reacts – but not at will. The alternatives are »Echo«, »Amazon« or »Computer«.

Music & Entertainment

Alexa shows us the greatest benefit on the entertainment front: Via Amazon Music and Audible, a concentrated range of music and radio plays is available on demand. The family enjoyed shouting to Alexa song requests and Alexa plays them.

But without any subscription it doesn’t make much sense. Only TuneIn is available free of charge for accessing Internet radios. If you want to play specific songs in a targeted manner, you need an Amazon Prime subscription, in which two million songs can be accessed via Prime Music. There is a much larger selection with over 40 million songs at Amazon Music Unlimited.

Spotify Premium is just as extensive. The free version of Spotify cannot be streamed via Alexa. You can also have audio books read to you by Alexa, for which you need an Audible subscription.

With the basic subscription, Alexa music can only stream one track at a time. So if you distribute three echo speakers in the living room, bathroom and children’s room and want to play different titles there, you need a family subscription. If you do not have this, the current stream will be switched off when you start a new one on another device. But you can play the same stream on multiple echo speakers at the same time.

Is Amazon's Alexa smart?

Alexa doesn’t always do well, but apparently she’s getting better: When asked “Which country is Mogadishu in?” At the end of 2017 there was only an embarrassed “Sorry, I don’t know.” The question “What is the capital of Somalia ? ”Was answered correctly, however. Today the answer comes promptly: “Somalia.”

“Alexa, I need flowers, where is the nearest florist?” Alexa exclaims that she has no hits.

“Alexa, I need a garage.” Alexa has hits here, but the addresses are 20-30 kilometers away. Google Assistant also shows me hits in the immediate vicinity.

Tip: Google is better positioned for timetables to tradesmen and shops.

We really liked the chef’s skill: Alexa browsed through recipes, reads their ratings and names the ingredients. The ingredients are shown on the display and we work our way through the recipe step by step using voice commands.

Alexa has been supporting context-based dialogues since Google Assistant or Siri have always been able to do this. Previous questions or commands are noted by Alexa and included in the next questions.

One advantage of taking up previous dialogues: The context is no longer lost and is included in subsequent questions. “Alexa, how is the weather in Berlin?” Can then be supplemented with the question “Alexa, when is the next train going there?” The assistant knows: Both sentences are about the city of Berlin, although the first question relates to the weather and the second to the rail connection.

Alexa can also process appointments from Outlook, Apple and Google Calendar, you just have to link the accounts. From now on you can create, display or delete calendar entries.

The Alexa app has a to-do list and a shopping list. With “Alexa, add to-do list”, words or groups of words can be created. The same applies to the shopping list. Of course, Alexa can also read out the lists.

The reminders, the alarm clock and the timer are really nice. “Alexa, remember me” drops a phrase and Alexa asks for the time for the reminder. The reminder is then displayed via the smartphone app.

Alexa can also distinguish the voices of the users. This is useful in families when, for example, the preferred music is played or the appropriate messages are to be read out. However, this does not happen on the side, the function has to be pushed in the Alexa app.

Make Calls

Alexa can call other people who also have an Alexa-enabled device: Simply “Alexa, make a call” and then say the name. Even if you don’t know anyone with Alexa hardware, this is useful: the children can call their dad at home via the loudspeaker, because he has the smartphone with the Alexa app with him. Of course, these calls go through cellular data and not over the cellular network.

In addition, several Echos can be used as an in-house telephone system, with Echo Show even with video chat. Each echo is given its own name and the drop-in feature must be activated. Using “Alexa, call Echo nursery”, the children will soon be called to dinner like on the spaceship Enterprise.

For real calls to landlines, Amazon offers the Echo Connect. With this small box you could call the mother-in-law on the corded phone or of course landline to mobile.

You can also call most Windows PCs using Skype. The Skype account only needs to be linked in the Alexa app.

Skills

»Skills« are skills that you need to control smart home devices or that provide information. They work in a similar way to apps on smartphones and are on a kind of AppStore on the Amazon website, from which they can be downloaded and installed on the smartphone. Some skills are for example: music, shopping list, timer and alarm clock or briefing.

Skills are now available for wireless adapter plugs, WiFi lamps, clever thermostats or TV program magazines. With a certification, the manufacturer can decorate his product with “works with Alexa”. The connection is relatively easy for the user.

In the Alexa app, the skill for z. B. Select Osram Lightify, enter your own Lightify access data and search for devices. You will then find those with Alexa support, others not.

We tried it with Osram Lightify and Luminea lamps. The manufacturer’s app must be downloaded and the registration procedure must be carried out in any case – just as if you were using these smart home devices without Alexa or Google Home.

In the Alexa app, you can give your Osram light source on your desk or the Luminea light strip in the living room your own name, for example “light strips”. There are also groups where, for example, all three light sources could be combined as a “living room”.

The commands to Alexa could then be “Alexa, switch on light strips”, “Alexa, light strips on red and 25 percent”, “Alexa, switch on living room” or “Alexa, living room on red and 25 percent”. The lamps that do not understand “on red” simply ignore the partial instruction.

Echo masters numerous smart home systems, significantly more than the Google Assistant. The Echo Plus with integrated Zigbee radio is an advantage for users of this radio standard, because the Echo Plus does not need a manufacturer-specific control center for Osram Lightify and Philips Hue, it is already built in.

Which smart home systems are compatible with Alexa is constantly changing.

Routines

Most of the time, you don’t want to address every single smart lightbulb, not every thermostat and not every wireless adapter. Therefore, routines can be created in the Alexa app.

For example, we have programmed routines so that the light in the office goes on when the command “Alexa, workday” is given, and when the command “Alexa, good night” all radio-controlled sockets and lamps in the office, living room and garden are switched off and “Alexa, good guys Evening «activates the light strip in the living room and the garden lighting.

Routines can be changed or deleted at any time. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work at the moment to include skills in the chain of command.

Security

Put simply: devices with Alexa are a bug in the apartment. Even if it’s just your voice commands that are transmitted to the Amazon server and evaluated there – not only the wording is transmitted here, but also your voice as a voice recording, i.e. biometric data.

The little dot doesn’t have the computing capacity to extract the words from the sound recording, that’s what Amazon’s servers do. However, this is a security concern that applies to all speech recognition systems – including those from Apple, Google and Microsoft.

Still, Alexa listens carefully and saves your voice commands or questions. You can then be queried again via the app. However, we recommend leaving the function “Transfer WLAN password to Amazon” inactive, because something like this does not belong on third-party servers.

Disadvantages of Amazon Alexa

After two years in the field, we can draw a conclusion: Speech understanding no longer fails as regularly as it did at the beginning. Questions are better understood and voice recognition ensures that the content is tailored to the needs.

Nonetheless, if the murmur is too indistinct in the early morning or a hectic babble because the children are scurrying around, Alexa is mislead: if the sound of the language or accentuation changes, Alexa only understands the train station. This is of course annoying and not only once did we find ourselves screaming at Alexa – which of course has no effect.

If several echo loudspeakers are distributed in the house, the question arises as to which one reacts to a question. That should be the loudspeaker that is closest to the speaker, ensuring – in theory – ESP (Echo Spatial Perception). In practice, however, the Echo Dot answers in the living room, even though you are standing next to the one in the kitchen.

Parental control is a payment model for Amazon that costs monthly. At this price, an infinite amount of age-appropriate content is included.

Google Assistant

The bottom line is that we liked Alexa better, but the Google Assistant also has its pluses: Encyclopedic questions are answered better and the contextual reference for tasks and the answering of questions will play a greater role in ease of use in the near future. The Google Assistant is already better positioned here, because the search engine giant already has the appropriate artificial intelligence (AI) ready.

However, Google forces its users to share their data without restrictions. Amazon is following suit with context carryover and has meanwhile also spiced up Alexa’s general wiki capabilities.

The same applies to the Google Assistant: A clear pronunciation is the be-all and end-all, especially when names are stored for smart home devices or processes. “Study” turned out to be a difficult word, Google / Alexa only wanted to understand it every fifth time. We then changed it to “Office”, which worked much better.

“Ok Google” or “Hey, Google” are the keywords for the Google Assistant, then the colored LEDs on the small speaker flash and music is muted briefly if necessary. An order or a question can now be given.

With the voices of adults, communication problems were relatively rare, with the high-pitched voices of children, however, quite high. It was similar with Alexa.

Music & Entertainment

Google’s speaker comes with a trial month of Google Play Music. Music on demand while we’re in the bathtub or standing in the shower works just as well here as with Alexa. “Ok Google, play music by Julian de Play,” these or similar requests always led to success.

Google Assistant supports Spotify Free and is thus a bit ahead of Alexa: With the Echo, Spotify can only be used in the premium paid version so far. Google also plays music from YouTube Music, for free! It’s not always targeted, there are advertisements every now and then and you can’t find every title, but it does justice to a general music need. In any case, we canceled our Amazon Music subscription right away.

Is the Google Assistant smart?

The assistant prides himself on being a thinking fellow who also includes the context in a current question or instruction (previous questions, location, search history, etc.). However, we did not experience much of this in our test.

Sure, Google can keep track of these three questions:

  • “Ok Google, what’s the name of David Garrett’s current album?”
  • “Ok Google, where is David Garrett from?”
  • “Ok Google, does he have any siblings?”

Alexa already loses the thread here, so when the third question was answered, she no longer knew that it was about David Garret.

Google was also able to answer questions about world knowledge noticeably better than Alexa. No wonder, since the world’s largest search engine is behind it and not Bing as with Alexa. The topics range from the weather to sports results to general questions. Translations, information about the nearest auto repair shop or restaurant, cheap flights, games and jokes – the Google Assistant can help with these and other topics:

  • “Ok Google, tell me jokes.”
  • “Ok Google, which actors are in Orange is the new black?”

When it comes to encyclopedic questions, Google and Alexa are almost at eye level. When asked “In which country is Mogadishu located?” Both give the correct answer. However, this is no art. If Google were to offer me a travel report or further information – because I often search for topics from the African world – that would be a big leap to a real assistant.

Google currently masters standard topics such as train departure times better than Alexa. We get the right answer from Google immediately, with Alexa we are still stuck, which first wants to know where we start. Google just used the location.

Your daily assistant

Of course, the Google Assistant also knows its own calendar and can be queried about it. “Ok Google, when is my appointment at the dentist this week?” Leads to the appropriate answer. It is also possible to create appointments verbally.

The Google Assistant recognizes users by their language and is therefore able to differentiate between people. This is necessary in families so that appointments are entered in the correct calendar.

With the shopping list, Google can add flour and bananas to the list on demand. That works quickly and of course the list can be read out and is then available in the app. While this is also displayed offline on Alexa, Google needs an internet connection to display its list. We find this impractical for cases without internet while shopping.

Smart Home Control

Google Assistant and Alexa control smart devices, there are only marginal differences in comfort. After setting up, speaking by voice command is of course not a problem. “Ok Google, switch on the kettle” activates the appropriately named Gigaset radio-controlled socket.

There are also routines and groups like with Alexa. So we can switch on three light sources under “Good evening”. In this way, several lamps can be grouped under the name “living room”. “Switch on the living room” then lights up all the lamps at once.

Take Lightify from Osram, for example: We were able to control the lamps via Alexa, as well as Luminea and Philips Hue, but not the switchable sockets from Gigaset. Not so with Google Assistant: It gets along with Gigaset, Philips Hue, but also with Osram Lightify.

Over time, the important smart home systems will certainly find themselves on all platforms, until then you have to be patient with certain solutions.

Make Calls

Telephone calls and proactive notifications over the loudspeaker are possible. The assistant has access to the contacts in the Google account. They can also be called, but only if they have installed Google Duo on their smartphone or if they also use a Google assistant. Calls to the landline or cellular network are not possible. Amazon has the right hardware here with the Echo Connect.

Google Assistant's Actions

What the skills are to Alexa, the actions are to Google. While Amazon was still providing support for smart homes two years ago, Google has caught up massively today. Actions allow third-party providers to tinker their services into the smart home speaker. They expand the range of applications for the digital assistant, activate streaming services, smart home devices or have information ready.

Security

If you want to use Google’s voice assistant, you have to open yourself completely and with all of your data. As a trained data crawler, Google does not make any compromises. The following are requested:

  • Access to search and app activity
  • Search queries and browsing history)
  • Access to location
  • Device and sensor information
  • Contacts, calendar
  • Speech activities are recorded

Google, according to the terms of use, tracks the location “even if no Google product is used” in order to create a map of where the user’s devices have logged in.

Speech input will not work without the aforementioned permissions. When the location tracking is switched off, Google Home mutates into a (rather expensive) Bluetooth speaker. The mentioned authorizations are not new. Everyone who has a Google account – and that is every Android user – has already fully or partially agreed to these points.

But: You can use your Android smartphone even if you have reduced Google rights, which is not possible with the Google Assistant. Google argues that a personal helper has to know everything about the user in order to learn from their behavior. The question, of course, is why does Google need to know all of this just to answer a few questions or play music.

Alexa is also constantly transferring user data to the company’s servers, but by no means to this extent.

Disadvantages of the Google Assistant

Google is a data crawler that requires unrestricted access to all location, contact and search activities.

Apple Siri

Music & Entertainment

As for music sources, the HomePod is – who will be surprised – limited to Apple services, unless someone takes the detour via AirPlay and streams music from external sources to the speaker.

An Apple Music subscription is almost mandatory. The iCloud music library can also be used. With AirPlay from iTunes libraries on the iPhone, iPad or Mac, it works if the devices are in the same WiFi. The Beats-1 transmitter is on board as internet radio, but unfortunately the HomePod does not play the many TuneIn transmitters. But that is about to change: Apple announced at the beginning of June that the HomePod will be made TuneIn-capable as part of the update to iOS 13.

A new feature is the grouping of two speakers as a stereo pair, which can be easily done using the home app. The first speaker takes over the left, the other the right channel.

The AirPlay 2 transmission standard is also relatively new: For the first time, Apple users can stream music wirelessly from their devices to multiple speakers at the same time. Requirement is iOS 11.4 or higher. The devices synchronize themselves, which is why two HomePods play music synchronously.

Is Siri smart?

Siri is unfortunately not as smart as we would have liked. Although she masters context-based answers, simple questions of knowledge often go nowhere. If we ask “Which detergent should I use for white laundry?”, The answer is “Unfortunately I can’t answer that on this HomePod”. On the other hand, questions such as “Explain the water cycle to me” also arise. Siri takes the answer from Wikipedia, first giving a short answer and then asking if she should go into detail.

Siri cannot have real conversations, so the postponed “Hmm?” Or “Aha?” Is of no use that Siri utters when we address her but does not immediately start with our question. Siri cannot see complex relationships. She can’t even find recipes on the internet or play a series on Apple TV. For Google or Alexa, these have now become a matter of course.

Your personal butler

Alarm clock, timer and calendar have arrived at Siri. As with the competition, this works pretty smoothly. However, the multiple verbal confirmations of an appointment are a bit annoying. As we wish, we can conveniently ask for appointments in October – whereby holidays are also listed as such – and move or delete appointments.

Siri has the latest news on offer, stock market prices can be queried and she is also very well informed about the weather. Translations are apparently not yet implemented at Apple. The sports news works perfectly.

Unfortunately, a  “skill” is missing and Siri has no idea of the departure times of the next trains at the next station. To do this, she finds entries from shops or restaurants: “I want to go for Indian food, what can you recommend?” Siri names the location, the distance, the average rating and even an estimate of the price.

However, it doesn’t always work properly, for example when Siri recommends a café more than 50 kilometers away or apparently doesn’t know the local ice cream parlor three kilometers away: “I couldn’t find any suitable entries.”

Smart Home Control

Like an Apple TV or iPad, the HomePod can be used as a center for HomeKit. You need one if you want to control smart devices such as lamps, heating or door sensors while you are out and about. This happens via established routines or via defined voice commands that Siri accepts via HomePod or on the go via iPhone. In terms of convenience, this is similar to the way we know it from the Alexa app.

Make Calls

Apple has not provided for handsfree calls via HomePod. That’s a shame, because at Amazon it’s now part of the good form, at least as far as other Alexa users are concerned. Real calls to landlines are also only available on Amazon via Echo Connect in the USA.

But there is a trick to use the HomePod as a speakerphone, regardless of whether you are called or call yourself. To do this, tap the audio symbol when making a call. The app must be running in the foreground, so open it first. Here’s how you can choose your HomePod as a playback device. The HomePod signals the call with a green light on the display.

If necessary, you can adjust the volume using the plus and minus buttons on the top of the HomePod. To end the call, tap the green light in the middle of the HomePod display.

Security

Apple is committed to data protection and that is good for a device that permanently listens in your own four walls. Apple says it does not create speaker profiles, data and inquiries are encrypted and transmitted to the Apple server and cannot be assigned to any person.

On the one hand, this is an advantage, on the other hand, Siri does not make any progress, because she cannot learn from previous questions.

The loudspeaker can create reminders or read and write iMessages, provided an iOS device is in the same network. The »Personal Inquiries« option must be active for this. “Read me the last message from Stephanie!” Is roughly the last message from a friend. Because Siri does not differentiate between voices or requires any other authentication, anyone in the household can access the messages of other iPhone users and send them on their behalf. Not a good topic for family peace and certainly not for data protection.

For confidential notes, however, the HomePod offers authentication. If you activate the same, the Apple ID holder receives a notification on his iPhone as soon as he asks the HomePod for a note. If the owner agrees, Siri answers on the iPhone, but not on the speaker.

As described, the HomePod does not treat iMessages confidentially. If you want to prevent private chats from being read out loud, you should deactivate “Personal Inquiries”.

Disadvantages of Siri

Apple has only a few device partners when it comes to Smart Home: The HomeKit may currently support some good solutions and devices, such as the smart heating control Elgato Eve, but there are significantly fewer partners than with Amazon and Google Home. The list of smart home devices at Alexa is endless, while at HomeKit there are just Philips, Netatmo, Belkin, Elgato and some lighting providers. Due to the low level of competition, the modules and sensors for HomeKit are on average significantly more expensive than comparable products for Alexa or Google Home.

Siri also clearly has too few skills. Apple’s assistant is a closed system; external developers cannot program new skills. It’s different with Google and Alexa, there are now thousands of skills – which of course doesn’t mean that all of them are good. Apple therefore avoids becoming a junk shop for poor voice skills from the outset – simply by foreclosure. In the long term, this could help the quality, but the development of the apps for Android shows that the market might want to have exactly this mess and endless variety.

It doesn’t look much better with the music streaming services: Alexa and Google Assistant can be used more extensively, because Amazon and Google support both their own services Deezer and (with Alexa within limits) Spotify. With the Homepod, only Apple Music can be used on demand. Other services are only available via AirPlay 2 workaround, which in turn prevents the language selection of artists or albums.

In addition, Siri has too little user knowledge. Through voice training, Siri could recognize certain users and provide better answers through a learned profile. But that brings us back to the topic of data protection and Apple would not have a positive differentiator to Amazon and Google, which create user profiles. Siri also cannot make handsfree calls on the iPhone and cannot even call other HomePod users.

And last but not least, Siri cannot control the Apple TV. Why can you speak into the remote control of the Apple TV but not ask Siri to turn on a channel? That is incomprehensible to us.

Smart Speaker: Alexa vs. Google Assistant

Advantages of Alexa

On Amazon, views and behaviors can be configured directly on the device via touchscreen – provided you have a smart display. With the smart displays from Google, the app is almost always required.

When it comes to intelligent devices such as sockets or lights, Amazon has an advantage because the manufacturer has a two-year lead in development. But it can be assumed that it will catch up with Google with its market power and that more or less all smart home components will soon be coordinated with Google and Alexa.

Advantages of Google Assistant

Do you have a smart TV? Google has integrated Chromecast, which means that video streaming services or the media libraries of various channels can be sent to the television without any effort. With Alexa, You Tube videos can only be played via the browser.

If you use Google services frequently, like Gmail with Mail and Calendar, then you will be better off with the Google Assistant. The integration is seamless, you don’t have to set anything up.

The general parental control with filters and blocking times is free of charge, at Amazon it is only available as a paid subscription in connection with child-friendly content (Freetime with parent dashboard).

Our Recommendation

It’s like buying a car: it doesn’t matter which system you choose. Every car brings you safely and comfortably to your destination. And Alexa here and Google Assistant there make your digital life easier. At the beginning there is only the question of whether you already have smart devices and whether they are optimized for one or the other platform.

If you are just starting out, have no preconditions and don’t take data protection so seriously, then you are well advised with the Google Assistant. The hardware selection for Google will be much wider in the future than it is today.

If you already have devices optimized for Alexa and feel at home in Amazon’s universe, then you should choose Alexa. This currently offers a larger variety of end devices (loudspeakers and smart displays).

To be able to use Alexa, Google Assistant or Siri, you need a corresponding device. Amazon has its large Echo family with all accessories in its range. Everything from the Echo Link, which doesn’t even have a speaker, to the Echo Show with a 10-inch display is included.

With Google Home, Home Max and Home Mini, Google offers three speakers of different sizes with which you can use your voice assistant. Apple has the HomePod on offer.

Many speaker manufacturers now have models that support Alexa and / or Google Assistant. With the Sonos One, Sonos launched one of the first models on the market.

Smart Speaker: Test & Review

We had a cornucopia of smart speakers and displays at home. Alexa has become a constant companion in the bathroom and living room thanks to two Echo Dots.

As far as workmanship and accessories are concerned, the Echo family, Google Home and Apple don’t take anything. The processing of the devices is high quality, stable and without imprecise gaps. Most models are covered with a textile panel, which is usually available in different colors. The HomePod is only available in black (very dark gray) or white, whereby the body is covered with tight perforated fabric.

Test winner: Amazon Echo Plus

The Amazon Echo Plus is a standalone speaker for listening to music. It sounds much better than its little sister, the Echo Dot, but its sound doesn’t come close to speakers of similar size from Sonos or JBL. Those who do not place too high demands on the music quality will also be satisfied with the Echo.

Echo Plus
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Echo Plus
  • Meet the Echo Plus – Same great sound as our Echo (3rd Gen)…
  • Enjoy premium sound – Personalize your listening experience…
  • Voice control your music – Ask Alexa for a song, artist, or…
  • Voice control your smart home – Turn on lights, adjust…
  • Keep your family in sync – Use your Alexa devices like an…

With the line-out output you can connect the Echo to a stereo system and listen to music over it. If you intend to do this, you better use the Echo Dot and save some money, if you don’t need the better sound of the Echo Plus.

Alternative Smart Speakers

Other smart speakers and displays can also score points with different functions or great sound. Read more about our other recommendations here.

Google Home

Google Home is equipped with two microphones, not seven like the Echo 2 and Echo Dot 2 (six on the HomePod, four on the Echo Dot 3). Nevertheless, we rarely had communication problems. At least as long as we were in the same room. Alexa understands instructions from the neighboring room or across the hall better than Google, especially when there are still background noises such as music or children’s noise.

In general, we found that music or cooking noises only rarely interfere with a microphone recording by Alexa or Google. However, as soon as two or more voices, also spoken softly, lie under the recording, the voice assistants only understand the station.

The volume can be set verbally with “Ok Google, louder / quieter” or manually with the touch circle on the loudspeaker. Google has found the more comfortable way for the setting: The touch circle reacts to the weakest touch. With the Echo Dot you have to hit the plus or minus button exactly.

A smartphone can be connected to the home speaker via Bluetooth using the Google Home app. So music can be played over the Google speaker, on the one hand locally stored tracks as well as those from music streaming services. In this way, services can be used that Google’s Assistant has not yet supported itself. The loudspeaker also supports multiroom, which means that a group of connected Bluetooth speakers play music synchronously.

And this is how the audio group works: “Ok Google, play via <group name> Rolling Stones”. For playback on a single device it says “Ok Google, play on <device name> …”. However, Google points out that creating multiroom groups is only possible on Android and iOS.

There is also Chromecast Audio, either as an audio dongle on the amplifier or integrated in certain speakers, such as the Teufel Raumfeld One S, Sony SRS ZR5 or JBL Playlist 150.

Even the topic of television is on board with Google Home. With a Chromecast stick, YouTube videos flicker on demand on the TV at home. The Fire TV Stick from Amazon, however, remains black.

Sonos One

Sonos One
  • Sonos One – The powerful smart speaker with voice control…
  • Brilliant sound – Get rich, room-filling sound with Sonos…
  • Voice control – Amazon Alexa is built right in so you can…
  • For every room – The compact design fits just about any…
  • Stereo sound with two – Pair two Sonos Ones together in the…

With the Sonos One, the American multiroom specialist Sonos was one of the first third-party manufacturers to bring an Alexa-enabled loudspeaker onto the market. The bottom line is that it is a Play: 1 speaker that is equipped with microphones.

The Sonos One is therefore the right choice for everyone who has high demands on sound quality and at the same time wants to remain flexible in terms of expandability and music services. HomePod can beat the sound quality, but is tainted with the Apple universe in terms of services.

If you already have Sonos speakers at home, you can expand your multiroom system with the Sonos One Alexa-enabled – at no extra charge, because the Sonos One costs exactly as much as a Play: 1.

You can also connect two Sonos One to a stereo pair – but interestingly, not a Play: 1 with a Sonos One. So you get two speakers with microphones into your house. If there is more than one Sonos One, the box that is closest to the speaker automatically receives the voice commands.

In terms of sound, the Sonos One belongs in the upper class, and as such it puts both the speakers from Amazon and the Google Home in the shade. Only when it comes to the bass does it have to give way to the HomePod. It is really remarkable what comes out of the small boxes for a rich sound. But that’s no wonder, after all, the Play: 1 has already received many praise as a pure loudspeaker.

Sonos installs six far-field microphones for position determination. This means that voice commands work just as easily as with the Echo speakers from Amazon, even from a greater distance.

Bose Home Speaker 500

Bose Home Speaker 500
  • Fill any room with impressive wall to wall stereo sound from…
  • Built in voice assistants, like Alexa and the Google…
  • With Wi Fi, Bluetooth, and Apple airplay 2 compatibility,…
  • Play integrated Wi Fi services like Spotify, music and…
  • Experience superior voice pickup from a custom designed…

Typical Bose: honest design, but a sound that has it all. Not only are the two broadband speakers angled at the side for particularly spacious sound, they are special. There are also a total of eight microphones in the oval housing.

The importance of the latter should not be underestimated, because the Bose Home Speaker 500 belongs to a new series of smart speakers from the Americans alongside the Bose Soundbar 700. They don’t rely on the Google Assistant, but on Amazon Alexa. While the competitors Yamaha Musiccast and Denon Heos usually require a device from Amazon’s Echo series with the appropriate software skills, Bose has completely integrated the corresponding technology in the Home Speaker 500. But that’s not all: the Americans even contributed a small color screen, which provides useful help, for example by displaying album covers.

The Bose Home Speaker 500 has an integrated power supply, but no battery. So it is a typical indoor loudspeaker. On its top there are touch buttons for volume control, playback control and for storing six favorites. This can be both Internet radio stations and playlists. The Bose app makes it easy to install the smart speaker. You should still be patient, because in addition to the WiFi password, numerous registrations with Bose and Google are necessary. In addition, the Bose Home Speaker 500 allowed itself a longer break to download the current firmware.

After that he played without any problems with great reliability and an enormously coherent sound. As has already been proven several times in the past with products from this brand, the Bose Home Speaker 500 astonished once more with an enormously deep and precise, finely graduated bass from a comparatively small housing. The broadband loudspeakers typical of Bose also create an inner coherence because the listening area is not divided by crossovers between different drivers.

Despite the special arrangement of the two speaker channels, there was no classic stereo reproduction with correct left and right positioning. But the sound came off the case very well and gave the impression of a larger sound source. Voices appear very differentiated and very pleasant despite a slightly bright and somewhat puffed up tendency with reverb effects. The appearance was rounded off by lively, but by no means intrusive highs. We were amazed how loud and undistorted you can play music with the Bose Home Speaker 500. It is all the more astonishing that Amazon Alexa reacted to voice commands beginning with her name. This is particularly important if you want to use the Amazon voice assistant, for example to turn the music down or to stop completely in the event of a surprising call.

In terms of functionality, the Bose Home Speaker 500 does not quite come close to the original from Amazon, but when it comes to sound quality, Bose irons out pretty much all competitors in this area, especially Amazon. This also applies to the variety of programs. Bose has not only integrated music services like Amazon Music or Spotify into its app. The Home Speaker 500 also accepts other program feeds via Bluetooth and even offers an analog input with a 3.5 millimeter jack socket. With this connectivity in mind and the rich, balanced and dynamic sound in mind, the rather impressive price compared to the smart speakers from Amazon loses its horror.

Amazon Echo Show 8

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Amazon Echo Show 8
  • Alexa can show you more – With an 8″ HD screen and stereo…
  • Connect with video calling and messaging – Call friends and…
  • Be entertained – Ask Alexa to show you movie trailers, TV…
  • Control your smart home – Voice control compatible devices…
  • Make it yours – Show off your albums from Amazon Photos….

Alexa is not the best assistant in every respect, but when it comes to hardware, we clearly prefer Amazon. The Amazon Echo Show 8 has by far the best sound of the smart displays tested so far. However, the 8-inch screen does not come close to very good smart speakers – like those from Sonos.

The one kilo device with touchscreen is compact and can be placed anywhere in the living room, kitchen or bathroom. Of course, it cannot be screwed to the wall because it is ten centimeters deep. The other screens are not that deep. The weight is comparatively heavy, the reason for this should be the speakers and the subwoofer. There is no built-in battery.

We are impressed by the wide range of sounds. The small device can cover highs and lows equally well. Classical music sounds balanced in a 30 square meter room and a lot of bass is reproduced in techno. In this respect there is actually no need to use the jack socket. The volume of the device is also very high, although some music tracks overdrive at maximum volume.

The manufacturer speaks of “52 mm neodymium loudspeaker with passive bass radiator”. So it is a 2-inch speaker.

Tip: Two Echo Show 8 can be set up as a stereo set. The connection is made via the app.

To give the customer a good feeling when using it, the Echo Show 8 uses a mechanically lockable webcam and microphones that can be switched off. This protects your privacy, at least from the visual side. To delete voice recordings from the Echo Show 8, the voice command “Alexa, delete what I just said” or “Alexa, delete everything I said today” should suffice.

However, the webcam only has a resolution of one megapixel; the Lenovo is better positioned here.

The Echo Show 8 can be connected to the 1,000 watt stereo amplifier using a jack cable. Then the system has to be constantly connected to the network, because as soon as the plug is in, the mini loudspeaker no longer emits a beep in the echo. However, it still reacts to commands, so that it is possible to switch on the system “blindly” using a smart home adapter plug.

Our Picks: The Best Smart Speakers

Sonos One (Gen 2) – Voice Controlled Smart Speaker With Amazon Alexa Built-In – White
Sonos One – The powerful smart speaker with voice control built inch
$199.00
Bose Home Speaker 500 with Alexa Voice Control Built-in, Black
Fill any room with impressive wall to wall stereo sound from a single speaker; Works with other Bose smart speakers and soundbars for a multi-room listening experience
$299.00

Last update on 2020-10-20 | Source: Amazon Affiliate