Looking for the best smart speakers means navigating a vast and ever-growing range of options, but actually it's not so bad when you start narrowing down your options. Do you want the best Alexa smart speaker or Google Assistant smart speakers, or does it need to do both? How large do you want it to be? Should it have a screen? Are you looking for the best cheap smart speaker, or do you have more to spend?
Find the best smart speaker is a lot easier when you take all these into account – you'll probably find yourself guided quickly to something that fits the bill. That's partly because there are so many good ones these days: you don't have to worry that you list of requirements means getting one with a compromise.
And then you can just jump straight into making the most of it! Whether you want one to control the best smart bulbs, or to quiz Alexa about your day, or for the way it can entertain the kids, or as your main music player… the great thing about smart speakers is the smart part.
Given the price, you might be expecting that they won't be so hot as music players, but some of the best Alexa speakers are built with music in mind, offering powerful speakers and delicate processing to get tunes sounding right.
Here's our guide to what's available, from small and cheap smart speakers, to ingenious smart screens that can can play video – whatever you want from one, our list can help.
What to look for in a smart speaker?
The most common options are Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant – for most people, it’s between these two. Apple’s Siri is also an option, but it’s only available on two smart speakers 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.
But 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. We’ve done an in-depth comparison of the two here:
• Alexa vs Google Assistant: which should you choose?
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 better choice.
Honestly, though, 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.
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.
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.
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.
Size, say the insecure, is not everything, generally without any proof. Here, B&O has the goods that cements it as true: the Beosound A1, about the size of a Sausage and Egg McMuffin (so slightly larger than a third-gen Echo Dot, but not by much) is a stormer in the sound department. It's nimble, capable, and handles dynamic performances with no effort at all, everything you could ask for from a speaker. And more, in fact: it's portable, with up to 48 hours battery life if you're careful about the volume, and IP67 rated, meaning you could fling it in the bath (if you really wanted to) and it would emerge just fine.
Admittedly its Alexa functionality is a little, shall we say, subjective - this is a Bluetooth speaker, so it only works when tethered to your phone. Good job it supports the extra range of Bluetooth 5.1, we suppose, although the funky way in which Amazon links audio streaming servies to devices means you won't be able to fire up Spotify or Tidal via your voice - but get them going using your phone, and you'll be more than happy with the results.
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.
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 – 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.
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, just not so great for video footage.
Here's the Apple HomePod, which has a lot going for it: very impressive sound quality, for instance, which can adapt to the room its in to make sure your ears are always hearing your tunes at their best. It also looks and feels fantastic, a proper premium bit of kit, and definitely one of the best smart speakers of 2020.
On the downside, you're going to be disappointed if you need to go beyond Apple Music, Siri and the iPhone with your HomePod: support for the likes of Spotify or anything else not made by Apple is pretty much non-existent (though you can stream audio from iTunes on Windows). Still, it's the best-sounding smart speaker for those already heavily invested in the Apple ecosystem, only bested (arguably) by the cheaper HomePod mini.
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.
• Read our full Google Nest Audio 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.
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.
There's a lot to love about the big-boy Google Home Max. In this case, you're getting some fantastic audio quality, some serious volume, and a room-filling smart speaker in the same sort of space as a traditional bookshelf woofer.
Top-level audio quality, then, plus the excellent Google Assistant on board, plus the option of a cabled connection, plus casting abilities – what's not to like? It'll cost you a lot of money, that's the key drawback, and it's probably overkill for most people's smart speaker needs.
Some smart speakers work best when placed closer to the centre of the room while some, like the Beosound Balance, are made to sit next to a wall. It's almost a shame the beamforming smarts of its speaker layout are set up with such a bias, because the Balance's raw Scandinavian-inspired design is worth celebrating, particularly in its natural oak colourway. That said, you can select between a couple of sound profiles, one of which is more omnidirectional than the other. Both profiles, inherited from the B&O's Beolab speakers and pumped through a high quality seven-speaker array, sound just great - as you'd hope, at this price.
This is premium stuff through-and-through, right down to the aluminium top plate with its shine-through controls. But this lamp-sized speaker won't necessarily do everything: unlike some others, which started with Alexa and added Google Assistant support later, the Balance has launched with only Google support for now, with Amazon's assistant coming in a later update.
Lenovo has found the sizing sweet spot for bedside table smart screens. The 4" display of the Smart Clock lands somewhere between the tiny circle of the Echo Spot and the bit-bigger-than-it-truly-needs-to-be Nest Hub Max.
But it's not just the size that matters: the company has built in so many little extras to help it earn its place next to your pillow. There's an integrated USB port for charging, a screen that dims itself automatically at night, a comfortable cloth covering that just blends in. It's a very neat take on Google Assistant.
OK, it's no audio powerhouse, but the Smart Clock is perfectly adequate at waking you up with a tune or two. At times it's hit £35/£40 in many places, including Lenovo's own site; we probably wouldn't pay the full £80 asking price, but it's a good choice if it's currently on sale.
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.
Ultimate Ears' whole attitude just seems to be to make the most balls-out speakers it possibly can. Speakers made to be handled while not entirely in control of one's faculties. Speakers that can handle a party or twelve, and deal with being hurled into a swimming pool and come out shouting. And, critically, speakers with a loud, bouncy, full-on audio mix that will make you nod your head.
The Megablast absolutely fits the mould. The company has imbued its 360° (or, let's be realistic given that large volume panel, more like 300°) output with some truly rocking bass, and given it all the element-proofing possible to boot. And yes, it's an Alexa speaker, and not a bad one either; great to take in the bathroom or get tunes running in a busy kitchen. Perhaps leave the Alexa functionality switched off if you're partying though - that's just asking for trouble.
An out-there option here, but one which is well worth considering if you're after voice assistant functionality and also looking to boost your network's abilities. TP-Link's Deco Voice X20 builds full Alexa access (we're told it includes drop-ins and calling) into each of its dot-around-the-home nodes, essentially doing the job of an Echo Dot and a Wi-fi 6 network booster in one. It's a little like Google's Nest Wifi, which adds Google Assistant to its nodes, but it's not showing its age quite as much as Big G's 2019 mesh system.
Admittedly it's not showing an awful lot at the moment, given that we're still waiting for TP-Link to release it, but if you're in the market this might be one to hold on for - we'll give it a full assessment when it does arrive.