The best smart speakers for all budgets

A man and a woman are sitting at a table: Photo: Amazon

© Provided by The Guardian
Photo: Amazon

After almost six years on the market, intelligent speakers come in various sizes, shapes, functions and prices.

Whether you want a cheap speaker that keeps the kids entertained, one that doubles as a digital photo frame, or one that sounds so good that you want to call "11", here's a quick guide to the best ones the market .

A man and a woman are sitting at a table: Intelligent loudspeakers come in different shapes and sizes and at different prices.

© Photo: Amazon
Smart speakers come in different shapes and sizes and at different prices.

Best cheap speaker: Google Nest Mini

RRP: £ 49 – Offers from £ 29

The Google Assistant is the best language system on the market. It has a better understanding than competitors, a huge range of knowledge and – importantly – the ability to choose between male and female voices, even user-based, since Google can distinguish between the people who give instructions.

The Nest Mini is the second generation of Google’s smallest and cheapest smart speaker. It's available for just $ 29 (sometimes less than $ 20) and brings Google to any room. Improved speech recognition is faster and reduces accidental activation, which is better for protecting your privacy.

It sounds good for radio and can be used as a Bluetooth or Chromecast speaker. It is made from recycled plastic and looks like a small fabric pincushion. It can be mounted on the wall and has a touch-sensitive upper part for adjusting the volume and for stopping and playing music.

Google Assistant is packed with things that keep children entertained, from puzzles and Disney games to quizzes and game shows.

Judgment: Inexpensive, sounds good, and brings Google Assistant to any room.

Full review: Google Nest Mini Test: Better bass and recycled plastic

Best bedside speaker: Amazon Echo Dot with clock

RRP: £ 59.99 – Offers from € 34.99

The best alarm clock replacement is the Echo Dot with Clock from Amazon. The LED display shines through the network of the smart speaker and is dimmed by ambient light so that it is never too bright at night. It shows the time and your alarms when they are set.

Otherwise, it's the same as any Echo speaker. Four buttons at the top provide volume, mute and actions. The light ring at the top shows when it is listening to you. Amazon's assistant, Alexa, is very capable and can, for example, create routines. For example, you can set it up to trigger actions like “Alexa, good night”, such as turning off all lights and triggering an alarm.

It sounds good for the money and is perfect for radio, or can be paired with another Bluetooth speaker or output through a standard 3.5mm jack. It can also be grouped with other Echo devices for multiroom audio.

Judgment: A small, simple and intelligent Alexa alarm clock replacement.

Full review: Echo Dot with clock test: Amazon's affordable Alexa alarm clock replacement

Best midrange: Amazon Echo

A blue bowl on a table: the standard echo ensures a balanced ratio of functions, sound and price. Photo: Amazon / PA

© Provided by The Guardian
The standard echo ensures a balanced ratio of functions, sound and price. Photo: Amazon / PA

RRP: £ 89.99 – Offers from £ 64

The third generation of the Echo is now shorter, more stable and covered with fabric, which makes it much more attractive. It looks and sounds just like the Premium £ 140 Echo Plus (which also acts as a smart home hub).

Alexa is at its best with the Echo and can hear you clearly from anywhere in the room, even over the sound of the washing machine.

The echo sounds good, with improved bass and space-filling 360-degree sound. Music is clearly better than the smaller speakers, but the echo is still the best for voice content like Alexa, talk radio, or podcasts.

It can be used as a Bluetooth speaker or through the 3.5mm jack on the back, or its audio can be sent to other speakers in the same way.

Judgment: Solid, space-filling sound that doesn't break the bank.

Best smart display: Google Nest Hub

RRP: £ 79.99 – Offers from £ 59

Would you like a screen with your voice assistant? This is where smart displays come into play. Google's Nest Hub (formerly Home Hub) offers the best balance between screen and price and is available from around 60 euros.

The 7-inch screen is great and adjusts the light tone in the room with a special sensor so that the pictures look good. It can be integrated into Google Photos to display your snapshots, automatically select highlights or display specific albums, which makes it a brilliant digital photo frame.

You get all the usual Google Assistant functions as well as visual answers such as lyrics, pictures of people you asked for, week-long weather forecasts etc. It can be used as a viewer for all smart cameras or as a touch control center for smart home devices act.

You can watch videos from YouTube (handy for recipes and instructions), BBC iPlayer, Newsclips and Netflix. It dims the screen and reduces the volume at night so as not to disturb the people around you. It sounds pretty good for music too, but doesn't have a camera.

Judgment: A small and large smart display that is not too expensive.

Full review: Google Nest Hub review: buy the smart display

Best sounding speaker: Sonos One

RRP: £ 199 – Offers from £ 189

If you want the best sounding smart speaker for less than $ 200, this is the Sonos One.

It needs an excellent multi-room WiFi speaker and adds the intelligence of your choice from Alexa or Google Assistant.

Alexa or Google Assistant work like other smart speakers, but the One doesn't need them for music. It uses Sonos' own system, which supports virtually any music service that is controlled by an app for Android, iPhones and iPads, so you can mute the microphones and still have full music functionality.

The best thing is what it sounds like. It offers a lot of bass, depth and vibrancy and produces a full, room-filling sound that combines strength with nuances. Competing speakers often cost a lot more. If that's not enough, you can connect two for a stereo pair and also add a wireless sub.

Judgment: The best-sounding WiFi speaker you can get for less than $ 200 is also a multi-talented smart speaker with a choice of Alexa or Google Assistant.

Full review: Sonos One Test: The best intelligent speaker for audiophiles

Gallery: The Best Smart Speaker 2020: Premium Alexa, Google Assistant and Siri Speakers (Pocket-Lint)

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