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Smart speakers with built-in voice assistants like the Amazon Echo, Google Home and Apple HomePod can be a lot of fun. You can use them to manage your calendar, play music, check the weather, control the lights and more.
But picking the right one can be pretty confusing.
They offer similar features, but some smart home speakers are better than others, and what might be good for one person might not be for another.
Here's what to consider before making a choice:
The Amazon Echo is one of the most full-featured products on the market, and it keeps getting better.
All Echo products aren't created equal, however.
Amazon sells a bunch of models ranging from $50 to $230. There's the Echo 2nd Generation, Echo Dot 2nd Generation, Echo Spot, Echo Show and Echo Plus. The Echo Plus offers the best audio experience and serves as a hub for your smart home, while the Echo Spot and Echo Show have screens that can do many things, including playing movies and showing lyrics to songs that you're listening to.
All models can place calls to other Echoes, serve as in-house intercoms, play music, answer questions, help manage a to-do list, order products from Amazon, read audiobooks, check the weather and manage alarms.
Plus, Amazon and its partners are always updating Echoes with new skills and features that make them more powerful.
There aren't as many Google Home options as there are Echoes. There's just a small $50 Google Home Mini, the standard Google Home and a more expensive audio-focused Google Home Max.
That means you don't have an option with a screen that shows you data, though Google is working with partners to launch that function in third-party products later this year.
Google, like Amazon Alexa, has thousands of skills you can use for playing music, placing phone calls, ordering food and goods, and so much more. I find the two relatively comparable in this regard. Like the Echo, you can conveniently use the Google Home to control light bulbs and other smart gadgets around your home.
However, if you use Android as your phone, Google Home may feel more familiar since it has the same Google Assistant as your smartphone built-in.
I find that it's the most attractive of the smart home assistants, which might matter if you care about what a speaker looks like inside your home and whether or not it sticks out or not.
It's too tied into Apple's ecosystem of software and hardware, however, and doesn't do nearly as much as any Google Home or Amazon Echo.
I think most folks are best off with an Amazon Echo Dot or a Google Home Mini to start. Pick the Google product if you're on Android and are already used to the Google Assistant since it'll feel familiar.
Both products, however, offer affordable ways to see what the whole "smart home assistant" experience is like. The Echo Dot and Home Mini offer almost all of the same functions as more expensive Echo and Google Homes (the exception is Amazon Echo products with touchscreens, which have more visual data).
If you're invested in the Apple ecosystem, like Siri, and put a high value on audio quality, then the HomePod is a good choice.
Smart home assistants aren't for everyone. Some people are still afraid that placing these microphone-enabled devices around their homes is an invasion of privacy, and I get that. But for me, the ability to control my TV and lights, play almost any song I can think of, set reminders and ask questions, is really enticing.