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It depends. An Amazon Echo might be the best choice in one house, for example, while a Google Home might be perfect for a different family. Or, if you're really technical, you might want to buy a whole bunch of smart speakers in different shapes and sizes to place all over your house. (As long as they're from the same company. While you can certainly put smart speakers from Apple, Google and Amazon in your house, none of them work together, so that will just cause more of a headache. Pick one brand and stick to it.)
This guide isn't meant to say one is better than the other, but instead to give you an understanding so that you can pick which one will work best for you.
Here's what you need to know.
The Amazon Echo product family is the best choice for most people because it's the most versatile.
Amazon offers all shapes, sizes and price points of the Echo, ranging from the $20 second generation Echo Dot to the $230 Echo Show. You can have an Echo Spot alarm clock next to your bed that works with the Echo Plus downstairs in your living room, for example. Also, the Amazon Alexa app works well on both Androids and iPhones, which means everyone in the family can jump right on board.
Amazon Echo Pros:
It's really easy to enter the Echo ecosystem, since you can pick up a second-generation Echo Dot for just $20 and eventually buy more if you want to.
Once you have it, you can use the Alexa voice assistant to play TV shows, music and more on a Fire TV. You can ask Alexa to order you goods from Amazon, follow along with recipes on an Echo Show in the kitchen and place phone calls. If you have multiple Echos in the house, you can also use them as an in-home intercom to call the kids downstairs for dinner or use them to play music throughout your home.
If you use Amazon for shopping, you can also ask Alexa on any Echo to order products. If the Echo has a screen, like the Echo Show or the Echo Spot, you can tap it to pick which item you want to buy instead of relying entirely on voice. The Echos with screens are also really useful for watching movies and TV shows from Amazon Video, seeing lyrics to songs you're listening to, seeing who's at your door if you have a smart camera there, making video calls and more.
The Echo Plus has a smart home hub built in, which means you don't need to buy a separate one to control thousands of smart household products like light bulbs, outlets and door locks, even when you're not at home.
Finally, it's really easy to use and manage from an iPhone or Android phone and works equally as well on both platforms. And you can add all sorts of stuff, including a smart microwave with support for Alexa, or an Echo Sub to add more bass to a regular Echo if you play lots of music.
Amazon Echo Cons:
Amazon says it doesn't eavesdrop on the Echo microphones or spy through the cameras. However, it does have information on the commands you speak to Alexa. (You can delete them: Here's a guide that explains how.) Amazon says it uses that data for "accuracy of the results provided to you and to improve our services," which means it's probably learning about you so it can better target products on Amazon to you.
While Alexa can do a lot, you still need to go into the Alexa app to enable certain third party "skills." So, if you want to play a game like "Trivial Pursuit" with Alexa or call an Uber, you'll first need to open the app and install those skills. And finally, while Alexa is really smart, I still find that the Google Assistant is smarter when it comes to speaking naturally and asking follow-up questions.
Variations of the Amazon Echo:
Second generation Echo Dot $19.99
New Echo Dot $29.99
Echo Plus $149.99
Echo Dot Kids Edition $49.99
Echo Spot $129.99
Echo Show $229.99
Google has another really compelling smart home speaker ecosystem. It's powered by the same Google Assistant you find on Android phones, and that makes it ideal for people who use Android.That's because anyone with a newer Android phone can access the Google Assistant by speaking "OK Google," while iPhone users need to open an app first. Still, it's a great option for folks who use lots of Google services, like Maps, Gmail and Google Calendar.
Google Home Pros:
You can get started with a Google Home Mini for $29 or spend up to $350 on a Google Home Max, which means there's a price point that makes it attractive for everyone. The more you spend, the better speakers you get.
I've always found the Google Assistant to be the smarter than Siri or Alexa, largely because it seems to understand what I'm saying the most accurately. Also, Google Assistant is really good at follow-up conversations. That means you can ask it the weather in New York City and then ask another related question without confusing it. The Google Home can play movies and music on TVs around your house that are equipped with a Chromecast, and like an Amazon Echo, it can serve as an in-home intercom for announcements. It's also really good at multi-room music if you have several of them in your home, and can play different songs in each room. And it can do things like call restaurants and tell you about events on your calendar.
The new Google Home Hub performs just as the Google Home products do, but also includes a screen. That means, like an Echo Show or Echo Spot, you can use it to view the steps in a recipe, watch YouTube TV, browse photo albums, see security cameras around your house and more. It costs $129, which is cheaper than an Amazon Echo Show.
Google Home Cons:
There aren't as many form factors available to choose from as there are from the Echo. You can choose between the Google Home Mini, the Google Home, the Google Home Hub and the Google Home Max. If you don't like any of them, you can buy a product from a partner like Lenovo.
Unlike the Amazon Echo Plus, Google Home products don't have a built-in smart hub, so you can't control things like Philips Hue bulbs (or ZigBee and Z-Wave-ready smart home products) without installing a separate hub or bridge that lets those gadgets talk to Google. You can get away with products that don't require a hub, though, like LifX smart bulbs, and there are plenty of other gadgets, like smart outlets, that support Google Assistant.
It isn't as confusing as it sounds, but some folks might find it easier to just buy an Echo Plus that includes a hub from the start.
Variations of the Google Home:
Google Home Mini $29
Google Home $99
Google Home Hub $129
Google Home Max $349
The HomePod is a good option if you care most about audio quality and you use Apple products. It's not as versatile or as smart as the Amazon Echo or Google Home product families, largely because Siri isn't as advanced as Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant. But it beats those products if you care about two things: privacy and sound quality.
Apple HomePod Pros:
Apple says almost all of the processing is done on the device itself, so your conversations are not stored in the cloud as they are with Google Home and Amazon Alexa. Also, I've found that the HomePod sounds better than any Google Home or Amazon Echo product; it gets nice and loud without losing a lot of quality.
On the other hand, at $349 it's more expensive than other speakers, like the Sonos Play:1, which I think is really close in quality.
Apple HomePod Cons:
You can control smart home gadgets that support Apple HomeKit, including outlets, door locks, garage door openers, lights and blinds, but there isn't as wide of a selection as Amazon's and Google's speakers.
Also, while you can ask Siri to play music, it will only listen to your commands if you subscribe to Apple Music. If you want to play Spotify or another service, you need to use AirPlay to play the songs from an iPad or iPhone. Also, while you can ask Siri to take notes, add reminders and more, it only supports one user at a time. In all, you can count HomePod's skills on your hands, while Google and Alexa have hundreds of skills.
Finally, it's expensive. You need one for each room if you want multiroom audio, and Apple doesn't sell a $30 version as Amazon and Google do.
Variations of the Apple HomePod:
Apple HomePod $349