The best smart speakers of 2020 are some of the most multi-functional devices you can own. Here’s why: they help us to control our smart home devices, play music, and come with voice assistants ready to answer our most mundane, obvious or confusing questions.
These AI virtual assistants you control with your voice, which include Siri, Alexa and Google Assistant, have taken many homes by storm. That’s because there’s a lot they can do: play music, tell you about the weather, read out the news and control your smart home devices hands-free (like your Philips Hue bulbs or smart locks), these are just a few of the many things they can help you with.
But it seems that many of us are under-utilizing our smart speakers and choosing to access voice assistants via our smartphones. This is why you need to choose the right smart speaker for you in order to get the most out of these clever gadgets.
The most well-known smart speakers include the Amazon Echo and Google Nest (which used to be called the Google Home) ranges of products. But there are plenty of third-party speakers, like the Sonos One. These might not be made by Amazon or Google, but they come with both Alexa and Google Assistant built-in.
If you need help finding your next virtual assistant, take a look at our guide below. We've selected the best-sounding smart speakers for a range of styles, budgets and smart home ecosystems. This should make choosing the right model for you a breeze.
And, if you're keener on a speaker with a screen, check out our guide to the best smart displays instead.
[Update: Harman's popular Citation range of wireless speakers has been upgraded to include a new portable smart speaker; the Harman Kardon Citation 200 combines Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity to take your music seamlessly from indoors to outdoors. It's cheaper than the Sonos Move, too.]
- Amazon Echo vs Google Home: which is the smart speaker for you?
The best smart speakers 2020
1. Sonos One
The best-sounding smart speaker on the market
Sonos’ debut Alexa speaker is a cleanly-designed, feature-rich and great-sounding device that brings together the best of both ecosystems. You’ve got the ever-improving Alexa on the one hand, and on the other you’ve got Sonos with its own multi-room smarts and mostly unrivaled sound performance.
There's also a new feature in the mix that promises to change the game: AirPlay 2. With it, the Sonos One can talk to Siri and form a multi-room pairing with the Apple HomePod.
It now also supports Google Assistant making it the most versatile speaker on the list.
If you feel a bit tied down by the Sonos One, be sure to check out its portable cousin, the Sonos Move; this nifty speaker comes with all the smarts of the One, and is top of our list of the best Bluetooth speakers for 2020.
Read more: Sonos One review
[Update: Sonos could be on the verge of releasing its first-ever wireless headphones. According to a report from Bloomberg, the headphones will likely have multiple virtual assistants that would function similarly to the company's Sonos Arc and Sonos One speakers, and would focus on competing with Sony, Apple, Bose and Sennheiser by offering high-end audio performance.
Bloomberg’s sources also suggested that Sonos could target a price point of around $300 (£200 / AU$400) – cheaper than the Sony WH-1000XM4, but not by much – and would launch in 2020.]
2. Amazon Echo (2019)
The Amazon Echo just got hench
The humble Amazon Echo has entered millions of homes already – and with good reason. It's an affordable entry point for those beginning their smart home, with audio capable enough to handle news, podcasts, music, or whatever you might be using your AI voice servant for.
That's especially true with the new 2019 Amazon Echo, a third-generation model that bumps up the audio further with the drivers used in the 2018 Echo Plus – though without the latter's Zibgee compatibility.
It even looks like an Echo Plus, and it may be confusing to tell them apart if you have one of each in your home – but the 2019 refresh of the standard Echo raises the baseline for the whole range, and it's still great in 2020. At $99.99 / £89.99 / AU$149, it's still cheaper than the Plus, or the Apple HomePod, despite the boost to sound quality.
With softer fabric looks than the more industrial earlier models, Alexa seems more at home in a living room than ever – while new AI capabilities have introduced voice profile features and more variation when it comes to changing voice speed.
We don't think you should be using it to replace your Hi-Fi – you might want the newly-announced Echo Studio for that – but at the same time it's a really great place to start if you want to try out what the smart home life is like.
Read more: Amazon Echo (2019) review
3. Apple HomePod
Superb sound, so-so smart speaker
The Apple HomePod finally entered the smart speaker battle for your bookshelf in early 2018, and it's still making waves in 2020.
The obvious benefit of an Apple HomePod over an Echo or Google Home device is that it'll play nice with your other Apple products. So if you're a die-hard Apple fan the HomePod may be a no-brainer.
But it's worth asking the same question you should always be asking yourself when you want to splurge on a new Apple product: how much of a premium should you pay for owning a device that fits only seamlessly into the Apple ecosystem?
When we reviewed the device we were torn because we were really reviewing two things at once: how the HomePod weighs up as a premium speaker and how it fares as a smart home hub.
In the former category, the HomePod is excellent, as it boasts incredible sound and a very intuitive set-up. But in the latter, Siri is only middling in its implementation, and the fact that you're not able to break out of the Apple ecosystem for many key functions also rankles.
Apple is said to be working on the Apple HomePod 2, or a cheaper, more compact HomePod Mini, rumored to launch at some point in 2020 – we're halfway through now and we're still waiting. Fingers crossed it'll be worth it.
Read more: Apple HomePod review
- Already got a HomePod? Check out our guide to the best tips and tricks
- Apple HomePod 2: rumors, news, release date, and more
4. Google Home
Great for Chromecast owners and inquisitive types
For starters, you might never appreciate just how much music is on YouTube without buying a Google Home. We’re not saying Google Home is capable of playing any song you can think of, but after dredging the depths of the ’90s we still couldn’t find a tune Google Home couldn’t track down and start playing.
While Google Home excels as a DJ, it’s also a surprisingly intelligent smart home hub. It already hooks into some of the largest platforms now available by including Nest, Philips and Samsung’s SmartThings, and given a few months that number will grow even more.
But we're torn when it comes to recommending the Google Home. In some ways it's disappointing and doesn't live up to be the coveted center of the smart home Google has marketed it as.
That's because it's just not there yet. It’s a little too rigid in its language comprehension, its list of smart home devices is growing but still a bit underwhelming, and, perhaps the biggest disappointment of all, it doesn’t have many of Google’s core services built into it.
It has the potential to develop to compete with Amazon's Echo in the future, but for now the Google Home is simply a smart novelty with access to YouTube Music, built-in Google Cast and the ability to save you a trip to the light switch.
Over the past year, the Google Home has received a number of notable updates, including the fact you can now use the device to make calls to landlines in the UK. Google Assistant has also been updated to included bilingual capabilities, Continued Conversation and Multiple Actions. A more recent update has also brought Google Assistant to Nest Security alarm systems.
Read more: Google Home review
Wild card for UK readers: Pure DiscovR
An Alexa speaker with knockout design
The Amazon Echo range is still the market leader for smart speakers – in terms of sales, at least – but for all their hands-free convenience, they’re not speakers you’d look to if you want genuinely high-quality sound.
The Pure DiscovR manages to bundle top-class audio with all of Alexa’s smarts, and the intuitive touch controls to make using it by hand or voice a real pleasure. The ability to save voice commands as presets is invaluable, and something the rest of the smart speaker market could learn from.
The arresting design helps too. The rounded cube shape, and raised speaker – which can be compressed down into the casing to mute Alexa's microphone – feels hugely innovative in a crowded market, while the flashing colors around the LED rim make for much more of a light display than the Echo's meek blue.
You won't get your hands on this in the US, though. The Pure DiscovR is exclusively sold through John Lewis in the UK, with plans to roll out to Europe later in 2019. The speaker is available in either graphite and silver finishes – listed at John Lewis as black or white.
If you’re on the lookout for a quality smart speaker that delivers on voice control, sound quality, and an innovative design – and with an eye firmly on user privacy – the Pure DiscovR is exactly what you need.
Read more: Pure DiscovR review
- Read our full Pure DiscovR review here
Best smart speakers FAQ: quick questions answered
What can smart speakers do? Smart speakers can do lots of things. First up they're speakers in their own right, from the fantastic-sounding Apple HomePod through to the simpler Amazon Echo Dot.
But they also have lots of special features thanks to the smart voice assistants that are built-in. These smart assistants are voice-activated, which means you can literally ask them to do a range of things, including playing music, answering questions and controlling other smart home devices. And that's just the beginning.
Which voice assistant is best? On the whole that's subjective. Some people have always liked Apple products the best and stay loyal to Siri. Others really like Alexa after snapping up an Echo as soon as the smart speaker was first launched.
The general consensus seems to be that Google Assistant is, largely, the most accurate voice assistant. If you've got a lot of Apple products, of course Siri is the best and for overall compatibility, you're best opting for Alexa. But they're not hard and fast rules.
Is Alexa better than Google? For starters, the choice might depend on which speaker you like the look of the most. Sure Amazon's Echo range is very similar to the Google Home, but the Show, Spot and Dot look quite different.
When it comes to the smart assistants within the speakers, they're both extremely capable. Amazon's Alexa has many, many Skills, which set it apart from the rest. But Google has been a leader in the AI game for a long time now, well before the smart speaker market emerged. It's a lot harder to change Alexa's voice, too.
Is there a monthly fee for Alexa? No. You don't need anything other than the free Alexa app. However, you will get plenty of perks if you're an Amazon Prime member.
Looking to the future
What could be coming soon?
Those are all of the best smart speakers on the market right now, but with the huge success of these voice-activated smart home assistants, this selection is likely to be just the beginning.
Right now a number of other companies, including some of the biggest names in tech, are also working on their own smart home audio products. Whether they shake-up the market or turn out to be a load of hot air remains to be seen.
But in the meantime, here are just a few of the highly-anticipated upcoming releases and rumors circulating right now:
Spotify smart speaker
There are loads of speakers on the market that already allow you to connect your Spotify account. But that doesn't mean the popular streaming service can't make its own product to compete with the biggest names in tech.
Rumors suggest Spotify has been working on its own voice search interface, but it hasn't yet lifted the lid on a speaker that could compete with the likes of the Amazon Echo or Google Home.
That hasn't stopped us from dreaming up what a Spotify smart speaker might look, sound and behave like.
Read our Spotify speaker wish-list: what we want to see in a Spotify smart speaker.
Everything is a smart speaker
Maybe the future isn't about which smart speaker you should buy after all, but will be much more focused on integrating voice-activated smart assistants into other products.
While that may sound a little gimmicky, it actually solves one of the major niggling points of the smart home: you want to have access to your voice assistant in every room but don’t really want to fill your home with speakers.
- Don't miss our Amazon Echo vs Google Home vs Apple HomePod showdown
Smart speaker deals
from TechRadar – All the latest technology news