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11 best smart speakers for virtual assistance at home and on the go

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David RS Taylor
·9 min read
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<p>Choose from multi-room systems to waterproof options with  impressive battery life, perfect for days out </p> (iStock/TheIndependent )

Choose from multi-room systems to waterproof options with impressive battery life, perfect for days out

(iStock/TheIndependent )

To most people, the idea of a smart speaker is probably still fairly alien. 

What can a smart speaker actually do, besides talk to you and let you know what the weather is going to be like tomorrow?

Plenty, it turns out. From controlling your smart home products (see lighting, heating etc.), to analysing your sleep patterns (not creepy at all), smart speakers are a one stop shop for making your home life a little bit easier.

For proper smarts, the three big names are Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa and Apple’s Siri. Each company makes its own speakers to show off smart capability and help users stick to a seamless ecosystem, but there are countless companies out there producing speakers compatible with Alexa and Google Assistant. 

With the advent of AirPlay2, even Siri is getting in on the third-party action: plenty of big audio brands are compatible with the software, giving you the chance to enter the Apple world with a little more flexibility.

Read more:

Price and quality vary hugely with smart speakers, and choosing the right one is a balance between audio quality and smart capability, with the two not necessarily coming hand in hand. In our testing, we looked at both portable and home-based options to find some of the best examples of harmonious smart speakers on the market. 

You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections. This revenue helps us to fund journalism across The Independent.

Sonos one

The Sonos one, the original Sonos smart speaker, is still among the best when it comes to the full package. In many ways it was the first “proper” smart speaker, a product made by an audio-focussed company: other companies in the smart speaker field, such as Google, Apple and Amazon, are very much smart-feature-first. The one’s audio is crystal clear, with no discernible distortion, and provides a normal-sized room with enough volume to fill it twice over. The Sonos sound signature is hard to top, and if you’re starting out on a smart multi-room system with Sonos, it’s the perfect flagship product.

Buy now £179.00, Currys.co.uk

Bose smart speaker 500

Another speaker from an audio-focused brand, the Bose home speaker 500 runs head to head against the Sonos one. It offers fantastic sound, and is compatible with Google Assistant and Alexa. The small front screen is a nice touch, adding a little character to an otherwise quite predictable design. The eight microphone array under the grille is the best on the market and picks up even the slightest voice commands, perfect for parties where the sound would be cranked up too high for other smart speakers to hear you asking what the weather will be like later.

Buy now £279.99, Johnlewis.com

Google nest mini

This is a case of a good thing coming in a small package. This pebble-shaped beauty is the brainchild of Google, whose Google Assistant has been around much longer than the brand’s main competitors. This time has been used wisely, making Google Assistant the easiest and most intelligent voice assistant on the market. The nest mini is small – it fits in the palm of your hand – but produces strong sound and clear voice responses. This would fit seamlessly into almost any home and perform admirably. For its price, it’s difficult to find anything that can touch it.

Buy now £42.00, Currys.co.uk

Apple homepod mini

For many users of Apple’s ecosystem, a homepod is the obvious choice, keeping things streamlined and easy to pair. However, for us, the homepod’s little brother, the mini, is the better option out of the two. It’s smaller, taking up less room on your bedside or coffee table, but still packs plenty of sound into its speakers. The internal microphones work without any issues, and the mini’s software is, reassuringly, Apple. The design is nothing less than you’d expect from the branding gurus in California, a gorgeous look that transports us into a future where everything is made of white marble, and the smart speakers are actually in charge of us. A good price for an impressive smart speaker.

Buy now £99.00, Apple.com

Audio Pro addon C5A

We’re fans of the addon range, especially as part of a multi-room system, so it was music to our ears to see that Audio Pro has released a speaker with Alexa to join the voice assistant world. The sound from addon speakers is impressive, especially considering their price – these are proper bits of audio kit, and should be treated as such. However, a little smart capability never hurt anyone, and adding this to your multi-room system will provide an extra level of sophistication.

Buy now £229.00, Currys.co.uk

Amazon echo dot 4th generation 

Amazon’s range of smart speakers are wildly popular, with good reason: Alexa is easy to set up, simple to navigate and the speakers themselves are of a high quality. Once again, we prefer the smaller version of the brand’s original trailblazer. The echo dot is a bitesize version of the original echo – everything is pretty much the same besides the size and price. The new design proves to be a revamp of Amazon’s main smart speaker line, and we think it does the business. If you’re an Alexa user, or dipping your toe into the world of smart speakers, the echo dot is a great choice for a non-invasive speaker that produces great sound and slots nicely into the Amazon ecosystem.

Buy now £49.99, Amazon.co.uk

Watch: Alexa gives amusing response when asked about hit TV show 'Line of Duty'

Google nest hub 2nd generation 

What many smart speakers lack is a bit of visual usability. The Google nest hub solves this, with a crisp, vivid 7in LED screen that’s great to use for video (think meal recipe tutorials or Netflix), a digital photo frame, or various apps such as your calendar or smart doorbell camera. The speakers also give a great account of themselves, surpassing the nest mini. Another couple of pretty futuristic features are ultrasound and the new Soli radar sensors. Ultrasound is used to determine how near you are to the screen, adjusting font and volume accordingly, while Soli lets the hub keep an eye on your sleep patterns without actually keeping an eye on you (there’s no camera included). 

Radar tracks your movements in the night, noting any restless periods – you can even ask it to record whenever you snore. You can look through your sleep data the next morning on the screen, and get tips on when to go to bed for the best sleep you can get. With Fitbit now under the Google umbrella, expect this feature to link in with Fitbit premium soon enough. A smart speaker with more visual smarts than any other.

Buy now £89.99, Google.com

Bose portable smart speaker

It’s impressive how Bose has managed to cram so much of its very best audio tech into the portable smart speaker. It’s a good deal smaller than the home speaker 500, with a handle that makes it much more portable than many of its rivals, which made us disproportionately happy. Despite its portability, it concedes very little of its sound performance, with a warm approach to music and podcasts alike. It might be pricey, but for portability paired with smart features, this is the best you can get.

Buy now £289.00, Johnlewis.com

Bang and Olufsen beosound A1 2nd generation bluetooth waterproof speaker 

Bang & Olufsen makes lovely speakers. The A1 is no exception, with plenty of quality audio tech hidden underneath the sleek Scandi exterior. Alongside the class-leading output, we had no issues with input, our voice commands heard easily by the A1’s microphones. Compared to the already-brilliant first generation A1, the second generation feels more refined. Bang and Olufsen has seen what could be improved, and tweaked accordingly. It’s now officially waterproof and completely resistant to dust or sand, and battery life has also been improved by a ridiculous 350 per cent. A smart speaker for the budding interior designer, but also a refined companion for any day out.

Buy now £200.00, Bang-olufsen.com

Sonos move

The Sonos move offers you more in terms of sound and tech than the Sonos one, without the hassle of it being stuck in one place: its audio output also edges the Bose portable smart speaker. The nifty speaker stand doubles as a charger, and the battery lasts a decent 11 hours. The move isn’t a speaker you’ll lug about everywhere – it’s still 3kg – but it’s perfect when you want Sonos smart features in your back garden and don’t want neighbours complaining about you shouting “Alexa” in the house at anti-social levels.

Buy now £399.00, Sonos.com

JBL link portable 

JBL continues to be a solid, unsung hero in audio. Its Charge series of portable speakers is consistently mentioned in best round-ups, including our own, and the link portable is no exception to the rule. It’s compatible with Android and iOS, with Chromecast built in and AirPlay2 compatibility. The sound is classic JBL, but the design has something more sophisticated about it than other portable speakers by the brand. The upright design is reminiscent of the Sonos move, with the charging dock/speaker stand working well and looking good. The eight-hour playtime and IPX7 waterproof certification add to its appeal, and it’s a winner for the price.

Buy now £129.99, Bt.com

The verdict: Smart speakers 

For the best audio performance with seamless smart features, the Sonos one is the best in its class, while the best portable version is the Bose portable smart speaker. For price, however, the Google nest mini is pound-for-pound the best on this list.

Looking for home speakers that pack a punch? Check out our roundup of the best soundbars for cinematic audio

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