Gone are the days when a speaker was just used for playing music. Today, you can command such smart home devices as smart plugs, smart bulbs/switches, smart locks and door cameras without even getting up, using a smart speaker. From streaming your favourite music and entertainment content on the speaker or compatible TV to activities like getting news updates, setting daily reminders and voice messaging, most speakers enable multiple actions with routine and hands-free control. With voice control, just say wake up words such as “Alexa” or “OK, Google” depending on your smart assistant, and it will instantly follow your requests.
The advantage of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) is that the speaker gets additional capabilities with time as the assistant learns new skills. Because it learns through experience, the more it is used, the smarter it becomes. You can still build a home theatre setup using large speakers and soundbars, or connect to a home media server.
There are many important parameters to consider before picking up a smart speaker that suits your requirements. Some of these features are discussed next.
To ensure superior performance, basic functionality of the speaker—sound quality—needs to be a priority. Audio must be stable and clear in multiple rooms for not only proper music quality but to also control other devices amidst high background sounds.
A voice assistant is the brain behind smart speakers. While some high-end speakers support multiple assistants, you need to choose your speaker based on which assistant works the best for you. Popular ones are Amazon Alexa, Apple Siri, Google Assistant and
The ability to distinguish the voices of different users enables personalised content for each individual.
Far-field voice-recognition feature improves listening capability. Some smart speakers even support such local languages as Hindi.
Smart speakers use either Bluetooth or Wi-Fi to connect to your smart devices. You need to consider parameters such as range before your device drops the signal.
When it comes to Bluetooth, most devices use Bluetooth 4.1. For Wi-Fi, dual-band (2.5GHz/5GHz) ensures faster speed.
Control smart home devices
The best part about a smart speaker is its ability to automate your home. It is therefore necessary to ensure that the one you are buying is compatible with the smart devices of various brands installed in your home. You also need to sync and connect your items. Only then you can access multiple features at once and broadcast messages to other smart devices. If the smart speaker is Chromecast-compatible, you will be able to access content from such services as Netflix and Google Play Store through your smartphone easily.
Also, check the streaming services that are supported.
If you want your speaker to be portable without losing connection, checking not just the size but also whether it uses a charger to power the battery is important.
A speaker’s build should be such that it is safe and reliable to use. Smart speakers are usually small and lightweight for portability. Some are even waterproof and feature a touchscreen. These have a fabric outer shell to provide high-quality sound as well as hear your voice (instructions) easily. Since these are fragile, it is essential to place them where these are safe and easy to access.
Customisation options are also available on some models.
There are several smart speakers available in the market from big brands, with Google and Amazon having the biggest market share. With the market growing rapidly, such options as Bixby-powered Samsung Galaxy Home Speaker are also coming up shortly. Some popular smart speakers are listed in this section. Prices may vary on different e-commerce websites.
Google Home Mini
Google Home Mini is a voice-controlled, hands-free smart speaker enabled by Google Assistant, which supports Hindi language, too. It measures 9.78cm x 4.2cm and weighs 173grams. It requires a power supply of 5V. Besides streaming content from entertainment and music providers like Netflix, YouTube, Saavn and Gaana, the smart speaker supports most Google-based services including Google Search and Google Maps.
It provides both dual-band Wi-Fi and Bluetooth v4.1 network connectivity. Compatible brands for smart home products include Philips, Syska, TP-Link and so on. It is also compatible with smart TVs with built-in Chromecast for streaming purposes. Voice Match feature to distinguish voice ensures personalised information for up to six users. It is priced at ₹3999.
LG XBoom AI ThinQ WK7
LG XBoom AI ThinQ WK7 is a voice-controlled, AI-based speaker with Meridian sound technology and built-in Google Assistant. It does not require batteries. It works with Bluetooth technology, and can also connect with other built-in Chromecast or Chromecast audio devices, soundbars as well as wireless speakers.
Standing 21.1cm tall and weighing 1.9kg, it supports high-resolution audio in multiple rooms. It works with popular music apps like Saavn, Gaana and Google Play Music. Clear Vocal and Enhanced Bass modes are present for high-quality music. The speaker can be bought for ₹11,200.
Bose Home Speaker 500
Bose Home Speaker 500 is a smart speaker with built-in Alexa voice control. Having a height of 20.3cm and weight of 2.11kg, it also features a custom-designed eight-microphone array to provide enhanced voice pickup for multi-room playback.
Besides access to integrated Wi-Fi music services like Saavn and Amazon Music, connection over Bluetooth enables playing anything from a smartphone or tablet. No batteries are required. You can also tap the top controls or use Bose Music New App as control options. Up to six presets can be set up, and multiple users can receive personalised content. The device is priced at ₹39,000.
UE Megablast is a hands-free portable speaker with built-in Alexa voice control. Standing 23.9cm tall, it provides rich sound and good clarity. It supports dual-band Wi-Fi (100m range) as well as Bluetooth (45m range) network connectivity. Its rechargeable battery can work up to twelve hours at a time.
Music can be streamed from various sources like Amazon Music, iHeart Radio and TuneIn. The speaker is waterproof and can be immersed in water up to one metre for thirty minutes. Ultimate Ears app can be used to get new updates. The speaker is available for ₹27,069.
Echo Dot (3rd Gen)
Echo Dot (3rd Gen) is a voice-controlled smart speaker powered by Alexa. It has four microphones and enhanced noise cancellation for high sound quality. It supports dual-band Wi-Fi network. Using Bluetooth or 3.5mm audio cable, it can be connected to external speakers. The device measures 9.9cm x 4.3cm and weighs 300gm.
You can use Amazon services like Amazon Prime as well as stream music from Saavn, Gaana, Hungama Music, TuneIn, etc. It needs an uninterrupted power supply, as it does not have a built-in battery. Alexa App is compatible with Fire OS, Android and iOS devices, and is also accessible via a Web browser. Privacy is ensured through Mute button that disconnects the microphone. The device can also be paired with another Echo Dot for better sound. Hands-free voice control is not supported for Mac OS X devices. It is available for ₹3999.