What is a Smart Speaker and how can I use it?

From left to right
Echo Show, Google Home, Echo Dot, Echo Tap, Apple HomePod and the original Amazon Echo

What is a Smart Speaker?

A “Smart Speaker” is an internet enabled, voice controlled device incorporating microphones, speakers, internet connection and a computer chip. It’s “Smart’s” come from clever voice recognition that will stream music and news on command, manage shopping lists, set timers and reminders and control connected home devices like lights, locks or thermostats.

Who might use a Smart Speaker?

Smart Connected Speakers understand your natural way of speaking, so they are less complicated to operate than other gadgets, that should make it an easy-to-use tool for seniors and those who might be busy cooking, holding kids or doing other tasks at home will benefit from what really is a consumer friendly hands-free computer.

The list of things you can do with just your voice is growing exponentially across all of these devices, it really looks like will how we interact with computers in the near future.

How does a smart speaker work?

To use one of these hands-free devices, you will use a trigger phrase — for Apple: “Hey Siri,”  for Google: “OK Google,” and for Amazon devices: “Alexa” — and then ask a question such as “what’s the weather?” or state a command like “order an Uber” or “play The Rolling Stones”.  These smart assistants like Siri and Alexa are all based in the cloud and talk back – over time they will get better at interacting with their users.

Most smart speakers are not portable, they plug into a wall socket. The exception right now is Amazon’s battery-operated Tap device – designed to play on the go.

Who makes Smart Speakers?

Amazon invented this amazing technology with the Echo. The Amazon Echo debuted complete with Alexa voice recognition in 2015, so it’s the founding device in this category.  Amazon has opened up access to its technology, so there is a growing list of Amazon Alexa enabled devices from Lenovo, Eufi, Jam Voice, Omaker WoW, Fabriq and more …

Other smart speaker manufacturers include Google, Apple and Microsoft.

What services and apps do Smart Speakers work with?

Google, Amazon and Apple all see these devices as a great way to upsell their other services, like Apple Music, Amazon Prime and Google Play. But we will see collaboration the future with the ability to work with third-parties – Microsoft and Amazon for instance, are to enable cross access between Microsofts Cortana and Amazons Alexa – the first of its kind collaboration with more to follow …

The Amazon Echo smart speaker can play music from most of the popular music services like Spotify, Pandora, TuneIn and iHeart Radio. It’s currently the leader in this area with more than 15,000 third-party voice apps called “skills.”

Using these “skills” it’s possible to order a pizza or flowers, check your bank account balances or get wine recommendations. Google does not have as many integrations and has plans to add more to its platform soon.

What Smart Speakers are available?

 

The original Amazon Echo.

Hands-free speaker that fills any room with immersive 360⁰ audio and an ever growing list of capabilities referred to as “Skills” – control light and switches, interact with streaming music and lot’s  more …

Amazon Echo – retails for under $100 

Learn more about the Amazon Echo

Amazon Echo Plus with AlexaThe original Amazon Echo upgraded …

… and enhanced – now called the Amazon Echo Plus.

The Echo Plus is a hands-free speaker you control with your voice, with a built-in smart home hub. The Echo Plus connects to the Alexa Voice Service to play music, ask questions, make calls, provide information, news, sports scores, weather, and more—instantly. All you have to do is ask.

Amazon Echo – retails for under $165

Learn more about the Amazon Echo

 

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 Amazon Echo SpotThe Echo Spot is a smart speaker with a video screen! A step up from the Echo Dot.

Designed to fit anywhere in your home and more affordable than the Echo Show this Amazon Smart Speaker uses 2nd generation far-field voice recognition to watch video flash briefings, see music lyrics, weather forecasts, to-do and shopping lists, browse and listen to Audible audiobooks, and more.

Amazon Echo – retails for under $130

Learn more about the Amazon Spot

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Amazon Echo Dot – a smaller version of the original Echo 

The Dot has all the features of the Echo, but the speakers are nowhere near as good. You can however, connect to bigger speakers via Bluetooth or a regular 3.5 mm audio cord.

Amazon Dot retails for under $50

Learn more about the Amazon Dot

The portable Echo Tap is a battery powered cross between an Echo and a Dot.

Both the Echo and Echo Dot are tethered by a power cord – which is where the Echo Tap comes in. Up to 9 hours of continuous playback (up to 8 hours in hands-free mode). Crisp sound powered by Dolby, with dual stereo Dolby 360º omni-directional speakers.

Amazon Echo Tap retails for under $130

Learn more about the Amazon Echo Tap

The Echo Look has a built in camera, specifically as a style assistant.

The built-in LED lighting and depth-sensing camera allows you to take full-length photos of your daily look using only your voice. Will also take a short video so you can see yourself from every angle.

Amazon Echo – retails for under $200

Available by invitation only right now.

The Amazon Echo Show features a touchscreen and camera

Now Alexa can show you things too! Watch YouTube, stream security cameras, view photos, weather forecasts, review to-do and shopping lists – all hands-free—just ask. Make hands-free video calls to friends and family who also have an Echo Show or the Alexa App on their smartphone.

Amazon Echo Show retails for under $230

Learn more about the Amazon Echo Show

Google Home connects to your Wi-Fi, just like Amazon devices.

Can sync with multiple Google accounts to provide personalized information for everyone in your household. Google Home excels at tasks where Alexa falls short, such as Google searches.

Google Home retails for under $130

Learn more about the Google Home

Apple HomePod with Siri integration

HomeKit-compatible and spatially aware – sensing its location and adjusting the sound accordingly. Will be able to send messages, work with Apple Music subscription. White and space gray color finishes.

Apple HomePod will retail in December 2017 for under $330

Apple has delayed release until early 2018

Conclusion – which is the best Smart Speaker?

The smart speaker with the most advanced features and support from across the industry has to be the range of Amazon Echo devices. The Echo Dot at less than $50 is a great affordable way to get your feet wet and discover just how useful a smart speaker can be in your household.

 

 

 

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