2020 has been an important year for smart speakers, with the three biggest players – Amazon, Apple and Google – all releasing new versions of their popular wireless smart home devices.
The Amazon Echo (2020), Apple HomePod mini, and Google Nest Audio all look very different from their predecessors, with all three companies delivering major design overhauls to their latest smart speakers.
Not only that, but all three are almost the same price, at $ 99 / £ 89 / AU $ 149 (although the HomePod mini is £ 10 more expensive in the UK, at £ 99).
While we love the fact that the world’s largest smart home companies have all released affordable smart speakers in a year when more of us stay at home more than usual, the similarities between the three wireless speakers don’t make it easy to choose from. one.
That’s why we’ve put together this handy guide in which we’ll take you through the pros and cons of every smart speaker, starting with the Amazon Echo (2020).
The Amazon Echo 2020 is the fourth generation of the tech giant’s smart speaker, and it comes with lots of updates, including an all-new design, a new AZ1 neural processor, and the inclusion of the Zigbee smart home hub.
It’s powered by Alexa, which means you can use it to control many smart home devices, as well as ask basic voice assistant questions and make calls in your country of residence.
Cool, futuristic design
In our Amazon Echo (2020) review, we love the futuristic ball design that Amazon is giving its flagship smart speaker. While Amazon sent us a Charcoal color sample for review, the Echo is also available in two other colors – Glacier White and Twilight Blue, all of which will look earthy in your home.
It retains the fabric mesh of its predecessors, but the iconic Alexa blue glow has been transferred to the underside of the speaker.
Four easy-to-use control buttons are located on the top (including a button to mute the microphone if you’re concerned about privacy), and you’ll find the power connector and the 3.5mm aux line in / out jack on the back, the latter one which can be used to send signals. audio to external speakers or connect the Echo to a separate source like your phone or tablet.
Total smart home control
The inclusion of a Zigbee hub means the Echo (2020) is the best smart speaker to control your other smart home devices. Connecting a smart device, be it a smart light bulb, smart thermostat, or a security camera, is usually as easy as plugging in the product and asking Alexa to search for the device. Once found, you can change the name within the Alexa app and you’re done.
Alexa routines can be created within the smartphone app and can consist of, say, turning on the light every time you open a closet using a door sensor and smart light bulb, or turning on the thermostat when you get home by telling Alexa you’re back.
Alexa herself has also improved; Although previously it took Alexa a second or two to process our request, the new Echo will respond half the time thanks to the new AZ1 neural processor that will work in tandem with a revised speech model to process commands. That feature will take full effect later this year, Amazon told us, but we’ve seen a small increase in performance.
Comprehensive music streaming support
The Amazon Echo comes with support for a number of music streaming services, with the company choosing user convenience over loyalty to its own ecosystem (we’re looking at you Apple.)
Alexa supports most of the major music streaming services including Amazon Music (Standard and HD), Apple Music, Spotify, TIDAL, Deezer, Pandora, SiriusXM, iHeartRadio, and TuneIn, although you will mostly want to stick with the default Amazon Music, as you will later. will have about 30,000 songs at your fingertips, plus a variety of podcasts. If you have a Fire TV, Alexa can control it too, but if that’s a feature you’re specifically looking for, you should choose the Amazon Fire TV Cube instead.
While audio quality has been improved since the third generation of the Amazon Echo, there are still improvements that can be made with the Echo (2020).
The spherical design might lead you to believe you’re getting 360-degree sound, but in reality you get fairly focused directional audio, which sounds best when you’re sitting directly in front of it.
The audio isn’t very detailed either, and the Echo doesn’t hit the same volume levels as some of the best Bluetooth speakers on the market; still, it’s okay to listen to it casually or add some background music as you go about the day.
After years of speculation, the Apple HomePod mini finally launched earlier this year, offering a very cheap entry point to Apple’s smart home ecosystem. As the name suggests, it is considerably smaller than the original Apple HomePod, and like the new Echo, it sports a (sort of) ball design that further sets it apart from its predecessors.
Excellent audio quality
For us, audio performance is the main reason to buy the HomePod mini. This is amazing for such a small speaker, and it really feels like the right mix of price and sound quality. The bass isn’t too heavy, the vocals aren’t lost in the mix, and when you pair two minis, the stereo experience is truly immersive.
Audio isn’t nearly as powerful as the original HomePod, but it sure beats the new Amazon Echo and Google Nest Audio – and the mini is much lighter (and expensive) like its predecessor.
Like the Amazon Echo (2020), the Apple HomePod mini comes with a major design makeover, using an earthy half-sphere with a gray or white lined netting – however, unlike the Echo, it comes with a 360-degree sound.
At the top of the smart speaker is the Siri light display, which shines when you interact with the smart speaker. The little ball sits on a flat base, and while it’s heavy enough not to hit it easily, it’s nowhere near the weight of the original HomePod. That lack of weight also means you don’t have to worry about surface marking it, as some users with the larger HomePod have found.
The Apple HomePod mini is super easy to set up – as long as you have an iPhone. Once plugged in, you can simply hold your iPhone near the speaker and you’ll get a notification asking you to pair; tapping this activates the camera which you can use to find the circling Siri light on the top of the HomePod mini.
Then it’s just a few simple taps to add a speaker to your Wi-Fi network and sync your entire Apple ID, and set up personalized information for other people in your home. You can also assign it to a specific room so you can ask Siri things like “play music in the bedroom” and pair it with other earbuds for stereo sound.
Like the original HomePod, the HomePod mini lacked smart home compatibility; While you can use Siri to control your smart home devices, we found in our Apple HomePod mini review that voice assistants don’t always respond accurately to our commands.
Another issue is the lack of support for third-party streaming services. If you don’t have an Apple Music account, you are somewhat restricted if you want to play music using your voice. You can’t ask the HomePod mini to play anything via Spotify – which can only be activated via AirPlay, and will need to use your phone instead of the simpler method of asking Siri to play a song with your voice. Basically, you need a subscription to take full advantage of your HomePod mini, although Apple recently added Pandora support, so there you have it.
Google Nest Audio is the successor to the company’s first smart speaker, Google Home – and since then a lot has changed, including a name change designed to integrate its speakers and smart displays into the Nest ecosystem.
It relies on the Google Assistant to work, which comes with a ton of information provided by search engines, as well as integrations with the tech giant’s other products and services, including Calendar, Gmail, Google Duo, and more.
Of all the smart speakers we compare here, Google Nest Audio is the least striking, with a pebble-like shape that will blend effortlessly into any home. Granted, this isn’t the most attractive looking smart speaker we’ve seen, but we love the fact that it comes in a variety of stylish pastels. Plus, it’s made from 70% recycled material, and each unit will, according to Google store, 1.2 500ml plastic bottles from landfills.
Google is working to improve the built-in microphones in its smart speakers, and we found in a Google Nest Audio review that Google is very good at picking up our voices when giving Google Assistant commands, even while listening to music.
Smart Google Assistant
The Google Assistant has the advantage of having the world’s most popular search engine powering it, and that means that it is amazing at answering your questions. Plus, the addition of a built-in Chromecast means you can use the speakers to control compatible TVs, play shows and movies using your own voice.
Add to that the fantastic integration with Google’s suite of services, and you’ll get a smart speaker that’s ideal for anyone using Google in reg.
Despite the name, Google Nest Audio isn’t the best-sounding wireless speaker out there. Overall sound quality isn’t bad, and Nest Audio can give you a pleasant listening experience at moderate levels – but you don’t have to pay more for a speaker that can deliver more bass, detail, and treble sparkle without any harshness.
Saying that, we really appreciate the ability to adjust EQ settings in the Google Home app.