We’ve all wished that we could hire our own personal assistant. Not only would having someone to help you out around the house make you feel like a celebrity, but it would save you loads of time! Who can remember when to send an email, make sure your kids are on time for soccer practice, and remember to turn all the lights off in your house at night? A few companies have designed products that attempt to fill this elusive personal assistant role in our lives. It began, of course, with Apple’s Siri—the iPhone assistant who is better known for her witty response to pop culture questions than her effectiveness with real life responses. That concept sparked an avalanche of devices in its wake, though, and those that are designed to work hand-in-hand with home automation are actually quite impressive. Meet the smart speaker.
We spent some time researching these different electronic assistants—commonly referred to as smart speakers. This list covers three products that are currently on the market, and two up-and-comers that will be released soon. This is a new and advancing technology, so looking towards what’s next is essential in understanding how these devices will impact us in the coming years.
Best Overall: Amazon Echo (MSRP: $179)
Probably the most well-known of this line of products, the Amazon echo is yet another piece of the ever-growing suite of products that Amazon has created to increase home automation and convenience. The device plays all of your streaming music, and also reads audiobooks (both especially useful for existing Amazon Prime members) and news reports aloud.
Like Siri before it, the Echo also answers questions about daily sports scores, trivia, and upcoming weather among other things. We found that the Echo’s personality, Alexa, was easy to communicate with and was witty banter when asked funny questions.
What’s most revolutionary about this device is that it connects with nearly any home automation products you might already have in your home. It is also self-updating, and because of the new technology associated with it is constantly growing in intelligence and effectiveness.
Amazon users sing the praises of this product. One user noted that “be it inquiries about the weather, adding things to the shopping list, or playing Pandora while hanging around the house, it’s a great piece of technology.”
Why We Chose It…
Naturally, Amazon reviews of this product are very strong. We love that this product integrates so well with many other services that consumers are already using (and are happy with.) That ease of integration, and a fair assumption that its capabilities will only continue to grow, makes this a great pick. We even have a guide on all of the not-so-intuitive things you can do that can really bring out the value in the Amazon Echo.
Best for Time Management: The Ubi Voice of The Internet (MSRP: $299)
The Ubi device is similar to the Amazon Echo, though there are several differences that users have noted. The primary difference between the Echo and the Ubi seems to be the setup and functionality of the device as a personal assistant. Users say that the Echo is much easier to set up, but the Ubi is better at managing day-to-day schedules and appointments once set up. This device also plays music and integrates with home automation, connecting with products like Nest’s learning thermostat to help manage your home.
Buyers of the Ubi are happy with this little device’s home assistance capabilities. “Ubi links to our home automation system and controls items in the house, monitors vital sensors, and even lets the house know when people come and go during the day. For example, I know exactly when the dog walker comes.”
Why We Chose It…
The powerful personal management capabilities of this device make it a stand-out choice among this group. If you’re looking primarily for help managing your calendar, this is likely the product you’ll get the most out of.
Best for Sound: Zettaly Avy Wireless Smart Speaker (MSRP: $199)
This smart speaker streams music, and also functions as a tabletop tablet. You can play movies, applications, or check your email easily on this device.
This device gets praise from users for its sound quality. “This unit has several key features that differentiate itself to most current products… Wi-Fi capability, Bluetooth, Speakers and full Android Tablet capabilities. I bought it mainly for internet radio streaming so these are all important features for me.”
Why We Chose It…
This is a simple, inexpensive device that would be great in a kitchen, for playing music and reading recipes on applications, or in the living room for streaming video.
Coming Soon (2016)
Ivee Voice ($99 for Early Adopters)
The Ivee Voice will be the first multi-room electronic assistant, allowing you to use it throughout your home with ease. The company website says that the device will be useable as a speaker and home automation assistant, much like its predecessors. Plans for the product’s additional capabilities sound like a new leap, though. The device will work with food delivery services and applications like Uber, allowing you to request services with only the sound of your voice.
LG Smartthinq Hub (Price TBD)
Announced just as 2016’s CES convention began, the Smartthinq Hub is LG’s entry into the smart speaker market. This device will also play music, help you with your calendar, and automate your home. Where automation is concerned, it appears the Smartthinq Hub will integrate with more products than its competitors (such as robotic vacuums and washing machines.) LG has also partnered directly with Lowes for this product, integrating with their home security system (Iris.)
This technology is moving forward quickly. Those of us who are interested in the Smart Home movement in general should be very excited about these advances. These devices deliver on the promise of making the Smart Home what it should be: more functional. The concept of home automation couldn’t be fully realized without these “hubs,” which make it as simple as a singular voice command to put our other smart products to use with ease.
What’s especially promising about these products is their ability to self-update. Instead of waiting for the next release of a new physical product, we’ll be introduced to these devices’ new capabilities in real time. That saves on the expense of buying a new device, and also allows any user to be at the forefront of the technology as it is developed.
Do you think you’d benefit from the personal assistant qualities a smart speaker might bring to your home? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!