We weren’t sure what to expect upon opening the Bose Home 300 for testing, but we were pleasantly surprised on almost every level. While the sound quality can’t quite compete with the (much larger) Echo Studio, the Bose Home 300 allows users to choose between Alexa or Google Assistant; it has handy preset buttons on the top of the speaker; and it can stream audio over Bluetooth, AirPlay, WiFi, or via an old-school auxiliary cable.
Through its app and smart assistants, the Bose Home 300 can play music from a large number of streaming services, such as Spotify, TuneIn, Amazon Music, Tidal, Pandora, and even Apple Music via Airplay or Bluetooth. The compatible music and podcast sources will vary a bit depending on which smart assistant you choose (you can only use one assistant at a time, however it is very easy to switch in the Bose app).
Though not any larger, this speaker is much louder than most of the other smart speakers we included in this roundup. While the audio quality isn’t what we’d call exceptional, it is definitely sufficient for the way most of us use our smart speakers. And if it isn’t, you have the option to group Bose speakers together to create a stereo setup.
Alexa or Google Assistant
Physical preset buttons
None that we could find
The Bose Portable Smart Speaker is a whole lot like the Bose Home 300. The shape is different, but it’s wrapped in a similar aesthetic, uses the same app, and can work with either Alexa or Google Assistant. This wireless speaker pumps out a lot of sound for its size, and it manages to balance portability and durability surprisingly well. The swivel handle on top makes it very easy to carry, and with its water-resistant design, this speaker is at home outdoors or poolside.
The Bose Portable Smart Speaker’s battery lasts for several hours of high-volume music, and if you have another Bose speaker at home, it is capable of being grouped for multi-room music or stereo setup. The optional charging cradle also makes it super easy to grab on the way out the door.
The Portable Smart Speaker has a sturdy, thoughtful design, and it’s a pleasure to use in any situation.
Alexa or Google Assistant
Nest Audio, Google’s latest smart speaker, is an upgraded version of the Google Home but with a focus on sound and faster Google Assistant response times, all for less than $100. Its performance and cost make the Nest Audio an easy pick for the best value on the market.
Touting a sleek new design, the Nest Audio comes in five colors and has three hidden touch controls on top that play or pause music and control the volume. While the bass could be deeper, the speaker puts out crisp and clear sound, even when cranked all the way up. Where this speaker really shines, though, is the Stereo Pairing feature, which allows you to sync two Nest Audio speakers in the same room in stereo. It can also be paired with other Nest speakers for sharp, multi-room audio.
Using the same machine learning chip as the Nest Mini, the Nest Audio’s Google Assistant responds quickly (an important factor when choosing a smart speaker). And while it doesn’t come with any USB-C or auxiliary input ports, it supports both WiFi and Bluetooth connection, unlike the Sonos One.
Overall, the Nest Audio is a great option for anyone looking for a smart speaker for around $100 that packs in smarts and ear-pleasing sound.
Great sound for the money
Fast Google Assistant
Stylish, compact design
Microphones aren’t as sensitive as they could be
I’m Sarah Kovac, and I am the smart home editor here at Reviewed. I’ve been sharing my home with various smart speakers for several years. I use them to control my lights, schedule appointments, lock my door, and get the weather forecast. I’ve used smart speakers to test all the smart home products I’ve reviewed, so I understand how these speakers and their integrated voice assistants interact with all aspects of a smart home. I even occasionally use Bixby. I’m legit.
We were already intimately familiar with many of the speakers included in this roundup, as testing smart home products requires using a variety of smart speakers on a regular basis. Creating a meaningful testing rubric, however, proved to be a somewhat difficult task, as each of these speakers have different use cases and excel in different categories.
The two main criteria we ended up settling on were the speaker’s ability to be useful in a smart home setting, and its capacity to be used by the widest variety of people. As far as audio quality, while some are obviously better than others, most of the speakers we auditioned will perform just fine in the average home.
You probably don’t care if a speaker can stream music from 12 different services or allows you to choose between two different assistants. You want a speaker that works with your preferred assistant and your preferred streaming service or music source. The winners we selected offer the largest variety of ways to use them, so chances are our winners will work nicely with whatever setup and services you already have going.
If you already have smart speakers in your home and use them to communicate with features like Alexa’s Announcement and Drop-In, Google Assistant’s Broadcast, or speaker-to-speaker calling, you will probably want to go with an actual Amazon Echo or Google Nest speaker as opposed to a third-party brand with Alexa or Google Assistant but in.
Some third-party speakers don’t have all of the same communications capabilities as their Amazon and Google counterparts. This seems to be more of an issue with Alexa devices than Google Assistant ones, but if you’re not intending to use your speaker this way, it’s not going to matter which brand you choose. Let me tell you, though, using the speaker to announce or broadcast a message can be life-changing if you have kids (“Dinner’s ready!”) or realize too late that there’s only a single square of toilet paper left on the roll.
While Alexa is certainly the most popular smart assistant on the market currently, in our experience Google Assistant tends to be a bit more intuitive and easier to converse with. After using both digital assistants extensively, the majority of our regular smart home writers have bought Google Assistant speakers for their own homes, like the Nest Hub Max smart display.
That being said, Alexa has far more skills (functions that you can choose to enable or disable in the app), and many of us have been around Echo speakers long enough that we’ve learned how to speak fluent Alexa.
Choosing a smart assistant ultimately comes down to personal preference and what other smart home devices you have (or plan to have).
Those who are committed to Apple’s ecosystem will definitely be attracted to the HomePod’s solid sound quality and built-in Siri. Unfortunately, Apple’s proprietary approach to technology has made it difficult for smart home companies to make their products compatible with HomeKit (the platform that enables you to use Siri to control your smart devices). You can technically run an entire smart home over Siri—you just don’t have a lot of options.
If you’re just starting out with smart home tech, we recommend going with a speaker that has either Alexa or Google Assistant over Siri.
If you’re researching smart speakers, bringing an ever-listening, WiFi-connected device into your home might (should!) be a concern. We know that Amazon and Google review and store voice recordings to improve smart assistant accuracy, and there have been instances when Alexa and Google Assistant have misheard commands, leading to some scary invasions of privacy.
That being said, there are steps you can take to protect your privacy from Alexa and Google Assistant. You’ll want to pay attention to the setup process in the speaker’s associated app, as you’ll get the chance to opt out of voice recording storage and review. You can also hop into the settings later to delete voice recordings and adjust other privacy options.
The Sonos Move is the first offering from the brand that supports Bluetooth streaming. This is a big deal, because it opens up a world of streaming possibilities that aren’t supported by Sonos’ app.
The Move has impressive sound, a very handy charging base, good battery life, and of course it fits into the much-beloved Sonos ecosystem to interface with speakers like the Sonos One, the Ikea-branded Symfonisk, and even the Sonos Arc Dolby Atmos soundbar.
The one real gripe we have about the speaker compared to the Bose Portable Home is that the Move doesn’t feel particularly rugged. It’s heavy, so it feels like one good drop on a hard surface would do some serious damage. It has a cutout on the back that allows you to get a solid grip on the speaker if you’re carrying it around, but it’s not as secure in the hand as the Bose Portable Home’s top handle.
In addition, the price is considerably higher than the others we tested, and while Sonos speakers are quite popular, we feel the Sonos ecosystem can be a little finicky if you don’t have it set up just right.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with this speaker, and Sonos fans are surely rejoicing over the Bluetooth feature.
Alexa or Google Assistant
Geared toward Sonos users
If you’re looking for the best sound quality in a midrange smart speaker, and you don’t mind being stuck with Alexa, the Echo Studio is absolutely the best pick.
This speaker is considerably larger than all the others we tested, but the additional size allows for deeper bass, better clarity, and immersive sound. The Studio is also unique in this space as it is designed to deliver 3D sound, thanks to its Dolby Atmos compatibility, including an upward-firing driver that bounces sound off your ceiling to better immerse you.
Usually, we think of surround sound in reference to movies, but there is an entire genre of music that takes advantage of technology like that in the Echo Studio to deliver sound that seems to come from everywhere–even above you, though at the present it’s limited to a small list of artists and streaming services, such as Amazon Music Unlimited. Regardless of whether you use this speaker to play 3D music, the sound it delivers will be satisfying.
Larger than competitors
The Sonos One long reigned king of the third-party smart speakers, but it’s no surprise that competitors didn’t allow it to corner the market for long. The top contenders in this list come in at about the same price as the One, and with similarly good sound quality.
The One does produce slightly crisper sound than all of those we tested except the Echo Studio and HomePod. But the difference in sound is not pronounced enough to matter for most of us, and you’d probably only notice if you had the speakers set up side-by-side, as we did.
That being said, the only thing that kept the Sonos One from being our top pick was the lack of Bluetooth compatibility, which is especially convenient when you have other people over who want to share their music. In addition, either you love the Sonos app, or you find it unintuitive. Our smart home editor is in the latter group.
Great sound quality
Alexa or Google Assistant
There are plenty of great soundbars on the market right now, and many of them do have smart features. But we wanted to include the Sonos Beam in this roundup because, as stated above, those who are invested in the Sonos ecosystem tend to really like it, and it’s a quality smart speaker.
Sonos speakers offer both Alexa and Google assistant, impressive sound quality, and a sleek, minimalist design, and the Beam is no exception. If you’re shopping for a soundbar and would also like a smart assistant built into your home theater set up, the Sonos Beam is an excellent way to go. That’s especially true if you don’t want to jump up to the $799 Sonos Arc.
Highly polished user experience
Geared towards Sonos users
While the Marshall brand is associated with guitar amps and bass cabinets, its recent offering to the smart speaker market shows that it’s serious about competing with established smart speaker brands like Sonos. The Uxbridge Voice can be purchased with either Alexa or Google Assistant preinstalled, and the sound quality is alright.
It’s the aesthetic of this speaker that really sets it apart from the crowd. Like the rest of the Marshall speaker lineup, it’s designed to look like a vintage amp, and even the controls on top for volume, treble, and bass look a bit like guitar frets.
We loved the look of this smart speaker, but it’s not for everybody. And if sound quality is at the top of your smart speaker wish list, you might be slightly disappointed with this one. Marshall does offer the Action II Voice and Stanmore II Voice, the latter of which is an absolute belter. Both come with voice assistants and considerably more power, though they’re a lot larger than your average smart speaker.
Comes with either Alexa or Google Assistant
Sound quality just so-so
While Amazon’s Echo smart speaker line doesn’t offer the flexibility of our winners when it comes to voice assistant choice, Echo speakers do offer some features that third-party Alexa smart speakers lack.
For example, if you want to communicate between the smart speakers in your house with features like Drop-In and Announcements, you’ll want to choose a speaker from the Echo lineup. While the entry-level Amazon Echo Dot has become almost ubiquitous, the taller, cylindrical Echo offers surprisingly good sound in a minimal design.
Other speakers higher on this list will give you louder, clearer sound, but if you want all of the communication options Alexa has to offer, the Echo is a great place to start. And if you want to upgrade to better sound quality later, you can pair two Echos with an Amazon Echo Sub for 2.1 surround sound.
High performance quality
We knew there was no way the Echo Flex would win this roundup, but it is such a unique offering that we felt it was worth including.
The Echo Flex is slightly larger than a deck of playing cards, and it plugs directly into an outlet like a nightlight. It takes up zero space on the counter, and you can choose to plug an optional motion sensor or smart nightlight into the speaker. The add-ons snap into the top and can be controlled through the Alexa app.
If you’re short on space but you want Alexa in a room, the Flex is an excellent solution. As you would expect for its size, the sound quality is bad. But it’s perfect for controlling your smart home, checking the weather, listening to the news, etc.
Hangs from wall plug
Night light and motion sensor add-ons
Poor sound quality
The Google Home smart speaker was one of the first to the market that really impressed users with its sound quality. Since its release in late 2016, many speakers have launched to compete and surpass the sound that the Google Home produces, however it is still a solid pick for a Google Assistant speaker, and as it’s been on the market for years, it’s not difficult to find one at a reasonable price.
Good sound for the size
None that we could find
Google’s smallest smart speaker is the perfect entry point for someone who is new to smart home or wants to have several smart speakers throughout the house. The newest version of the Mini has surprisingly good sound for such a small package, and the speaker is one of the most affordable you’ll find, even when it’s not on sale (which happens fairly often).
Like you’d expect, sound quality is not this speaker’s strong suit. But if you just want access to Google Assistant without spending much cash, the Nest Mini is the way to go.
None that we could find
Apple’s HomePod is a quality speaker. That’s all there is to it. It offers clear, smooth sound and even some solid bass response. But Apple’s smart assistant, Siri, is not a great help in the typical smart home.
Siri will only work to control HomeKit-compatible devices, which are becoming more common but have a long way to go to catch up with the landslide of devices that are compatible with Google Assistant and Alexa. Apple is known for being highly proprietary, so if you don’t mind being tied to Apple products and the small (but growing) number of smart home devices that work with them, you might be happy with the HomePod.
But for most people, the HomePod will be a frustrating and limiting experience.
Restricted to HomeKit products