What is a smart speaker?
A smart speaker is a revolutionary new kind of speaker and a voice activation device with integrated artificial intelligence that provides hands-free operation with the aid of one or more “hot words” (or a succession of words and phrases).
In short, the speaker doesn’t have to hold the microphone and the user doesn’t need to lean into a face to speak. These are basically plug-and-play devices that just need the user’s attention to activate them. Once activated, they start speaking on their own, with the user controlling their responses by either touching the microphone or by using voice commands.
These intelligent, conversational speakers are very different from normal speakers as they are much more capable of generating interest and creating intimacy in the conversations with their users.
Features of a smart speaker
Smart Speakers and Echo Centers
As mentioned, they are plug-and-play and come complete with all the necessary software and hardware that is required to run a standard setup. They can be used in the office, at home, or any place where a person needs to interact with others.
For example, at a conference, a smart speaker can seamlessly adjust to any room, be it standing or sitting, and make itself available for use. They are so popular that many businesses are investing in these systems to enhance their business and professional image, as well as to provide employees with more efficient and comfortable workplace communication.
When talking about smart speakers, the first thing that comes to mind is the possibility of having a speaker that will take over your home control and give you directions, play music, or even talk to your kids.
However, this isn’t the only way in which they can be used. At home, they can be used for things like answering the phone, controlling music playback, and controlling television output. The great thing about these systems is that they don’t need you to understand or speak anything in order to enjoy them, as you will obviously need a telephone line for home control to work.
Interactive Voice Response (IVR)
A smart speaker or an IVR system can perform many different functions. For example, you may find yourself in a situation where you have been unable to reach someone and they are not responding to call and messages left on their voicemail box. If you want to continue to be able to handle these calls, you will have to actually speak to them and hopefully, they will still be able to receive and understand you. This is where the concept of an IVR system can come in real handy.
IVR can be controlled from the touch screen of a smart speaker or through the internet. However, there are certain drawbacks when using these IVR features and one of them is that the information you get is pre-programmed into the device and may not be suitable for various types of communication.
In other words, you may not get a message that advised your partner to meet at 6 PM instead of 7 PM. When you use a traditional VoIP solution, it doesn’t matter whether you are talking to a 3rd party, a colleague, your own personal assistant, or even a virtual assistant – you will always get the right information as long as you specify the right phone number.
Another key factor that comes along when talking about smart speaker devices and IVR solutions is that the speaker units can be used with either voice commands or voice-only programs.
When talking about voice commands, the unit will allow you to simply say “call my friend Alice” and then the unit will dial her phone. The good thing about this is that you don’t have to give any verbal cues.
On the other hand, when doing a voice-only program, you will need to utter words like “call Alice” in order for the phone to ring. These two types are slightly different, but they both mean basically the same thing.
The good news is that you do not need to go through a lot of training just to use these voice assistants. As long as you have a modern smartphone or tablet (plus an internet connection), you will be able to start using most of the applications that come with these devices.
You do not need any specific training – all you need to know is how to properly set up the device and how to use the various features that these devices offer. Just remember that the earlier that you get acquainted with these devices, the better.
Smartphones are the ideal communication tools for business people today. They allow you to access your email, keep track of your schedule and also access any important documents that you might need.
Plus, there are many more advanced features that most smartphone devices can already boast of. However, as with most things in life, you do get what you pay for. If you want something that can perform on a higher level and can save you time and money, then it would probably be a good idea to invest in one of the many mobile apps available to help you.
5 Top Recommended Smart Speakers
Here are our top recommended smart speakers that will definitely make your life easier.
Amazon Echo Dot with Clock
Amazon has definitely built an echo-system of smart speakers well-loved by many consumers who rely on Alexa for small errands like to-do lists and information like weather updates and traffic routes. This recent addition to the family is made with aesthetic in mind and composed of post-consumer recycled materials.
Aside from the aesthetic evolution of the echo dot, this version with a clock is the ideal bedside table accessory. The LED display tells the time and weather temperatures and can also be used as an alarm and timer. And just like its predecessors, it’s seamlessly integrated with Alexa and is compatible with many smart devices. It’s aesthetic, highly functional, and also environment-friendly making it one of the most recommended smart speakers.
|LED Display||Additional $10 for the LED Display|
|Improved Audio Quality|
|Seamless Alexa integration|
You can shop this at Amazon for $49.99.
“I preordered this echo dot with clock and began using the first day available on November 5th 2020. I have multiple 3rd generation echo dots with clock and I love the upgrade to the 4th generation echo dot with clock. I chose the Twilight Blue color and it’s great looking in person. It’s a nice break with additional from the charcoal and sandstone color but still looks elegant and sleek in design. The light ring on the base and digital clock display and brighter and more crisp than the 3rd generation dot. It’s very easy to read. The speakers and microphone are improved as well. The wire is a light grey color and the 15w Adaptor is rectangular in shape versus the square shape of the 3rd generation 15w power Adaptor. The manual buttons to control the echo are on top similar to last years model, but slightly recessed towards the back so they are not in view when staring directly and the front of the digital clock face. The speaker is more full in front of the dot and raises in the back where the wire plugs into dot. Setup was easy. I am considering trading in my older 3rd generation echo dots with digital clock for additional 4th generation echo dots with digital clock instead.” -Becca
“I purchased two of these to achieve true stereo. The updated spherical design is a great update to the column design. Although the speakers are physically small they are relatively heavy. The sound quality is superb and the volume is more than adequate. Set up was easy using the app. These are great addition to my family room.” -Kevin Medley
Google Nest Audio
Google returns with a midrange smart speaker with its new Nest Audio. It’s less expensive than its predecessors but it does not compromise quality. Google guaranteed an improvement with this version compared to the 2016 Google Home with faster response to voice commands and an even better audio quality.
The most significant change in the Nest Audio design is its traditional and directional speaker style compared to the 360-degree sound offered by the cylindrical designs. It’s wrapped in five different aesthetic pastel colors namely chalk, charcoal, sand, sky and sage. And it’s rumoured to be on sale with a $20 off this coming Black Friday 2021.
|Directional Speaker||Limited Volume and Bass Output|
|Improved Audio Quality|
|Fast Google Assistant Responses|
You can shop this at Best Buy for $99.99.
“Google is finally realizing that one of the biggest reasons people buy a smart speaker is to be… a speaker. First generation Google Home was a great smart device and a mediocre speaker. Now with the Nest Audio we finally have an incredible Google Assistant device with an incredible speaker. I love the sound it produces. I love how loud it gets. I love the look of it. I love how sensitive the microphones are. I LOVE the price. I was on the fence about buying another Sonos One speaker, but I’m glad I waited because this is half the price, sounds just as good, and is a way better smart speaker. Also for some insane reason you still can’t cast music to Sonos. Good riddance Sonos, hello Nest Audio.” -PugDad
“Purchased the speaker primarily to use in my bedroom with my iPad. The sound was so good looks lie I will need to purchase a 2nd speaker to acquire a balanced sound. Which you can’t get when the nest is paired with a Google Mini. One review called it the sweet spot between price and quality! Exactly right in my view.” -Hollandatc
This smart and bluetooth speaker is a literal heavyweight weighing over 6 pounds. But with its large size comes an equally loud and full sound that will definitely give you the music on speaker experience. It can continuously run up to 11 hours with just its battery and is also equipped with an indoor charging base for a quick recharge.
It seamlessly integrates with other Sonos devices and has Amazon Alexa, and Google Assistant. It’s a definite outdoor must-have speaker with its durability and quality outdoor audio.
| Excellent Audio Quality both |
indoor and outdoor
|Equipped with Amazon Alexa, |
and Google Assistant
You can shop this at Amazon for $399.00.
“Portable (Check), pairable (check), weather resistant (check), Trueplay (check), voice control (check), bluetooth (check), Sonos sound and of course WiFi capability, (Check and Mate). This really is an amazing speaker. If you own a Sonos system it’s a great adjunct. I now have 19 Zones with my new “Move” speakers including three Zones in my yard. The “Move” is the speaker I’ve been hoping that Sonos would make. Every situation is different but I’d highly recommend getting a pair of them. Everything sounds better in stereo. Enjoy and thanks Sonos for making life just a little bit better.” – Lars Swanson
“Ok, as other reviewers have said, its like a Sonos One with a battery for a considerably higher price. And while both speakers sound similar the Move is quite a bit more to “help” justify the price. From the almost invisible charging ring, waterproofing and long life battery, to the in app charging data and wifi/Bluetooth connectivity. Its an excellent portable speaker. I wish it was cheaper too but if you’re in the Sonos ecosystem it’s a great addition.
I’ll be dragging it around everywhere next summer.” -Canaussie
Bose Home Speaker 300
This Bose Home Speaker is definitely a compact version of the Home Speaker 500. But despite the obvious cut down in size, its performance is still as powerful and even more. In just a two pound smart speaker that fits in most shelves, it delivers a well-defined and powerful bass as well as 360-degree sound.
It offers all types of audio input – WiFi, bluetooth, physical audio jack – so whatever jamming method, Bose can definitely accommodate. Although this smart speaker needs to be plugged all the time since it does not have a built-in battery.
|Excellent Audio Quality||No built-in battery|
|Supports all types of audio input|
You can shop this at Amazon for $199.00.
“Unpacked and began setup. Hung up when receiving updates. Spent an hour w/Bose tech support, could not fix. Shipping back to Bose and they will send replacement. Was able to connect via bluetooth and played some music. Bose sound quality, as expected, shone through. Was not able to use any other functions. May change review when new unit ships. After talking w/tech support, they sent me a shipping label. Got the speaker shipped on Monday, new one was at my door on Friday (today). Setup went flawlessly. Typical Bose sound quality. All is now right with the world.”
“Absolutely beautiful sound and we have a large open great room and still sounds great. Microphone is very sensitive. I spoke to the Philippines and the UK in one day to get it set up! But it is worth the hassle. Other people say the apps don’t work but they do it is just cantankerous (would have been a 5 Star if it didn’t take over 12 hours to get it set up correctly.”
Marshall Uxbridge Voice
Marshall Uxbridge Voice definitely qualifies as an aesthetically-designed smart speaker. But this is much more than just aesthetics because it’s actually a good sounding speaker for its size. It’s also a perfect fit as a bedside accessory but it’s slightly bigger than Google Nest or Amazon Echo 4th Generation.
It’s perfect for those who already own a Marshall smart speaker as it allows addition of speaker devices for multi room audio. This smart speaker has two different versions: one that supports the Amazon Alexa and the other supports Google Assistant.
|Excellent Audio Quality||No built-in battery|
|Far Field Voice Recognition|
You can shop this at Marshall for $199.00.
“Sound qualify is amazing, full spectrum sound.
Only wish the sound was a pinch louder.
Paired with phone and Samsung TV. On TV there was a audio / video latency which made lips and sound out of sync. Paused show and restated and it went away.” – Zach B.
“Love my new speaker – it’s the perfect size for my apartment and has great sound quality. The built-in Alexa is great so you can use voice control. Set-up was very easy and only took a couple minutes.” – Kathleen