Best smart speakers you probably haven’t heard about
Updated: Feb 10
At the mention of smart speakers, what’s the first one that comes to mind? Is it something from Amazon’s Echo line of smart speakers? Statistically speaking, that’s the most probable guess. According to a joint study by Voicebot and Voicefy, in the US alone Amazon Echo has a 61% market share among smart speaker owners, with Google Home holding a 24% share.
That means the remaining 15% of the smart speaker installed base falls on the “other” smart speakers, including both big names like Apple’s HomePod and a bunch of other devices you may or may not have heard about. These “unknowns” will be the focus of our latest writing escapade because everyone knows about Amazon, Google, and Apple so we likely won’t be offering anything valuable. Considering that smart speaker shipments reached 78 million units worldwide last year (an increase of 125%), there’s obviously plenty of interest, as well as choice. Let’s see if we can make it a bit easier.
Asus Lyra Voice
We are going out on a limb here as we are suckers for multifunctionality (this is the age of efficiency, after all) and the combo of a wireless mesh router and Alexa speaker in the form of Asus Lyra Voice very much appeals to us. We could have easily placed the Netgear’s Orbi Voice here, another great smart speaker/WiFi repeater device, it’s just that Asus’s two 3W stereo speakers provide a slightly better sound, and audio capabilities are a bit better as well.
Asus Lyra Voice comes with full Alexa support, the company’s standard mesh networking capabilities (Aimesh is supported so you can connect to other compatible ASUS routers for a whole-home Wi-Fi 6 network). Router app for Android and iOS enables PC-free setup, network management and diagnostics for full network control. If you need both smart speaker (Alexa) and router function, this just might be it.
There is an ongoing debate over whether smart speakers are suitable for children, which is where Birde comes into play. Along with Echo Dot Kids Edition, Birde is one of the best smart speakers for kids. Aimed at children over one year, this smart speaker enables the usage of technology in a safe way. Kids can’t access the Internet but can use it to listen to audio content and even play video on smart TVs (select devices only).
There’s no advertising, the speaker itself is waterproof, and the battery lasts up to 10 hours between charges. Parents have remote control via an iOS and Android app, and can buy seeds – additional audio content. Generally speaking, this is a kid-proof device with a solid sound quality that should keep your little ones entertained for some time.
JBL Link 20
Arguably the biggest advantage and Link 20’s USP is that it’s battery-powered. Unlike its series 10 predecessor, the Link 20 provides more juice and the battery indicator will easily let you know how much is in the tank. The 6000mAh Li-ion battery offers about 10 hours of playtime (on 4.5 hours of charging), making Link 20 very suitable as a portable option.
The speaker has the Google Assistant built-in, with iOS & Android apps available. It’s waterproof and JBL even says you can submerge it in water, although we’re not sure you should go diving with it. Voice recognition is more precise this time around, the audio quality is great (particularly considering the size) with a 360° delivery, and the built-in Chromecast allows you to instantly start streaming your favorite audio content.
Lenovo Smart Display
As the name says, Lenovo Smart Display is another case of combo smart speaker that packs Google Assistant with a visual experience. You could say this is a tablet that comes with 10W full-range speakers and allows you to make voice calls with Google Duo, as well as see additional helpful information on a variety of subjects you’d normally ask a “regular” smart speaker.
The screen is sharp and comes in two sizes, there is a privacy shutter and most importantly – Google Assistant is fully at your disposal. People typically praise the speaker for its functionality when it comes to being a kitchen helper, but you can also control more than 1500 connected smart devices. One can make a case for a second-generation Echo Show (best for Alexa users), JBL Link View (great audio quality), and possibly even Google Home Hub for the best smart speaker with a display, but right now we’re sticking with Lenovo’s stylish gadget.
Sonos One is probably the most prominent smart speaker on this list due to the superb audio quality, which we can attest to. Six microphones are in charge of conveying your Alexa-powered voice commands (the majority of commands and skills are supported). It also supports Apple AirPlay, and Google Assistant is on the way, which would make it a fully cross-compatible speaker and futureproof, in a way.
In addition, One can connect wirelessly with other Sonos speakers (both smart and nonsmart) to create a multi-room audio integration system, although it only supports stereo pairing with other One speakers. There’s is a wide range of streaming services available, including Spotify, Amazon Music, Pandora, and Tidal. The company has started shipping a second-generation model with Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), an updated processor and more memory. There’ll be no changes in terms of design and functionality, which means you could score One on the cheap as there’ll likely be a discount while supplies last.
Ultimate Ears Megablast
Last but certainly not least, we have another portable wireless/Bluetooth smart speaker, only with hands-free Amazon Alexa voice control (not through Bluetooth, as expected). Ultimate Ears Megablast can be very loud and will have no problem filling up a room. The sound is probably the best aspect here as a dynamic, 360° sound is remarkably clear and rich with bass. Multiple microphones with beam-forming technology and noise cancellation are housed inside for an easy far-field voice recognition and control experience.
That would be it for now. Be sure to check back often as we’ll update this list as we test more and more smart speakers.
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