Our expert team has put months of testing into smart speakers to try and discover the best model for most people.
Last UpdatedThis comparison was updated on 18 May 2018 to reflect the incredible performance of the Sonos One and to recommend it as our top choice of smart speaker
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While Amazon kickstarted the smart speaker category with the original Echo speaker in the US back in 2014, Australia got its first smart speaker in 2017 with the Google Home. I’ve had at least one smart speaker set up in my home since the day the Google Home launched in Australia.
Over that time I've asked Google, Alexa and Siri hundreds of random questions, requested a heap of different types of music and given my kids free reign to try and command different digital assistants to control everything from Netflix to some Philips Hue light globes.
After significant testing, I’ve come to the conclusion that the Sonos One is the best smart speaker for most people thanks to its incredible audio quality, impressive implementation of Alexa and support for Alexa skills, and potential to be the first dual-assistant smart speaker on the market.
The Sonos One delivers premium sound, impressive performance and added versatility with Sonos' established product lineup. And it will get even better when Sonos adds Google Assistant support later this year.
Sonos may have been a little slow to react to the incredible success of the Amazon Echo and its subsequent smart speakers, but the company's first smart offering is an impressive product. Its Alexa integration matches Amazon's offerings, but with far superior audio quality, while the company has committed to introducing Google Assistant in 2018 as well, making it potentially the first dual-assistant smart speaker.
But because the One also leverages Sonos' impressive platform of supported streaming services, it's also the only device that will let you stream the likes of Tidal or Deezer, albeit you won't be able to control them with your voice.
Given it's also $200 cheaper than the HomePod, it easily balances the high-end audio experience with the convenience of a smart speaker at an attractive price, making it hard to beat right now.Back to top
For most people, Google’s deeper understanding of Australia’s public transport system, audio quality and integration with Google’s widely adopted Chromecast platform makes it the best choice.
Despite Google playing catch-up to Amazon’s family of devices in the US, in Australia it managed to get a head start in the smart speaker space and it’s taking advantage of that fact. The Google Home uses Google’s history of localised services like public transport information and local business reviews to be able to offer answers to very Australian queries. In contrast, Amazon Echo requires third-party integration.
Paired with the Home’s superior audio quality over the Amazon speakers and the affordable price point, Google’s first smart speaker is the current device to beat when it comes to choosing a smart speaker for most homes in Australia.Back to top
Best for budget
Google Home mini
Compact and powerful
Both Google and Amazon have budget offerings under $80 with average speaker quality paired to the full assistant experience. But the superior audio quality coupled with the recent update to support Bluetooth speakers makes Google's speaker a bit more enticing.
The Google Home mini boasts significantly better audio quality from a similarly-priced and similarly-sized Amazon Echo Dot. You can use Bluetooth to pair either device with a better wireless speaker, but Google's digital savviness helps keep the Home Mini in the winner's chair.
That said, Amazon's mini speaker does feature a 3.5mm line out connection to any wired speaker system, which makes it enticing for users wanting to smarten up their current stereo.Back to top
What you should consider when choosing a smart speaker
What you should look for
Like a mobile phone, the biggest deciding factor when choosing a smart speaker should be the operating system. There are currently three different platforms available for smart speakers, each developed by a different giant of the technology industry:
Amazon kickstarted the smart speaker industry when it launched Alexa-enabled speakers in the US. Alexa has a wide range of core functions built in, from calculations to translation to weather reports. But what makes it really impressive is the way Amazon opened up the platform to third-party integrations, known as Skills. The process for a business to build a Skill for an Alexa-enabled speaker is fairly straightforward, and there are over 10,000 Skills on offer for Australian users on the platform.
Google’s digital assistant has the superpower of being able to leverage the power of Google to help answer your questions, and that’s no small advantage. While Alexa can give you the weather forecast for Fiji in general, Google will give you the local weather for Nadi. Google also offers Actions as a way for third-party developers to integrate with the Google Assistant voice search, but it’s not as elegant a solution as Amazon’s Skills.
Apple’s smart assistant is the latest to make the jump from smartphone to smart speaker, but its functionality as a useful tool is severely limited. Apple has decided to pursue its strategy of a closed system, without support for third-party applications for music streaming or even multi-room audio. It can be used to control Homekit-enabled smart home devices if you have them, but there's no open app marketplace for Apple's voice assistant.
In addition to the operating system, there are a few other key factors to consider when choosing your smart speaker:
How we tested
Because of the very nature of smart speakers, the most effective way of testing their quality has been to set them up around my home and use them regularly.
I've had a Google Home since launch day, which was joined by a Google Home Mini not long after its launch. When Amazon launched its trio of Echo speakers in Australia, all three were installed on launch day around my home. And as subsequent speakers have been sent to finder to test, I have plugged them in around my home, constantly asking them questions.
My home has four Philips Hue light globes installed both inside and outside, which allows me to test the smart home control functionality. A Chromecast Ultra is connected to my lounge room television which integrates nicely with the Google Assistant platform.
As a parent, all speakers are tested not only with my own voice commands but also with my children, who thoroughly enjoy controlling the home with their voices.
In my testing, I've asked speakers hundreds of questions, from news updates to calendar updates to home control. I've done this in a variety of environments, from silent rooms to situations with background music playing, to the clamour of a kitchen during dinner preparation. Each device was tested in Australia, with Australian software and functionality.
All speakers except the Homepod were tested streaming from my Spotify account.Back to top
Smart speaker comparison
Best digital assistant: Alexa by a nose
While the Alexa experience is the same across supported devices, the Amazon Echo is the best Alexa speaker we've tested.
Regardless of brand loyalty, the digital assistant that powers your smart speaker is probably the most important decision you need to make when it comes to choosing a smart speaker. Amazon and Google have both opened up their platforms to third-party manufacturers, though Alexa is yet to really be available in Australia outside of Amazon’s own Echo speakers.
Apple, perhaps unsurprisingly, is keeping Siri for its own devices so far, which makes it extremely hard to recommend unless you live and breathe Apple products. Homekit may have been available for a while, but the Homepod’s third-party integration for smart home control and music playback is severely lacking and puts the HomePod speaker at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to comparing the different platforms.
For most general functions, Alexa and Google Assistant compete fairly evenly. Both can give you a rundown of your day, both can give you the weather forecast, both can spell out words and do simple mathematical problems for you. Both have a limited selection of terrible, terrible jokes and both have been customised for the local market, with local trivia, sports results and a digital Australian accent.
At that core functionality though, there are some core performance differences that could help sway you either way. I asked Alexa for the weather in Nadi, Fiji, and it couldn’t help me, while Google didn’t miss a beat. But Alexa lets you set multiple, individually named timers, which is a huge help in the kitchen when you’re cooking meat and vegetables and rice and lots of different elements to a dish.
Where the two diverge is in third-party integrations. Amazon calls these "Skills", while Google refers to them as "Actions". In this realm, Amazon has a distinct advantage. Among the local skills that have launched since the Echo speakers arrived in Australia are multiple banking updates, so you can get updated on your bank balance on request, plus the ability to book an Uber, order a pizza from Dominos or get your flight details from Qantas.
Google’s Actions aren’t quite as simple to take advantage of, which is strange given that they are generally available by default. While you can explore Actions through the Google Assistant app on your phone, you need to use the correct keyword, and many of the actions aren’t useful in any way for an international audience. Those that are local – like the NAB Action, for example – are limited to general information and there is no deeper connection to your personal account for custom info.
Of course, each platform also has distinct disadvantages. Despite being able to set up multiple voice profiles in the US, Alexa in Australia is limited to a single user, which means any stranger in your home could potentially find out your bank balance by asking the right question. Similarly, you can’t set alarms with your streaming music account in Australia, despite that function working in the US.
On Google’s front, while there is support for multiple voice profiles and accounts, you can’t connect multiple calendars to a single account. That means your daily briefing can’t give you a rundown of events from both your home and work calendars, which does impact its usefulness.
On a day-to-day basis, the Skills support does give Alexa a slight advantage over Google Assistant as a smart speaker platform, but the results are close and will definitely vary depending on your personal needs.Back to top
Best for streaming music support: Sonos One
Sonos' history as a Wi-Fi music streaming speaker company comes to the fore, with support for over 50 different music and audio streaming platforms through the Sonos app.
Generally this comes down to the services the digital assistant platform can support directly. And when you compare pure platform support, Google has the advantage over both Alexa and Siri:
However, Sonos has integrated support for pretty much every streaming platform through its own app. You can't control them all with your voice, but it is a nice balance for those who have a Tidal subscription, for example, but also want a smart speaker.Back to top
Best for speaker quality: Apple HomePod
Apple has focused in on audio quality rather than versatility with its first smart speaker.
The HomePod is one of the most expensive smart speakers you can buy, as well as being one of the heaviest. In this case, all that extra weight and cost equates to premium sound reproduction.
To be clear, while the HomePod has some of the best sound reproduction the smart speaker category has to offer, it’s still not quite up to par with high-end audio speakers. Part of that is the quality of the music stream – Apple Music’s compression is good, but it can’t match that pure crispness of a CD or the warmth of vinyl.
But these days quality of the source plays second fiddle to the convenience of immediate access, and if you like quality but aren’t prepared to forego convenience in a quest for pristine audio reproduction, the HomePod is a good option.Back to top
Best for microphone quality: Amazon Echo and Apple HomePod
No issue with Echoes
Amazon's 7-microphone array gives excellent pickup from across the room.
The Siri special
Apple's experience with hardware gives the HomePod an edge in lots of environments.
Amazon gets bonus points for including the same microphone array in all of its Echo speakers, so even the cheap Echo Dot can pick up your voice from across the room.
Pickup from other, Google-powered smart speakers isn't bad though. In a quiet room, it's often on par with Amazon and Apple. But there is a noticeable benefit in having more than two microphones in your smart speaker in rooms where there is a lot of background noise, or when the music is playing through the speaker at a significant volume.
As an example, when testing the volume performance of the Sony LF-S50G, I had to shout right into the speaker for it to register my voice. That's not going to be a common scenario for most people, but it did show the limitations of having fewer microphones.Back to top
Best for Smart home integration: Google Home and Amazon Echo Plus
Smart Home master
Google Assistant's massive smart home integration list makes it a viable contender.
Amazon Echo Plus
The Echo Plus doubles as a Smart Home hub with integrated Zigbee support inside.
The most obvious brands in smart home devices: Philips Hue, LiFX, D-Link, Netgear, Harmony and Ring all offer support for both Amazon and Google’s platforms. What’s more, both platforms can tie into IFTTT, so you can extend the functionality of your speakers even further.
The Amazon Echo Plus does offer the advantage of having integrated smart home support built in the way of the Zigbee protocol. In my testing though, I found that a standard speaker was sufficient in most cases, although it will require additional hardware in some instances.
In these situations, it’s best to consider your smart home device and see how it integrates with the platform of your smart speaker before making your decision.Back to top
Best speaker with a screen: Amazon Echo Spot
Amazon Echo Spot
Show me the assistant
Amazon's compact screen-enabled speaker adds a layer of versatility to the Echo family.
The good news is that it's an impressive little device, with a round screen that's perfect as a clock but also offers the ability to make and receive video calls, as well as get news bulletins and movie trailers on command.
So while the Echo Spot technically wins this category by default, that doesn't mean it's not worth your attention if a screen is something you're looking for in your smart speaker.Back to top
In addition to the models I've tested for this guide, you can also purchase the JBL Link 10, Link 20 and Link 300in Australia. All three are currently being tested, and I'll update this guide as soon as I've formed my review.
There is also a wide range of models that are yet to launch in Australia, including the Google Home Max and UE Blast portable Alexa speakers. As such, their performance has not been considered for this comparison.Back to top