When Amazon teased the very first Echo smart speaker back in 2014, it seemed like a cross between sci-fi and a weird gimmick. Sure, it was cool that you could ask it questions about the weather and shout commands like "set a timer" or "play Taylor Swift." But, at the end of the day, it seemed a little too non-essential to gain any real success.
But, isn't it funny what can change in five years? These days, the Amazon Echo — and Alexa — has expanded into an entirely new industry of smart technology. Not only does Amazon now sell a line of Alexa-infused devices, but Google has a series of Google Assistant devices; Samsung offers Bixby; Apple promotes Siri on the iPhone; Microsoft has tried to push Cortana on the PC desktop; and countless other companies integrate Google Assistant and Alexa into their own products.
And while it's exciting that the future of technology is seemingly here, it can also be overwhelming to sift through all of the available options. In fact, there are so many smart speaker products out there, it's no longer enough to ask what the best smart speaker is — now, you need to figure out which is the best one for you. With that in mind, we rounded up the eight smart speakers that, in our opinion, are best suited to the common kinds of users and situations. (Plus, with Cyber Weekend just around the corner, it's never been a better time to invest.)
Scroll down to see which smart speaker is best for you.
Best for the Family Chef: Amazon Echo Show 8
One of the most common places that people keep their smart speaker is in the kitchen. That's somewhere people tend to congregate, so keeping it there is great for fielding random questions ("Alexa, who starred in Good Will Hunting?"), using as a baking timer (a recent update now lets you give timers names, so you can easily distinguish between the timer tracking your roasted Brussels sprouts and the brownies baking for dessert), and finding recipes online.
That's why the brand new Amazon Echo Show 8 is without question the best choice for the kitchen — it does everything that all the other Amazon Echo smart speakers do, but it has an 8-inch HD display, great for displaying cooking videos and newfound recipes, and can even initiate a quick hands-free video call to mom when you have a baking question. Plus, best of all, this model includes a new Alexa-powered subscription service called the Food Network Kitchen, which provides 24/7 culinary support.
Best for Music Lovers: Sonos Move
Any smart speaker will play music. It's right there in the name: Smart speaker. But, if you're looking for high-quality sound that can rival a fully-installed audio system, the Sonos Move is your best bet. The first portable Bluetooth speaker from Sonos, it can work as a standalone Bluetooth speaker or part of the Sonos multi-room audio system.
On the smart speaker front, it includes both Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa, so you can also configure the Move to work with the voice-controlled assistant of your choice. If you're in the market for a smart device and bluetooth speaker, this two-in-one gadget is the perfect solution, but check out the full Hunker review of the Sonos Move to learn more.
Best for the Busy Parent/Working Professional: Google Nest Hub
If you've ever wished for a live-in assistant to help you juggle your endless task list, there is one clear winner. While both Amazon's Alexa and Google Assistant are highly competent, Google is by far better at answering both simple and complex questions, tracking important dates and reminders, and alerting you with weather and traffic updates. And among the Google products, the Google Nest Hub — with its 7-inch touchscreen — is our winner for anyone who needs a little help with a chaotic schedule.
You can sync multiple phones and devices to the system so you have all calendars in one place and add reminders, alerts, to-do lists, and more from your phone to automatically sync to the screen. Not to mention, music-playing, recipe-displaying, and timer-setting capabilities are all in one convenient, hands-free place.
Best for the Entertainment Fiend: LG Nano 8 Series 4K NanoCell TV
That's right, smart speakers have fully advanced to full-blown smart TVs. There are a number of smart speaker-infused TVs to choose from, but we picked the LG Nano 8 series because it's packed with features that make it not just a great smart speaker, but a great TV as well, including 4K UHD resolution, HDR color, and Airplay 2 compatibility, which means you can cast anything from your Mac or iOS device to the TV screen with a few taps or clicks.
Plus, you can hook up Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa to the TV, so you can sync up all of the devices throughout your house and have a fully teched-up home. If you (or your loved one) is all about living that futuristic Jetson life, this smart TV will bring you one step closer.
Best for Kids: Amazon Echo Dot Kids Edition
As a general rule, smart speakers are sort of communal property — but there's something to be said for having a smart speaker that your kid can call his or her own, and there's no better option than the Amazon Echo Dot Kids.
As the name suggests, it's designed for kids from the ground up. As a member of the Dot family, it's relatively inexpensive (and is constantly on sale) and comes in a happy, kid-friendly rainbow finish (though you can also get it in blue). Most importantly, it works with a variety of kid-centric skills: It can play music, tell stories, and play games, all of which can be controlled in advance by parents. Plus, it comes with a free year of FreeTime Unlimited, a subscription service that delivers Audible audiobooks, music, and other kid content. (And after the first year, it only costs $3/month.)
Best for a Smart Home: Amazon Echo Plus (2nd Generation)
One of the most exciting features of smart speakers is the ability to integrate it into your smart home, using it to monitor and control everything from temperature to lighting to security. If you're interested in immersing the new technology into every aspect of your home, that's where the Amazon Echo Plus comes in.
It has a built-in temperature sensor that can be used to control thermostats and other smart home devices based on preset triggers, plus the ability to sync with Ring Home Security devices and Phillips Hue lightbulbs to create a truly futuristic home. The Echo Plus also has something that really distinguishes it from other smart speakers: a Zigbee hub, which allows for flawless control and syncing across your whole library of compatible devices.
Best for a Budget: Google Home Mini
If your requirements for a smart speaker are relatively simple — music-playing, timer-setting, and weather-reporting — you luckily don't need to shell out big bucks. In fact, it's really a contest between the Google Home Mini and the Amazon Echo Dot — and since we think the Google Assistant has a slight edge over Alexa on general information answers, plus better integration with Google apps and services, Google wins by a nose. (It doesn't hurt that it's often a few dollars cheaper than the Dot.)
Best Overall: Amazon Echo (3rd Generation)
When all is said and done, both Amazon and Google have done a superb job of offering smart speakers that deliver a great value — both product lines are smart, versatile, and work so well that you quickly forget you're talking to a computer. But, we think, since Amazon kicked off the smart speaker revolution, it still has a slight edge on skills, capabilities, and usability. That means the best overall speaker remains the third-generation Amazon Echo. If you don't have a specific need that drives you to pick one of the other models in this lineup, this is the all-purpose workhorse that will almost certainly make you happy.