Christmas tech: your guide to the best home smart speaker gifts

Apple, Google and Amazon all have offerings worth consideration

JBL Link Portable

JBL Link Portable

 

Planning to invest in a smart speaker this Christmas? Here are your five best options.

Apple HomePod Mini

€99

The smart speaker of choice if you are an Apple user, the HomePod Mini is anything but small on the sound front. Ask it to play your Apple Music playlists or hook it up to your Apple TV 4K to boost your home cinema sound, and you’ll hear just what it is capable of. If you have more than one, you can link them together and create stereo sound in your room too.

Apple HomePod Mini
Apple HomePod Mini

The spherical speaker not only handles your music, it is also the hub of your Homekit-compatible smarthome. The HomePodMini comes with Siri built in, which you can access either via voice commands or by tapping the touch enabled panel on the top of the device. It does everything you’d expect Siri to do on your smartphone, from setting alarms and adding to shopping lists to responding to messages (if you have set up personal requests on the HomePod).

Link up your HomeKit-enabled smarthome devices – plugs, lights, smart locks and so on -- and you can control them all through voice commands too. You can even ask Siri to help find your missing phone, or track down anything you’ve attached your Apple Tags to. You can also use your speakers as a makeshift intercom system to broadcast a message to the house.

The latest update to the range brought more interesting colours too, with Apple branching out from grey and white to include yellow, orange and blue. It may seem like a small thing but it’s nice to have choice.

apple.com

Google Nest Audio

€99

The Google alternative to the HomePod Mini, the Nest Audio is a worthy rival. As you might expect, it has Google’s Assistant built in, so once you have it set up and registered to your account, it acts as an extension of your smartphone. Command Google Assistant to control your speaker volume, turn your lights on and off, or add to your shopping list as you rifle through the cupbaords.

Google Nest Audio
Google Nest Audio

The buttonless device has touch controls on the speaker itself, which requires careful tapping to get right, so those voice commands will get more use than you’d expect.

Link two together and you get stereo sound, with the Nest Audio automatically recognising the presence of another compatible device.

Colourwise, you get charcoal and chalk, and that’s it. For now, at least.

store.google.com

Amazon Echo Studio

£190

Of all the digital assistants, Alexa probably has the best sense of humour. Amazon has programmed Alexa to dole out the one-liners and snappy replies, but that’s not all the Echo smart speakers are good for. They can also control compatible smart home devices, as the Google and Apple speakers do, and play some decent sounding music while they are at it.

Amazon Echo Studio
Amazon Echo Studio

While the Echo Dot is a cheaper smart speaker, we have a bit of a soft spot for the Echo Studio. It supports high-res audio, music that has been mastered in 3D audio and adapts to the acoustics of your room to give you the best sound possible.

It also acts as a smart home hub for Zigbee enabled devices. On the down side, it requires a bit more space than its Echo brethren. But that is a trade off we are willing to make.

amazon.co.uk

Sonos One

€219

Sonos has been building a decent reputation for audio over the past few years, and the Sonos One is no exception. You get everything you would expect from Sonos as an audio brand, with the addition of both Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa built-in – the choice is yours.

Sonos One (2nd Gen)
Sonos One (2nd Gen)

It has a far field mic to pic up your voice from across the room, and a little chime to indicate that it has heard your command, so you aren’t left wondering if there is yet another thing in your house that ignores you.

You can also pair two devices for stereo sound, or link them into your home cinema set up, plus it is the only brand that comes with the option of its very own custom accessories – a Sonos shelf, or stand, if you are feeling generous.

sonos.com

 

JBL Link Portable

€149

The compact JBL Link Portable has Google Assistant built in so you can “Hey Google” your way through the day, asking your digital assistant to control your smarthome devices, set appointments or clear your schedule as the mood takes you.

Its main function though is music, which you can stream over bluetooth or wifi, with support for both Chromecast and AirPlay. It sounds good too, with 360 degree audio, so no matter where you place it, you should get the best sound possible.

As the name suggests, the device can be decoupled from the charging dock and brought on the move, with an eight-hour battery life. It is also IPX7 rated, so it will survive rain or a few splashes.

harveynorman.ie