Smart speaker test 2019: which is the best? •

The best smart speaker

Sebastian Jentsch

For smart speakers, in addition to the sound quality, it depends above all on how good the voice assistant is on it. The best language assistant for us is Amazon Alexa. The virtual assistant from Amazon does not know as much as the Google Assistant, but the operation works better and the many skills that are now available for Alexa, the Amazon Assistant is useful in everyday life. Especially as an entertainment assistant for music and radio plays makes Alexa a good figure, subscription of a streaming service provided. Even with the offer of smart speakers, Amazon is currently a bit broader than Google Home – but that will soon change with the large number of announced speakers for Google’s Assistant.

Update October 11, 2019

We brought Google’s Nest Hub into the house. The smart display shows us a sophisticated assistant who speaks with smart devices and visually enhances information. A recommendation has earned the Nest Hub.

Show more updates

June 11, 2019

We tested the Bose Home Speaker 500. The speaker provides a good, well-balanced sound. The virtual assistant takes over Amazon Alexa.

September 21, 2018

Amazon has introduced a number of new speakers: the Echo Plus, Echo Dot and Echo Show models get updates, while Echo Link, Echo Link Amp and Echo Input are completely new models. The devices are supported by the new Echo Sub, a suitable subwoofer.

Unusual are Alexa Guard, which focuses on security needs, and the Echo Auto for vehicle owners. Amazon finally responds to Google’s Chromecast with the Smart Plug socket.

August 24, 2018

We tried Apple’s HomePod in detail and included in the comparison. Sadly Siri does not turn on in part and therefore can not push Alexa off the throne.

February 19, 2018

Apple’s HomePod is already on sale in the US, for Germany, Apple is still only “in the spring” as a sales start. After initial tests, the HomePod sounds like a loudspeaker, but not necessarily as an intelligent voice assistant. We will test the HomePod as soon as we get to a test device.

December 22, 2017

We tested the new JBL Link 20 with Google Assistant support and added it to our recommendations.

December 12, 2017

We updated the test with new information about Alexa.

Virtual voice assistants controlled via smart speakers or displays are on everyone’s lips since Amazon launched the echo about four years ago. Although there were already with Apple’s Siri and Google Now virtual assistant, but they were coupled to the smartphone – and not very smart. This is to change with the new generation of language assistants, because they are housed in the form of a speaker or mini-display in the living room, kitchen, bathroom or office.

With 200 million copies sold by the end of 2020, smart speakers are the fastest growing consumer technology. Amazon led in early 2018 with 50% global market share, Google was 21%. In contrast, there are other systems, of which Apple-Siri (HomePod) and AliGenie (Alibaba Group) are probably the most noteworthy in the world.

Google has launched a series of smart speakers with Google Home, Google Now became Google Assistant. Apple also has a smart speaker at home with the HomePod, which has been on the market since mid-2018.

While Apple’s Siri operates exclusively in the Apple Universe, Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Assistant are open platforms that other hardware manufacturers can use. So now have a variety of manufacturers speakers and smart displays for Alexa and Google’s Assistant in the market. Read more about the models available so far below.

This article gives an overview of the two main assistants, Alexa and Google Assistant. Furthermore, we choose the best smart speaker in our opinion. Soon we will choose the “best smart display”, until then, the smart LCD panels are mentioned in this article, but remain without rating.

What can digital voice assistants do??

The intelligent loudspeaker or screen in the living room should not only help with music selection and control the volume, but also take over many functions of the smartphone and act as an interface to the smart home. You can ask about the weather, read the news, check your e-mails, and ask about the nearest garage. Equipped accordingly, you can also dim the lights, lower the blinds and switch on the alarm system – and even with a single voice command.

This works via so-called “routines”. With them you can use a single voice command to trigger a chain of commands. Setting the routines is relatively simple and can be changed at any time. If, for example, you have saved the command “Alexa, Dinner”, you can switch on the light above the dining table, switch off the TV, start a specific playlist and close the blinds. The imagination is almost limitless.

Amazon Echo Dot 2: The ring of light shines when Alex listens or thinks.

The language of adults can almost perfectly capture Alexa, Siri and Google’s assistant: even with disturbing noises such as music, shower or cooking pot, the commands usually arrive across the room properly. If it is quiet, even through the corridor or from the next room can be spoken a bit louder and Alexa & Co. grasp the request correctly. From a close distance of two meters, even whispers are enough to make Alexa sit up and take notice.

The name of Alexa can be changed, but there are only three alternatives as an activation word.

Even the children had quickly got used to Alexa, Google and Siri, but their high votes and lack of discipline in the choice of words caused a high error rate. “I do not know how to help you,” was a frequent answer to a child question.

This basically applies to most new inquiries that come to mind. There are still many more things that do not work than those that work. De facto, you learn faster what the language assistant can and does not do, rather than the language assistant learning what you want him to do.

While we find the selection and control of music and radio plays and the creation of watch lists already quite mature, but you quickly realize that the artificial intelligence of the assistants is still just at the beginning. They can not answer all questions, nor understand all the information from the Internet.

Siri, Alexa, and Google Assistant can handle context-based questions, so in a second question, you can pick up on the facts of the previous question.

In the medium term, a Google search on the screen will still show the best results on most issues – quite simply because the person reads selectively and contextually. The virtual assistants do not get that well yet. Google, Siri and Alexa will not be able to answer difficult questions until they’ve learned a lot about their users. That in turn some users do not want at all, because this would require the assistants to collect a lot of data on the speakers.

The speaker becomes a display

In recent years, the language assistants in German households have spread. Ask for the weather, create appointments and play music on demand, we do not want to miss this comfort today. But language is often not enough, such as when we ask for a recipe or the schedules of Deutsche Bahn. Logically, therefore, smart displays appear. They are nothing more than a smart speaker with display, they are still controlled by voice, but also application-related via touch screen.

Amazon has been with the Echo Show since mid-2017, a corresponding device on the market. Google lagged behind in 2018 with the Nest Hub, which is now also available in the German market. Lenovo has been integrating Google’s wizards in its smart display since the beginning of 2019. At the IFA 2019, the manufacturer presented laptops and tablets that can be used as a smart assistant with display from the Windows start screen.

The direction is clear: The assistants of Amazon and Google will be integrated in future in numerous device classes with screen. They are simply an additional function, whether they are used or not. For example, at IFA 2019 Medion showed us a refrigerator with integrated Alexa.

We will soon test the current versions of Amazon’s Echo Show (Echo Show / 5/8) and compare it in detail in our own Smart Display Test.

Google Nest Hub: The speaker becomes a display.

Big Brother theory

What you should know: If you buy a smart speaker, you are in the clutches of a group that wants to earn money from you. Amazon Alexa only works with an Amazon account, a Google assistant with the Google account only, Apple’s Siri with only an Apple ID.

So that the language assistants understand your commands, microphones are installed in the respective devices, which wait day and night for the keyword »Alexa«, »Ok, Google« or »Hey, Siri«. They can of course be muted on request, but in practice, hardly anyone will do that, because then you have to activate the function manually, which of course is not the meaning of a smart speaker.

Even if Google, Siri and Amazon do not consistently record the spoken word from your household and assign it to your account for marketing: Using just the smart speaker will greatly increase your web search time, meaning you’ll be putting more keywords above yourself price than before with the tablet or in the Chrome browser on the PC. Google, Apple and Amazon are monitoring their customers almost around the clock.

On the one hand, this will make the assistant smarter and thus more useful. The more he knows about the user, the better he can help him in everyday life. By the way, Amazon, Apple and Google gain very useful data with which they can earn money.

Apple, on the other hand, does not earn its money by advertising or shopping, but solely by selling its products. The Californians promise to protect the data of the customer and not to use otherwise. Unlike Google and Amazon, the HomePod does not create user profiles. As a result, Siri is a smaller data octopus, but she remains stupid for life, because she may learn nothing about the user to provide better answers later.

But Siri also needs to know some personal details of the user in order to be useful. And Apple has to store this data somewhere, which makes them vulnerable in principle. After all, the company promises encrypted transmission of every user request via HomePod.

If all this is a horror, because he feels that the corporations already know way too much of one, should take the distance from a smart speaker or display. But experience shows that while most people on the one hand like to complain about the data gathering anger of corporations, but on the other hand like their data for a little bit of convenience reveal. You can tell by the extent to which Facebook’s social login has spread.

The user learns

So that living together with a smart speaker works well, not only the assistant has to learn a lot about the user, the user also has to adapt a bit to the language assistant. We have clearly noticed that in Alexa terms, with which we have named routines or smart home devices. If the “light bar” in its own memory becomes a “light line” or fades to a “light chain”, the voice commands no longer function.

“Light staircase” is quickly remembered as “light staircase” or “light corridor”. This is not trivial, more than once we were drowsy in the morning in the living room and did not get the light verbally turned on, because we called the wrong term.

Smart Home: Alexa or Google Assistant control the Garden Pole lights by Osram Lightify.

If you use multiple bulbs or smart home actuators, this human-machine vulnerability can pretty quickly get on your nerves. So you can not help but memorize the device or group name exactly.

Both Alexa and Siri as well as Google do not allow alternative names for smart home devices or routines. Sometimes we had to change the name of a routine again because Alexa understood “light rising” very often as “light corridor” and of course no device found. In this case, then “light staircase” worked perfectly.

Also regionally different pronunciations are a weak point: written language and high German are finally something completely different than the pronunciation in the regional dialect. The assistants can not do anything with Bavarian, Swabian, Saxon or Platt.

That’s how we tested

We had an Echo Dot, a Sonos One, a Google Home speaker, Apple’s HomePod, and the Auvisio WiFi speaker in home use. Alexa has become a constant companion in the bathroom and living room over two Echo Dot. Update 9/2019 added a smart display, a Google Nest Hub.

As far as processing and accessories are concerned, the Echo family, Google Home and Apple do not care. The processing of the devices is high quality, stable and without inaccurate gap dimensions. Except for the Echo Dot, all models are covered with a textile covering, which is available in Google in seven colors. While the dot is only in black or white, the echo can be acquired in sandstone, anthracite and light gray. The HomePod is only available in black (very dark gray) or white, whereby the body is covered with tight perforated fabric.

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