Home Glossary What is a Smart Speaker?

What is a Smart Speaker?

What’s a smart speaker, and what does it do?

Smart speakers are a speaker than can connect to the Internet and be controlled by voice commands. They can do anything from letting your ‘speak’ which song you’d like to hear, to way more complex stuff like controlling your home alarm.

The different bits of a smart speaker are:

  • A speaker! – A high quality audio speaker that’s capable of decent audio playback.
  • A computer – Your smart speaker has a built in CPU
  • A virtual assistant – This is a computer program that listens for your instructions and carries out your every wish! Well, maybe not all your wishes.
  • Wireless connectivity – People often say smart speakers are wireless. However most will have a wire to the mains socket, but you’ll connect to them via Bluetooth. They also connect to your home’s Internet connection over WiFi

Like all good smart tech, smart speakers are VERY easy to setup and use.

Sonos One SL - The Speaker for Stereo Pairing and Home Theatre Surrounds
Smart Speakers bring your music wherever you want it. Pic: Sonos Speaker, Amazon

What can a smart speaker do?

Using your voice to control stuff is a pretty cool thing in itself. It’s great that in an age of screens, we can get a break from staring at that screen and just tell a smart speaker what we need doing. The main tasks people currently use smart speaker for include:

  • Playing music – Smart speakers connect to live streaming service like Amazon Music. This lets you ask you smart speaker to play a track and, so long as it can find it, the song will start playing. This is one of the most popular uses of smart speakers like Google Home and the Amazon Echo.
  • Asking questions! Another brilliant way to get the most out of your new smart speaker is to put it to work turning you into an all-knowing super-genius. Each virtual assistant can be sent off into the Internet to bring back knowledge on pretty much any topic you can think of.
  • Home automation – Another giant in the world of smart speakers is smart home automation. These days you can get your smart speaker to do an insane amount of things around your home. Just about any smart device worth it’s salt will be compatible with both Google and Amazon’s virtual assistants.
  • Playing games – While the idea of playing non-video games might sound strange, smart speakers like Alexa actually have some interesting games that use just your voice. From ‘choose your own’ adventure games, to challenging quiz games, where you have to compete with others on leader-boards, there’s a lot of decent entertainment to be had, mostly for free!
All-new Amazon Echo (3rd generation) | Smart speaker with Alexa
The Echo comes in a number of forms and is one of the most popular smart speakers. See it on Amazon

Meet the virtual assistants

If your smart speaker is the magic lamp, the virtual assistant is the Genie who resides there. Instead of rubbing the lamp, you’ll use a word that the smarty speaker recognizes. Voice assistants are the software that listen to your orders and ‘speak’ back to you.

While virtual assistants aren’t all that intelligent in 2024, they are pretty good at understanding what we’re asking them to do, and fulfilling those requests.

The main virtual assistants are:

  1. Siri – Apple’s voice assistant
  2. Alexa – Amazon’s famous assistant
  3. The Google Assistant (who, for some reason, hasn’t been given a name yet)
  4. Microsoft Cortana – used in Windows devices and operating systems

These virtual assistants are software that recognize speech patterns and turn it into requests that the computer can interpret and turn into requests. Each voice assistant has a different activation phrase such as “Alexa…” or “OK, Google…”

Echo Dot (3rd Gen) - Smart speaker with Alexa - Charcoal Fabric
The Echo Dot smart speaker is a smaller version that does everything the bigger one does See it on Amazon

What is the best home voice assistant?

While there’s a lot of different smart speakers and virtual assistants out there, and you should look into each one, if you were to twist our arm and ask “what smart speaker is best?”, here’s the advice we’d give.

The main smart speakers you want to look at in 2024 are definitely the big players – the two more established ones. Google and Amazon are absolutely crushing this market right now.

Buy the regular-sized Amazon Echo, or the regular Google Home and you really can’t go wrong. If you’re dead set on something a bit smaller, check out the Amazon Echo Dot and the Google Home Mini.

These two companies are falling over themselves pumping out updates for their respective products and the speakers themselves are excellent quality.

What are the main smart speakers?

There are a lot of smart speakers out there in 2024. A lot. The big brands have their own variety of smart speakers, with cheaper ‘no brand’ names also appearing on the market. The main smart speakers and the market leaders are:

  1. Amazon’s Echo devices – The Echo, Echo Show and Echo Dot
  2. Sonos’ speaker – which has Amazon’s Alexa on it
  3. Google Home Speakers – home mini

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Hello, thanks for reading my guide. My name is Tom and I am a tech blogger who loves everything about creating a smart home. I live with my wife and two children in the North East of England.