Smart home speaker invasion

As smart home speakers gain popularity and ubiquity, we see more options crop up. In recent months, there has been a steady influx of affordable, feature-packed speakers from top brands.

AMAZON ECHO: STRAIGHT OUT OF A SCI-FI FILM 

If the new Amazon Echo reminds you of the Death Star, you’re not alone. It’s the speaker’s first major design overhaul since it was introduced in 2014, and it has a sci-fi feel to it. It maintains its 99.99 US$ (around PHP 4,834) price tag but introduces smart hub features from the Echo Plus.  

Hold this sphere. The Echo’s new design is meant to improve acoustic properties and provide more flexibility with drivers’ placement. Its fuller cavity behind the woofer allows for better bass response, too. You can pair it with another Echo for stereo sound. 

Self-tuning. Another feature the new fourth-generation Echo inherits is the Echo Studio’s ability to automatically tune itself to provide the best sound for your space. It’s a feature not seen often in its price point. It uses the mics to listen to the room and continuously gauge its size and shape. 

Smart as can be. Amazon introduces a new AZ1 Neural Edge processor in this Echo. It’s meant to speed up the speaker’s voice recognition capabilities. Equipped with Alexa, you can ask it to control your smart home devices, give weather reports, add things to your shopping list, and more. 

APPLE HOMEPOD MINI: SMALLER, CHEAPER, BUT SMARTER 

Apple HomePod was due for a refresh, but the arrival of the HomePod mini is still surprising. Not only is it smaller, but it offers some new Siri-powered features at 99 US$ (around PHP 4,789). 

Compact companion. Apple shrinks the HomePod mini to match its name. It has more rounded corners that make it look similar to Amazon’s smart speakers. Like the HomePod, the mini has a wraparound fabric grille and a touch-sensitive control panel on the top. It also comes in the same white and space gray colors.  

Smarter Siri. Apple is steadily improving Siri’s capabilities, with some of the improvements showing up on the HomePod mini. It recognizes multiple users’ voices, and it can interact with CarPlay (like using it to search for a location, which can then show up in Apple Maps in your car). It recognizes voices and tailors music and podcast recommendations depending on the user, too.  

The HomePod mini can act as an intercom alongside other HomePod minis, allowing you to announce things in your house simultaneously. The messages can play on other Apple devices like the iPhone and AirPods.  

Siri shortcuts on your phone work with the mini, and it can “seamlessly” handoff music from an Apple device to the speaker. 

Music match. The Apple S5 processor in the HomePod mini helps improve audio and music quality to compensate for its smaller size. If you want stereo sound, you can connect two HomePod mini speakers.  

GOOGLE NEST AUDIO: STYLE AND SOUND 

Google rebrands the Home speaker and introduces the new Nest Audio. It’s now part of the Nest line of products and priced at 99.99 US$ (around PHP 4,834). 

Louder with more bass. It has a 19mm tweeter for high-frequency coverage and clear vocals and a 75mm midwoofer for better bass. According to Google, the Nest Audio is 75% louder with a 50% stronger bass than the original Google Home speaker introduced in 2016. 

Eye-catching colors. The Nest Audio comes in five shades: Chalk, Charcoal, Sage, Sand, and Sky. It’s designed to fit into your home with looks inspired by a pillow and fabric by home textiles. 

Smart and versatile. Google claims it responds twice as quickly as Google Home for commands like track skipping and volume adjustment. You can even instruct it to move the currently playing music from one room to another. If you want stereo sound, it can pair with another Nest Audio. It doesn’t come with inputs, though, so you can connect it to another source using wires. 

The speaker has a new feature called Ambient EQ that will adjust the assistant’s voice response based on the room’s background noise. But if this raises privacy concerns, it comes with a physical switch on the back to mute the microphones.