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Best smart speaker 2021: which voice-activated speaker should you buy?

Do more than just play music with these smart speakers.

best smart speaker

The best smart speakers offer a multitude of features, from voice control via Alexa or Google Assistant to reminders, weather reports, and simply playing music.

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However, because of their increasing popularity, the likes of Amazon and Google continue to release new additions to their growing smart speaker ranges. This can make it tricky to know which smart speaker to choose and how much to spend.

To help, we’ve put together this guide with advice on choosing a smart speaker, what features to look out for and a selection of the best smart speakers we have put to the test.

With the price of smart speakers ranging from £50 to over £200, we take a look at each device’s voice recognition technology, unique features and compatible devices to decide which are good value for money.

Each of the best smart speakers has also been given an award to highlight their strengths, varying from best for voice control, sound quality and the best budget option. Here is our top pick of the best smart speakers we’ve reviewed for 2021.

To read more smart home reviews, try our guides to the best streaming sticks and best Alexa speakers. For the best price on Amazon’s smart speaker, head to our best Amazon Echo deals page.

How to choose the best smart speaker

Choosing a smart speaker will largely depend on your budget, what you intend to primarily use it for and which voice assistant you think you’ll prefer. An AI virtual assistant aids the ability to control a smart speaker with your voice. The two most common are Amazon’s Alexa and Google Assistant.

A speaker having a built-in voice assistant means that you can skip songs, turn up the volume and pause music with your voice hands-free. Beyond this, voice assistants can also give news, traffic or weather updates, set reminders and answer questions.

While both voice assistants fulfil the same role, there will be additional, special features unique to one brand. Some speakers excel at setting personalised reminders, alarms and routines, while others are dedicated to sound quality and detailed music controls.

For example, Google prides itself on its voice match technology that allows Google Assistant to identify when different people are using the speaker. This allows the smart speaker to set reminders unique to an individual in the house, such as meetings or dentist appointments. It is worth investigating to decide which features you’ll use most often.

Best smart speakers at a glance

Choosing the right smart speaker for you will depend on what you intend to use it for, how often you intend to use it, and your budget. Some perform at their best while playing music, while others deliver accurate and timely reminders, news, weather and traffic updates. The best smart speakers include:

Best smart speakers to buy in 2021

From the small Amazon Echo Dot to the more premium Google Nest Hub Max, here is our pick of the best smart speakers for 2021.

Google Nest Audio

Google Nest Audio deals

Best for sound quality

The Google Nest Audio is the brand’s latest smart speaker serving as a replacement to the original Google Home, and comes in an all-new design that’s even simpler than the original.

It is the sound quality that really stands out with this smart speaker. The volume range is superb, Google Assistant can clearly be heard (and, more importantly, can hear you) over any loud background noise, and the bass is powerful.

Read the full Google Nest Audio review.

Amazon Echo Dot

Amazon Echo Dot

Best for voice control

At £49.99, the Amazon Echo Dot is brilliant value, and its new spherical design looks sleek and modern. The sound quality is good, considering the size of the speaker. It fits nicely in any space, and Alexa continues to impress with some of the most sophisticated voice recognition technology on offer. There is also a great range of Alexa compatible devices that can be connected to the speaker, including thermostats, lights and other speakers.

Read the full Amazon Echo Dot review.

Google Nest Hub Max

Google Nest Hub Max deals

Best features

If you’re a visual person, you may prefer the touchscreen of a smart display. The Google Nest Hub Max is one of the biggest with a 10-inch display. Not only is it fitted with Google Assistant, but you can also make video calls, watch YouTube or see who is at the door with the aid of a compatible device like the Arlo Smart Video Doorbell.

Read the full Google Nest Hub Max review.

Echo Show 8

Echo Show 8

Best smart display

We were very fond of this Amazon smart display when we got our hands on it in 2020, and that enthusiasm has not dwindled. The 8-inch display is small enough not to be bothersome on the kitchen counter while still being big enough to be practical. With Alexa built-in, the Echo Show 8 can even be set-up as a digital photo frame when not in active use.

Read the full Amazon Echo Show 8 review.

Google Nest Mini

Google Nest Mini
Currys PC World

Best budget option

The Google Nest Mini is one of the smallest smart speakers available and can play music via the radio, Spotify or YouTube Music. The durable fabric top is made from 100% recycled plastic bottles. The sound quality is good, if a little directional, and can be mounted on the wall if you prefer. At less than £50, it is ideal for those just dipping their toes in smart home technology.

Read the full Google Nest Mini review.

How we tested smart speakers

Each smart speaker is tested against four main categories; ease of set-up, sound quality, design and value for money. Depending on how it performs, the smart speaker is then awarded a final rating out of 5.

Within these categories, our technology experts consider everything from the speaker’s size, weight, and portability to whether the voice assistant responds quickly and accurately to a range of commands and questions.

To test out each of the variables fully, the smart speakers were trialled in various settings, including with loud background noise, different room sizes and whether the response varied with different voices.

Finally, the price is weighed up against the speaker’s performance to assess whether it is worth the money. Within this, we also compare its price to competitors’ devices to see if a better value for money is offered elsewhere or if a particular brand offers something unique.

The final result? Our list of the best smart speakers to buy this year, tried and tested.

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