Smart Home technology has evolved to offer versatile functionality. While many top-notch smart home devices are designed to operate seamlessly across different platforms, there are specific categories, such as smart speakers and smart displays, that require a deliberate choice of a voice assistant. Currently, this choice predominantly centers on Google Assistant and Amazon’s Alexa for everyday usage (Siri will be discussed shortly). These voice assistants exhibit compatibility with a diverse array of smart home products, spanning from smart light bulbs to robotic vacuum cleaners. Nevertheless, certain devices are finely tuned to work optimally with either the Google or Amazon ecosystem. For example, Nest products demonstrate enhanced compatibility and extended functionality when paired with Google-powered speakers and displays. While they remain functional with Amazon devices, certain features may be constrained. Conversely, Amazon products deliver peak performance when integrated within the Amazon ecosystem.
So, how do you go about deciding between Alexa and Google Assistant? Your choice largely hinges on your individual preferences. Are you an Audible audiobook listener, an avid Prime Video viewer, and a frequent Amazon shopper? In that case, you might find yourself leaning towards a smart home device powered by Alexa. On the other hand, if you frequently utilize Google services such as YouTube and Google Podcasts, a Google-powered device could be your best bet.
If your priority is having a voice assistant that excels at providing answers to questions, Google Assistant typically outperforms Alexa in this regard. Meanwhile, Amazon’s assistant currently boasts broader support for various smart home products. Amazon’s smart speakers and displays also come equipped with compatibility for the Zigbee smart home protocol, with some devices even featuring integrated smart home hubs. Both Google and Amazon devices can sync with your calendar, though Google’s devices tend to offer a smoother experience with Google services. Moreover, if you already own an Android phone, you might naturally gravitate towards using Google Assistant due to your familiarity with the ecosystem.
1. Sonos Era 100
The speaker’s compact size allows it to seamlessly blend into various spaces within your home. Even more noteworthy, it delivers exceptional audio quality that surpasses the performance of many other smart speakers on the market.
Our top pick for the finest smart speaker is the Sonos Era 100. Its compact design ensures it can easily find a place in most areas of your home. What truly sets it apart is its remarkable audio quality, which outperforms many other smart speakers on the market. When finely tuned to your room’s acoustics, a process facilitated by the iOS app, the sound quality is exceptional, featuring robust bass and crystal-clear highs. Regrettably, the Android app lacks TruePlay tuning (Sonos has not disclosed whether it’s in development), but the speakers still deliver an impressive performance. Furthermore, it boasts compatibility with a wide range of music streaming services, including major ones like Spotify and Pandora.
One of the standout advantages of a Sonos speaker is its capacity to serve as the entry point for establishing a multi-room audio system that you can expand gradually. Additionally, it seamlessly integrates with Sonos soundbars, making it a convenient choice if you have plans to create a home theater setup in the future.
2. Amazon Echo Studio
Opting for Amazon’s Echo Studio is an excellent decision if you have a preference for Alexa as your voice control assistant over the Google Assistant. The latest iteration of the Studio, recently unveiled, has undergone significant enhancements, notably in the realm of spatial audio processing, surpassing the capabilities of the company’s previous 3D sound technology. It boasts an extended frequency range, with improved mid-range clarity and deeper bass notes, while also incorporating a built-in smart home hub for seamless integration with devices such as smart lights, switches, and plugs. Moreover, if you possess a Fire TV device or an actual Fire TV set, you have the option to pair the Echo Studio with it, creating an outstanding home theater audio setup.
3. Amazon Echo
In our assessment, among the currently available $100 smart speakers, the Echo stands out as the leader in terms of audio quality. This distinction can be attributed to its remarkable bass performance and the robust mid-range frequencies it delivers.
For individuals on a tighter budget, there exists a selection of smart speakers priced around $100. Our recommendation is to consider one of the latest offerings from Google, Amazon, or Apple. Among these options, we believe the Echo offers the most impressive audio quality. As noted by our colleague Nate Ingraham, it delivers remarkable bass and powerful mid-range frequencies. Additionally, you have the option to enhance your audio experience by pairing two Echo speakers for an even better stereo sound.
However, it’s worth mentioning that both the Nest Audio and HomePod mini also deliver solid performances. The HomePod mini provides a well-balanced sound profile, while the Nest Audio offers commendable bass tones. Ultimately, the choice between these options hinges on your personal preference for a voice assistant.
4. Echo Show 8
Similar to other smart displays powered by Alexa, this particular device offers extensive support for video streaming services, encompassing platforms like Amazon Prime and Netflix. Additionally, it includes a couple of pre-installed web browsers that enable you to browse the internet at your convenience.
The Echo Show 8 stands out as the premier choice among Alexa-powered smart displays. While the Echo Show 5 is somewhat petite, and the Echo Show 10’s rotating screen demands substantial space, the Echo Show 8 strikes the perfect balance in terms of size, fitting comfortably in a living room or various other rooms throughout your home.
Much like its counterparts, this smart display is compatible with numerous video streaming services, encompassing Amazon Prime, Hulu, and Netflix. It also includes a couple of integrated web browsers that allow for convenient internet browsing via its touchscreen interface. Regrettably, it lacks support for YouTube, a notable omission given the widespread use of the service. As a workaround, you can access YouTube through the aforementioned browsers, although the experience may not be as seamless as using a native app.
The Echo Show 8 offers the functionality to make video calls with any phone or tablet equipped with the Alexa app. Additionally, it provides support for Skype, Zoom, and Amazon’s proprietary Chime service. Similar to the Nest Hub Max, the Show 8 also offers an optional face-tracking feature, ensuring that the camera follows your movements around the room during video calls.
5. Nest Hub (2nd gen)
This particular model boasts a 7-inch screen, an ideal size that fits comfortably in most rooms throughout the house. Its dimensions also make it an excellent choice as a digital photo frame.
Our preferred Google-powered smart display is the second-generation Nest Hub, which also features a 7-inch screen, perfectly suited for various rooms in the house. Its size lends itself well to functioning as a digital photo frame, allowing you to configure it to display pictures of friends and family sourced from your Google Photos library. Notably, it employs a smart algorithm that selects the best-quality photos while excluding blurry ones. As expected, the display supports streaming services like YouTube, Netflix, and others.
Moreover, this smart display lacks a camera, making it an ideal choice for more private spaces such as the bedroom, where privacy concerns may be more prominent. If positioned by your bedside, the Nest Hub incorporates a sensor capable of tracking your sleep patterns, should you choose to enable this feature.
For those who prefer a display with a camera, we recommend investing in the higher-end Nest Hub Max. Its built-in camera facilitates video calls through platforms like Google Duo, Google Meet, and Zoom. This smart device also offers an optional face-tracking feature, allowing the camera to follow you during calls. Additionally, the camera enables Face Match, a feature that automatically recognizes different household members and displays relevant information, such as calendar alerts, specific to each individual.
Furthermore, the camera introduces an innovative gestures feature that allows you to control media playback simply by raising your hand to the screen, offering convenience when you need to pause music without shouting across the room. Notably, the Google Nest Hub Max boasts superior audio quality compared to the standard Hub, thanks to its larger speakers.
6. Philips Hue
These light bulbs provide you with the capability to modify not only their brightness but also the color temperature, allowing you to experiment with a broad spectrum of colors and create your desired lighting ambiance.
One of the simplest methods to incorporate smart home technology into your residence is by substituting your current light bulbs with smart ones. Smart light bulbs enable remote control of your lighting, whether through a mobile app or voice commands. They introduce automation and scheduling, enabling you to set specific times for the lights to turn on and off. Some even offer the flexibility to adjust brightness levels and color temperatures or craft custom lighting scenarios.
Among our preferred smart lighting solutions, Philips Hue stands out, and the White and Color Ambiance LED Smart Button Starter Kit serves as an excellent entry point. It comprises three Philips Hue White and Color Ambiance 60W LED smart bulbs, a Hue hub capable of managing up to 50 lights, and a Smart Button for convenient light control even without your smartphone.
This kit offers a plethora of lighting possibilities, allowing you to modify not only the brightness but also the color temperature, providing access to a diverse range of colors to adorn your room with the perfect lighting scene. For those seeking more conservative options, Philips offers alternatives: the Hue White Ambiance Starter Kit, which lacks color customization, and the Hue White Starter Kit, which doesn’t allow for color temperature adjustment.
Our preference for Philips Hue bulbs primarily stems from their extensive compatibility with various smart home ecosystems. They are widely available and seamlessly integrate with Google, Amazon, and Apple’s HomeKit. Furthermore, since all the bulbs connect to the Hue hub via the Zigbee protocol, rather than relying on your home’s Wi-Fi network, they offer enhanced reliability without causing any slowdowns in your home internet connection.
7. TP-Link Kasa Smart WiFi Light Bulb
TP-Link’s smart bulbs offer a user-friendly installation process and maintain a stable connection over time, complemented by a clean and user-friendly mobile app.
TP-Link, known for its range of affordable IoT devices, has earned our accolade as our top choice for budget devices in our smart lights guide, particularly for their Kasa Smart WiFi light bulbs. These bulbs are hassle-free to install and exhibit consistent connectivity. Furthermore, the companion mobile app is intuitive and well-designed. These full-color smart bulbs impress us with their easy color adjustments, accomplished with a simple swipe on a color wheel within the app. Additionally, they provide the flexibility to choose from various shades of white light, allowing you to seamlessly transition between warm and cool lighting as needed.
The app’s scheduling feature empowers you to automate your lighting, enabling the bulbs to turn on and off at specified times throughout the day. Moreover, the app’s “usage” section offers insights into each bulb’s energy consumption over time, along with an estimate of the energy savings achieved by using a smart light instead of a conventional one. Ultimately, these bulbs offer exceptional value at an attractive price point. A typical four-pack is priced at around $40, but occasional sales may bring it down to as low as $30.
8. Wyze Cam V3
This security camera boasts an extensive array of features and an affordable price point. Additionally, it is suitable for both indoor and outdoor use, thanks to its IP65 waterproof rating. Notably, it offers color night vision capability, enabling it to record nighttime video in vivid color.
Home security cameras serve a variety of purposes, such as detecting intruders, capturing porch pirate activities, or monitoring your pets when you’re away from home. Our top choice in this category is the Wyze Cam V3, distinguished by its comprehensive feature set and budget-friendly cost. Its versatility extends to outdoor usage, thanks to its IP65 waterproof rating, and it excels in recording nighttime video in full color.
Similar to earlier iterations, this camera sends notifications to your smartphone whenever it detects sound or motion. You also have the flexibility to personalize Motion Detection Zones, allowing you to fine-tune the motion sensor’s sensitivity. Additionally, it offers 24/7 continuous video recording, with storage available through a 32GB microSD card (not included).
One notable advantage of the Wyze Cam V3 is that it doesn’t necessitate a subscription; the purchase includes free cloud storage, providing access to the last 14 days of recorded footage via the app. It’s important to note that the free account limits video clips to 12 seconds every five minutes. For unlimited motion recording and enhanced features like person and package detection alerts, you can consider upgrading to a Cam Plus subscription, which is reasonably priced at $2 per month or $15 annually.
9. Blink cameras
Both the Indoor and Outdoor models are powered by AA batteries, requiring replacement only approximately once every two years. This grants you significant flexibility in terms of camera placement in and around your home.
While the Wyze Cam V3 offers many appealing features, it necessitates a constant power source. For a wireless alternative to enhance your home security setup, we recommend the Blink Indoor and Outdoor cameras. Both of these cameras operate on AA batteries, allowing you to position them wherever you desire, with a battery life that typically lasts until the cells need replacement. The Blink Outdoor camera is weather-resistant, while both models offer features such as night vision, motion detection, and two-way audio. You have the option to store video clips in the cloud via the Blink Subscription Plan or locally save events to a Sync Module 2 using a USB flash drive (sold separately). It’s worth noting that Blink is compatible with Alexa exclusively, which may be a limiting factor for some users.
10. Arlo Essential Video Doorbell
Arlo’s doorbell camera offers high-quality HDR footage and an expansive 180-degree field of view, allowing you to observe a person’s full height from head to toe. It can also initiate a video call to your smartphone whenever someone rings the doorbell.
When seeking a dedicated camera solution for your front door, a doorbell camera proves more practical than a standalone alternative. Our preferred choice in this category is the Arlo Essential Video Doorbell, compatible with Google Assistant, Amazon’s Alexa, and Apple HomeKit. It captures high-quality HDR video and boasts a wide 180-degree viewing angle, ensuring you can see individuals in their entirety. Moreover, it can initiate video calls to your smartphone when the doorbell is pressed, facilitating two-way communication with the visitor.
A noteworthy feature of this doorbell is the inclusion of a three-month trial for Arlo’s Smart subscription service. This service incorporates motion detection capabilities capable of distinguishing between people, packages, vehicles, and animals. Senior Editor Devindra Hardawar found the package alerts particularly valuable, effectively notifying him when deliveries were made, such as when UPS dropped off a package. This feature is so advantageous that we recommend continuing the subscription beyond the trial period.
While the Arlo Essential Video Doorbell is compatible with both Google and Amazon smart displays, it’s important to note that integration may not be seamless. You can view the camera feed on the display, but automatic display of the doorbell caller is not supported. If this feature is essential to you, you may want to consider either a Google doorbell, such as the Nest Video Doorbell, or an Amazon doorbell, like the Blink Video Doorbell (for Google and Amazon displays, respectively).