While speakers have been around for a very long time, smart speakers are a relatively new innovation. Thanks to their built-in voice assistants, you can now ask Alexa, Siri, or Google Assistant to play music for you without having to get off your couch. You can even make them give you a weather update, control your smart home devices, or remind you of upcoming appointments. With Father’s Day fast approaching, perhaps the best gift that you give dear old dad is home automation. Right now, the Amazon Echo, Amazon Echo Plus, and Apple HomePod are all on sale at Amazon and Best Buy for as cheap as $70.
When we first encountered the Echo in 2015, we were initially skeptical of a device that seemingly came out of some sci-fi movie. Was this just some fad that would eventually be forgotten, or was it here to stay? Turns out, it was the latter, and now we have the third generation of the Echo. Echo 3.0 is smaller and cuter yet still cylindrical, 8 inches in height and 3.9 inches in diameter. It comes in either cloth covers or sleek finishes. It has four buttons; two for adjusting the volume up or down, one for action, and one to turn off the microphone to stop Alexa from eavesdropping.
All Echo models are outfitted with Dolby speaker technology. The Echo, specifically, boasts a 3-inch woofer for a full bass sound and a 0.8-inch tweeter for clear treble. It now supports multiroom audio, meaning you can play a certain track in the kitchen while your family listens to something completely different in the living room. This is not an audiophile-grade speaker though. If you want next-level sound, you can hook up the Echo to a third-party audio system via the 3.5mm audio jack. Finally, unlike its predecessor, you now use the Echo to control a wide array of compatible smart home devices, like smart lights, thermostats, lock doors, and more.
The Echo normally retails for $100, but right now you can get it at Amazon for the incredibly low price of $70.
The second generation of the Echo Plus looks identical to the Echo 3rd Gen – cylindrical and with the exact same dimensions. They even have the same fabric exteriors, although the Echo Plus 2 has a more limited colors options (charcoal, heather gray, and sandstone) compared to the Echo 3 (charcoal, heather gray, limited edition red, sandstone, and twilight blue). Button placements also weren’t changed, as you’ll find the power button, volume control, and privacy switch on the top side of both devices. Even their speaker components are identical: They’re both powered by a 3-inch woofer and a 0.8-inch tweeter courtesy of Dolby that are designed to disperse sound in all directions … and they work beautifully. And just like the Echo, the Echo Plus also supports multi-room audio, so you can play one track in your kitchen while something else plays in the living room.
Their differences (and the reason behind the Echo Plus’s slightly higher price tag) come in the form of a couple of extra smart home features: Zigbee wireless compatibility and temperature sensor. While the Echo 3rd Gen supports plenty of smart home devices, the Echo Plus is Zigbee compatible, an older wireless standard that some smart devices use to communicate. This means it can control a wider range of smart devices than the Echo 3, making it more suitable for a home that’s been collecting smart devices for some time, or a building that still needs Zigbee-only devices. Finally, the Echo Plus’s built-in temperature sensor allows it to detect temperature changes in your room so you can ask Alexa to turn on the heat when the temperature drops below 60 degrees or give any other temperature-related commands or routines.
The Echo Plus 2nd Gen usually comes with a $150 price tag, but right now it’s on sale at Amazon for just $100.
With the HomePod, Apple puts the emphasis on design and sound quality more than smarts. The nearly four years of development is clearly evident on the HomePod. This is the best smart speaker that you can buy if you’re an avid fan of Apple, boasting a spectacular, nuanced sound and easy setup and control. Everyone else should look elsewhere.
For starters, the HomePod continues Apple’s legacy of keeping it simple yet stylish. This smart speaker is not only wonderfully minimalistic but is also built like a tank. At 5.5 pounds, it has real heft, and that’s because of robust cabinetry and huge magnets on the drivers inside which produces out-of-this-world bass. Its speaker grille is covered in a soft and squishy material that we couldn’t stop touching. The HomePod is very simple to set up, but here’s the catch: You must have an iOS device that’s capable of running iOS 11.2.5, otherwise you won’t be able to use it. The most primitive Apple devices that it will work on are the iPhone 5S, iPad Mini 2, and iPod Touch sixth generation. Another major downside is that you can only ask Siri to control Apple Music. She won’t be able to play any of your Spotify or Pandora playlists. Worst of all, there is a tragic lack of a Bluetooth connection and auxiliary input jack to connect non-Apple devices.
Now onto where the HomePod really aces it: Sound quality. With a large cavity that houses a 4-inch woofer and seven tweeters surrounding the speaker that each comes with its own high-power amplifier, the HomePod is the audiophile’s smart speaker. Every music genre that we played on it sounded lush and rich in details, perfectly complemented by a full-bodied bass that means business.
The HomePod is made exclusive for the Apple faithful. It normally retails for $300, but right now you can get it at Best Buy for a whopping $100 off.
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