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Should you give a smart speaker as a holiday gift?

With new Echos available, more Nest options than ever before, and a wide variety of third-party smart devices with excellent compatibility, now is an excellent time to think about giving a smart speaker as a holiday gift. That’s even truer as Black Friday approaches with its plethora of deals.

Smart speakers, equipped with voice assistants and able to connect to other smart devices, have a whole lot to offer around the home. But that doesn’t always mean that they make a good gift. There’s a lot that goes into using a smart speaker, which makes them a good fit for some people and a bad choice for others. These questions will help you decide if a smart speaker like an Echo, Nest device, HomePod Mini, or similar speaker is a good choice.

Do they mind talking to a voice assistant? Which one?

Woman using smart speaker while working in office.
Luis Alvarez/Getty Images

Central to most smart speakers is a voice assistant like Alexa, Google Assistant, or Siri. These voice assistants have apps that they can use to control smart homes and can complete a wide variety of tasks (or games, answers, etc.) with the right commands. Bottom line: Smart speakers are made to talk to.

If the recipient doesn’t have any experience with voice assistants, a smart speaker may not be a good fit. They would have to learn to speak to the speaker and give the right commands, and not everyone is willing to do that. (However, you could ease the learning curve by setting it up with useful Alexa skills.) Or they may have a busy home environment that’s a little too noisy or hectic for using a voice assistant (energetic kids around, lots of roommates, etc.).

If using a voice assistant is no problem, you’ll have to know which one they prefer. Google Assistant lives primarily on Android and Nest devices, while Alexa is found on Amazon Echos and similar devices. Siri is available on the HomePod Mini and not much else. Some speakers, like those from Sonos, can work with multiple voice assistants, but this is uncommon.

Are they comfortable with a smart home?

The Google Nest Audio.

Smart speakers are very useful on their own, but they shine brightest when they can connect with compatible smart home devices and control them, using them via voice commands or orchestrating complex routines. That makes smart speakers a better gift for those who like the idea of a smart home and use smart devices or would like to add new devices over time.

It also means that not all smart devices they currently have will work with a particular voice assistant. This is improving thanks to innovations like the Matter protocol, which has finally arrived in 2022 to add more compatibility, but it can still be a problem. That’s another reason it’s important to know what voice assistant or platform the recipient prefers.

Do they have privacy concerns or issues with big corporations?

This can be a big issue with gifting a smart speaker. Some people simply have privacy issues with having one in their homes. Others may not like the idea of a big company like Amazon or Google listening to what they say.

Technically, there isn’t much to worry about. Except for some brief bugs, smart speakers are designed to only start “listening” when their wake words are used. Their apps allow users to control if voice command recordings are kept or destroyed, among a variety of other privacy options. And today’s smart speakers come with physical controls to manually turn off mics (and it’s also an option for smart displays and cameras).

However, those features probably won’t matter to people truly concerned about smart speaker privacy — they just won’t want one in their homes, period. So try to gauge their opinion on that before you buy. For example, someone who doesn’t mind talking to an Apple Watch probably won’t have problems with a smart speaker.

How do they listen to music?

Echo Dot on an entryway table.

Even if there aren’t a lot of smart devices around to control, smart speakers can still play music and connect to a variety of popular services, including Tidal, Apple Music, Spotify, Pandora, and more. Plus, their audio quality is incredible compared to their size, and many can easily fill a room with tunes without any help. That can be very handy whether people are having a party, cleaning the house, cooking dinner, or setting up a romantic evening.

The problem is that not everyone likes to play music this way. If the recipient only listens to music with earbuds or headphones, a smart speaker may not get much use. If they already have a speaker system to play music around the house and are very happy with it, a smart speaker may be redundant (a smart soundbar, however, could be a good addition). Additionally, most smart speakers aren’t portable — you would want a simpler Bluetooth speaker for music on the go.

How do they like to talk to friends?

Another popular feature of smart speakers is the ability to make voice calls to anyone on the voice assistant’s contact list. That can be especially useful for family and close friends to casually chat with each other, check in on their well-being, or ask a quick question. This is why smart speakers find homes in “granny pods,” garages, and similar places. But it’s not a feature everyone will use, depending on their preferred contact method.

Where would they put a smart speaker?

Blue HomePod Mini sitting on desk while person works.

Placement is important! A smart speaker that can produce whole-house audio should have a central location and should be a larger model with bigger speakers. If the recipient is more likely to put it on a desk, a smaller speaker like a Nest Mini may be a better fit. For the bedroom, a speaker with an LED light like the latest Echo Dot could be a good gift. And in the kitchen, we would recommend a smart display for easy access to recipe videos, shows, tutorials, and much more.

Do they mind setup?

Users do need to spend some time with smart speakers to get them set up. That includes connecting to Wi-Fi, customizing voice assistant preferences, setting up privacy options, connecting skills and music services, connecting smart devices, setting up routines, and more! That can be a lot of work for those unfamiliar with smart home tech, which could mean a smart speaker isn’t the best pick … or that you will need to spend some serious time helping them out.

Are they kids?

Kids and smart speakers aren’t always a good mix. You (or their parents) would have to spend extra time setting up parental controls over what kids can listen to, purchase, and talk to, which can limit the usefulness of smart speakers. The possible exception is Amazon’s Echo Dot for Kids, which come with a free subscription to Amazon Kids+, a safer environment with kid-friendly content. Children can still use smart speakers to play music, listen to stories read aloud, ask questions while doing homework, and more.

How much are you comfortable spending?

Finally, think about the price. A good standard smart speaker will cost around $100. A small version can cost around $50 to $100. A premium model like the Echo Studio with better sound quality would be $200.

Of course, then you have to take into account Black Friday and holiday discounts, which can drop the price significantly. Holidays also see bundles that may make a smart speaker a more attractive gift. Whatever you decide, explore your options and consider the recipient carefully — whether it’s a speaker or not, you’re sure to find a smart device that’s perfect for them.

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