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Gone are the days of having simple speakers that pump your favorite tunes throughout your home. It's clear that smart speakers are the future. That is, speakers you can talk to and interact with, asking random questions, getting weather updates or controlling your smart home devices are only part of what makes them so attractive.
The speakers available today have evolved over the years, and instead of coming in basic designs and one size, there's now a wide offering of speakers that interact with Amazon's Alexa, Google Assistant, or Apple's Siri. Honestly, if you're looking to buy one, it can quickly get confusing trying to figure out which is the best for you.
So, to help you properly outfit your office with premium sound and voice control, ZDNet has rounded up five smart speakers that satisfy a range of wants and needs. Instead of getting off into the weeds of third-party designs, we tried to stick with devices straight from Apple, Google, and Amazon themselves. That doesn't mean we don't like third-party designs -- in fact, we included one below -- but buying first-party ensures long-term support, software updates, and compatibility.
Apple released the HomePod Mini towards the end of 2020, adding a speaker with a more compact design and a lower price than the original, and now discontinued, HomePod. Near the end of 2021, Apple released three new color options for the HomePod Mini, bringing total color options to five.
The $99 HomePod Mini doesn't have the same sound quality you'll get from its bigger sibling. However, it's more than powerful enough to fill a room. It still boasts the ability to hear you from across the room, even when it's blasting your favorite tunes.
It includes an ultra-wideband chip that works with the iPhone 11 or newer, making the process for handing off music between your phone and the Mini -- or vice-versa -- a breeze. Plus, it doubles as a HomeKit hub with Thread support, allowing compatible accessories to stay connected at all times.
Google's latest smart speaker has a unique look
Remember when all smart speakers looked the same? Thankfully that's changing, and Nest Audio is a prime example of that. For $59, you get a pillow-like speaker that works with Google Assistant, allowing you to control your smart devices, ask questions, and stream music.
There's a built-in mic switch that disables the mic altogether for those who are privacy-conscious. It also has three far-field microphones, a 75mm woofer and a 19mm tweeter.
Nest Audio comes in five different color options.
Amazon arguably started the entire smart speaker trend with its Echo lineup, and with the 4th generation Echo Dot continues to move the lineup's design, and your conversations with Alexa, forward. The orb-like design has a cloth fabric covering that comes in multiple color options, and if you're comfortable with putting a speaker in a child's bedroom, you can get a Kids Edition that features an animal pattern.
There's a light-up ring around the bottom of the Echo Dot that lets you know when Alexa is listening, or when the microphone is turned off. There are button controls on top of the speaker that let you adjust volume or turn off the mic with a quick tap.
At $34.99, it's one of the least expensive options you'll find for a smart speaker, and it doesn't give up any features. You'll still be able to use Alexa to control your smart home, ask for jokes or place calls.
Amazon Echo Studio
Top-of-the-line Echo speaker
Amazon's largest Echo speaker is called the Echo Studio. It's a high-end choice with high-fidelity sound and an equally high-end price. But, for $200, you're getting 3D audio with a five-speaker setup and Dolby Atmos support. You can even pair the Studio with a second unit to create a home theater-like setup.
There's all the native Alexa functionality you can expect from an Amazon device, too.
Best portable smart speaker
The Sonos Move has built-in Alexa, Google Assistant and doubles as an AirPlay 2 or Bluetooth compatible speaker. But what really makes the Move stand out is that it has a rechargeable battery with 11 hours of life, making it a great choice if you plan on moving in and out of or around the office pretty regularly. It also has a weather-proof body in case you get caught out in the rain or bring it to the beach on holiday.
Which smart speaker is right for you?
If you don't currently have any sort of smart speaker in your home, then I suggest by starting your search based on the type of smartphone you carry. If you have an iPhone, then Apple's HomePod Mini makes sense. You'll be able to send messages, listen to Apple Music and control your HomeKit accessories through the small speaker.
If you have an Android phone, then Nest Audio might be a better fit for you since it tightly integrates with the Google Home app and all of the supported smart home platforms.
However, Amazon's Alexa offers support for a vast list of products, services and smart home devices. It's a reliable solution for those who maybe have a split household, with some using an iPhone and others using an Android device.
Finally, if you want something that supports all platforms and allows you to switch between them at will? Sonos Move will do just that.
How did we select these smart speakers?
It's a fair question. I've personally used and extensively tested every speaker on this list, giving me firsthand knowledge about performance, build quality and the overall experience. When it comes to Google and Amazon smart speakers, both companies allow third parties to build speakers that integrate with the respective voice assistant -- I purposely left most of those speakers off of this list.
Oftentimes, those speakers lack any long-term support via software updates. The only exception is Sonos, who has a reliable track record with supporting hardware and software for many years.