Test of smart speakers: 10 products tested

Daniel Hessel

Smart assistants that take the form of a speaker or display in your home are becoming more popular. But which one is best – and which one suits your needs? Google Nest Audio is best in test for its neat format and great sound.

Test of smart speakers: 11 products tested

How we did the test

Our tests are independently conducted and reflect the test editor's honest and objective opinions. Selection of products and test results are in no way influenced by manufacturers, retailers or other internal or external parties.

It isn’t easy to do consumer tests of smart speakers and smart displays with built-in voice assistants. Partly this is because their performance depends on your needs when it comes to questions, and the services you connect them to. And partly because it’s actually mostly about the product rather than the voice assistant. This is because in the voice assistants tend to be identical, with identical functions, regardless of the hardware you’re using to talk to them. So it’s more important to look at the hardware itself, and particularly to make sure the microphones are well positioned and pick up your commands.

That said, there are a couple of parameters that we’ve taken into account when we tested smart speakers both with and without built-in displays:

  • Microphone: A smart speaker continuously listens for its wake word or phrase. So it’s important that the microphones are good at picking up sound. Both to hear the wake phrases and to hear your commands, and in both quiet and noisy environments.

  • Sound: The actual speakers are very different depending on the type of product. Obviously a mini speaker not much bigger than a box of matches can’t be expected to deliver hi-fi sound. But it’s very important that the sound is appropriate for the product price and specialisation.

  • Design and user-friendliness: The speakers are designed to be visible for optimal performance. So it’s important that the speaker or screen fits into a normal home.

  • Hardware: Even if you primarily talk to the assistant, the hardware should be solidly built. If the speaker has a screen it needs to be of good quality, and if there are buttons or touch-sensitive controls they need to feel good to use.

We take all factors into account and the speaker's performance is weighed against its price. The product value determines the final score.

We tested a selection of the market’s most popular smart speakers. Compare prices for all smart speakers listed on PriceRunner.

1. Google Nest Audio - BEST SMART SPEAKER 2020

The Assistant that communicates in stereo

Type: Smart speaker Supported voice service: Google Assistant Speaker: 3” bass, 0.75” treble Screen: No Microphone: Yes Camera: No Connection: Bluetooth, Wi-Fi Dimensions: 175.2x124.1x76.47 mm Weight: 1100 g Controls: Microphone switch, touch controls

Google Nest Audio

The Google Nest Audio, or J2 as it’s known internally inside Google, is a long needed update of Google’s first smart speaker. In comparison to that speaker, everything’s new and better – well, almost everything. An obvious winner for best in test award.

Blends in

Externally, the speaker is completely covered in fabric and the only thing that breaks the pattern is the microphone control on the back and the Nest logo below it. The top has touch controls for pausing the music or controlling the volume, and in the middle of the front is the classic row of LEDs, which are concealed while they aren’t in use. This is a very discreet speaker that’s easy to hide in the home, regardless of whether you choose the grey model we had for testing or one of the four other colours.

Google Nest Audio

And unfortunately this is where we find the unit’s biggest disadvantage. The first version of the Google Home Mini ran on a standard USB charger, which you could easily replace so it would fit in anywhere. Since Google’s home gadgets have become part of the Nest family, they have a proprietary power plug and a power supply that takes up at least two power outlets. We think that’s ridiculous. Also rather odd, but not quite as serious, is that the cable feels a bit short for you to easily hide the speaker.

Good sound twice

As well as the assistant part, which like the Nest Mini now also has better microphones and a built-in AI that over time speeds up the most common searches, the Nest Audio is mostly about sound. And in terms of sound, it isn’t as good as the Google Home Max for purely physical reasons, as is always the case with speakers.

Google Nest Audio

At the same time, we get really good sound out of the speaker. Depending on the genre, you may need to fiddle with some of the sound settings in the Home app, but generally it sounds really good. In comparison with Sonos's smaller speakers, which are just above this in size, we feel the mid-range is lacking a little space and detail, but such a small speaker shouldn’t sound as good as the Nest Audio does. And you can turn it up really loud without the speaker losing control of the sound.

Nor does it stop there, as you can buy two of these speakers and connect them in stereo. This doesn’t mean the sound is twice as good, but the stereo separation creates a good bit of extra space in the soundstage that a single speaker just can’t provide.

Google Nest Audio

Given the sound on the stereo solution, it would have been nice to have a line input for sound, but there isn’t one.

The Nest Audio is a completely new take on the now classic Google Home speaker, and it’s a huge upgrade in pretty much every way.

Discreet designthe assistant becomes increasingly intelligentgood soundpossibility of stereo connection
Large mains supplyrather pallid mid-rangepower cable a bit short

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2. Google Home

Reliable and enough sound for music

Type: Smart speaker Supported voice service: Google Assistant Speaker: 2X4.5 inch woofer, 2x0.7 inch treble Screen: No Microphone: Yes Camera: No Connection: Bluetooth, Wi-Fi Dimensions: 96.3x96.3x142.7 mm Weight: 477 g Controls: Microphone switch, touch controls

Google Home

Google Home is the original smart speaker from Google. It’s the same age as the Mini edition, but with a better foundation that means it still stands up today.

The speaker is relatively small. We’d describe the design as minimalist, stylish and functional. The top of the unit is a touch display. One tap on it pauses whatever you’re listening to, a longer press starts the assistant function and by swiping in the middle you increase and reduce the volume.

On the back of the unit is a button that allows you to switch off the microphone if you don’t want it to listen all the time.

Listens well in quiet environments

Overall, it’s a really good listener. It understands our commands correctly and the range of things it can help with is large and growing all the time.

One major disadvantage is that it has difficulty hearing instructions when there’s background noise, for example if there’s music on or somebody’s talking in the background. But it does really well in quiet environments, even if you’re far away and talking in a normal conversational tone.

If you’re several rooms away, you can use the Google Home app on your phone to communicate your voice commands.

Not brilliant as a speaker

Google Home performs OK on the sound front. It certainly can't match the slightly better dedicated Bluetooth speakers in the same price range, but still produces quite good pressure in the sound.

Unfortunately the bass drowns the mid-range at slightly higher volume, and the sound instantly becomes more shrill when there’s only treble and bass coming through. You have to play on medium volume to get reasonable sound quality. But it doesn’t sound like it costs in excess of £100 – more like a good bit less.

As a speaker, it works best if you connect it to a slightly higher quality wireless speaker system. Now you can also connect multiple speakers in a group. This allows you to enjoy multi-room audio with Google speakers, even though the app isn’t the most convenient way of controlling speaker groups.

Overall, Google Home is a great assistant for anyone who’s started expanding their smart home. And it’s also a reasonable speaker. But it’s the smart functionality and Google’s really great assistant that’s the big advantage. Being able to turn on and off lights or turn the music down with your voice and also get voice notifications are all really useful. The price tag feels perfectly reasonable. Google Home is a good buy.

Copes with lots of commands & dialectsfunctional designlots of functions
Could have had better sound qualitystruggles with background noise

3. Apple HomePod Mini

Adorable ball in a limited system

Type: smart speaker Supported voice service: Apple Siri Speaker: 360 Screen: No Microphone: Yes Camera: No Connectivity: Bluetooth, WiFi Dimensions: 84,3x97,9 mm Weight: 345 g Controls: Touch controls

Apple HomePod Mini

Apple HomePod Mini is not only a new attempt by Apple but also a complete turnaround. It’s a younger sibling to the company’s original HomePod, which also manages to correct the problem many of us had with the first version: the price. HomePod Mini doesn't even cost one third as much as the original, which is very nice.

The Little Speaker That Could

“Nice” is a word we find ourselves saying a lot as we test this speaker. Thanks to its compact size, you can place this small ball almost anywhere. Nice. The speaker’s 360-degree audio also simplifies positioning. Nice. The sound quality that Apple manages to coax out of such a small device probably breaks some kind of record in terms of value for money. Nice. If you have two HomePods, it will only take two seconds to turn them into a stereo pair. Nice. Do you run Apple TV and want to use HomePod as a speaker for it, in either mono or stereo? That also takes two seconds – nice!

We carried out our test using an unofficially imported HomePod Mini. It has no support for Siri in Swedish and hasn’t been officially launched in Sweden yet – a disadvantage if you want to speak Swedish with it. Meanwhile, we dislike how the power cable is soldered to the speaker, instead of using USB-C or Apple’s Lightning connector.

Only for Apple Home

There’s no doubt about it – Apple HomePod Mini is surprisingly good. Not that Apple usually makes bad products, but because they’ve got something so small to sound so good at such a modest price tag. But then there’s the fact that it’s Apple. Besides currently only being able to speak English with it, everything is very much controlled by the Apple ecosystem. Want to listen to music? Apple Music is your only choice. Want to control your smart home via voice commands? Everything will need to be synchronised in Apple HomeKit in order to work.

Music can be solved from any service via Airplay, of course, but not via voice control. And while HomeKit is now quite well developed, it’s slightly more complicated than just linking accounts, as you do with Alexa or Google. The same applies to Siri. While Siri may have been the first of the modern voice assistants, she hasn’t exactly grown at the same pace as her rivals in terms of the number of features and integrations.

This makes Apple HomePod Mini a fantastic choice if you’re already deeply entwined in the Apple ecosystem and are familiar with what Siri can and can’t do. While the speaker is practically cheap enough to just test the system, you still need to be aware of how much Apple you’ll be getting for you to be really satisfied.

Compact shapereally good soundeasy Installation
Fixed power cordlocked into the Apple ecosystem

4. Xiaomi Mi Smart Speaker

Cheap upgrade with just about acceptable sound

Type: smart speaker Supported voice service: Google Assistant Speakers: 2 Display: No Microphone: Yes Camera: No Connectivity: Bluetooth, WiFi Dimensions: 131x104x151 mm Weight: 842 g Controls: Touch controls

Xiaomi Smart Speaker

If you’ve just started to use smart speakers at home, the Xiaomi Mi Smart Speaker is a relatively inexpensive way to upgrade your sound from Google’s Nest Mini entry-level speaker. It’s still a very affordable speaker for the Google Home system, which offers really good sound for its price tag.

Easy installation

The actual speaker is roughly the same size as the Sonos One speaker, for example, and fits more or less anywhere. Unlike many other smart speakers, however, there’s no physical control to mute the microphone – making this one of the very few speakers without that feature.

The rest of the design is quite simple to blend in everywhere. Alongside the touch controls on the top, there’s a light strip that only lights up while it listens to you.

While we’d have liked to have seen USB-C or similar for power supply (now it’s a separate plug), it’s just as easy to install as any of Google’s speakers. As soon as we connected the power and opened the Google Home app, the speaker appeared for installation. A few clicks and the mandatory software update later, we’re up and running.

Good sound for the price

As far as the sound is concerned, we can confirm that this speaker works well as an upgrade to the smallest Google speakers. While they work best for speech only, this one is better for playing music in smaller rooms. We say smaller rooms, because the bass speaker isn’t powerful enough to fill any larger spaces. Generally speaking, there’s a big gap in sound quality between the lowest bass frequencies and the middle of the mid-range, and the treble tends to distort at a slightly higher volume. Yet we have to admit that it sounds surprisingly good considering its modest price.

This speaker lies exactly midway between Nest Mini and Nest Audio in price. If you can afford it, the boost in sound quality is significantly higher with Nest Audio, but if you only need a smart speaker at your desk or similar, Xiaomi Mi Smart Speaker is a better option for music than Nest Mini.

Simple designdiscreet shapeacceptable sound
No microphone switchproprietary power cable

5. JBL Link Portable

Smart speaker you can carry around with you

Type: Smart speaker Supported voice service: Google Assistant Speaker: No information Display: No Microphone: Yes Camera: No Connection: Bluetooth, Wi-Fi Dimensions: 88x170 mm Weight: 730 g Controls: Microphone switch, Bluetooth button, on/off Miscellaneous: Built-in battery, IPX7

JBL Link Portable

The JBL Link Portable is a gadget with a difference – a wireless smart speaker with good sound quality – and it’s weather-resistant too. It’s positive that you can take the Link Portable to the beach or keep it on the patio without having to keep the charger plugged in. The battery will last approximately seven hours. However, when you use it at home, you should always leave it sitting on the wireless charging station, otherwise it will discharge itself, whether or not you switch off the microphone.

Getting started with the JBL Link Portable is quite easy. You turn it on, wait until you hear a sound, and then find the Google Home speaker.

Good for its size

The sound quality is really good for a speaker of this size. The manufacturer, JBL, is known for its more bass-rich sound, and this also applies to the Link Portable. But not so much that it disturbs or takes over. However, if you increase the volume to maximum, the mid-range will disappear a fair bit, and the bass and treble will take over instead.

The build quality is good. The device is easy to carry, yet stable and robust with a textured finish that gives it a touch of premium feel even though the price tag says budget. Sound spreads at 360 degrees so you don't have to worry about how to point the speaker.

The built-in microphone that listens for commands from you will hear well even if you're in another room. However, if you’re playing music from the speaker it will struggle to pick up the fact that you’re talking to it. From this respect, Google’s same-size speakers (Google Home) are better, although they do have significantly lower sound quality when playing music.

Charging station included

The Link Portable charges through a charging station where you simply place the speaker on a flat surface. Attractive and convenient. You can also charge it directly via USB-C, a type of cable that many people already have at home thanks to their computer, mobile phone or similar.

The main drawback with this speaker is that it takes so long to start up and doesn’t always respond when pairing via Bluetooth. Apart from that, however, it has many advantages. As a pure Bluetooth speaker, it would have had no chance in the competition precisely because of the above-mentioned disadvantages. But in this segment, speakers with good sound quality are scarce.

The JBL Link Portable is ideal for anyone looking for a smart speaker with good sound quality and high volume. The portability is an extra bonus.

Good sound qualityportable & water resistantwell built
Slow to startsometimes sluggish Bluetooth response

6. Lenovo Smart Clock Essential

An uncomfortable mixture of old and new

Type: Smart speaker Supported voice service: Google Assistant Speakers: 2x4.5 inch woofer, 2x0.7 inch treble Screen: No Microphone: Yes Camera: No Connection: Bluetooth, Wi-Fi Dimensions: 96.3x96.3x142.7 mm Weight: 477 g Controls: Microphone switch, touch controls

Lenovo Smart Clock Essential

The Lenovo Smart Clock Essential is Lenovo's second attempt to combine a classic clock radio with smart speakers.

Attractive clock radio

The device itself is a small, funnel-shaped affair with a simple screen on the front, a night light at the back and an extra USB connector on the back to charge your phone (clever!). The sides are covered in grey fabric, which is only interrupted on the top by the control buttons. Very attractive, in fact.

The screen isn’t much more advanced than you can find on a standard clock radio. However, around the clock you'll find small icons for the alarm, date and even the expected weather. Simple – and simply everything you need.

Lenovo smart clock essential

English-speaking voice assistant

In terms of size, the unit is about the same as a Nest Mini, but with a display. This means we don’t expect the sound quality to be all that good. A Nest Mini sounds a lot better, but for speech and wake-up music it’s OK anyway.

What is a little disturbing, however, is that neither alarm nor night light is linked to Google’s assistant. These are operated directly on the device, except when you need to silence the alarm, which you do with your voice… Alongside this, of course, you can set normal alarms via Google’s assistant, but there’s no connection between the two.

Most of the time, the assistant hears what we want to say and obeys just as well as a normal Google speaker. But when it comes to switching off the alarms we’ve set on the clock, a rather peculiar bug appears when we try out the support for other languages. In the beginning, we can use another language (in this case, Swedish) to ask it to shut up. After a week, it starts to protest in English, and after two weeks it only wants to turn off the alarm in English. The rest of the assistant, however, is still alert to Swedish commands.

Lenovo smart clock essential

The Lenovo Smart Clock Essential is one of those things that does exactly what it says on the tin. While we’d have liked to see a better connection between the assistant and what we set on the clock, that’s a minor concern. In terms of what it is, it does its job perfectly.

Attractivesimple and clear displayneat format
Not the best world’s best sound

7. HK Citation Oasis

Not real HK sound quality, but lots of features

Width: 14 cm Height: 18.8 cm Depth: 14 cm Weight: 2 kg Connection: DAB antenna, USB, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, AUX 3.5 mm, Chromecast, Airplay (2) Drivers: 1 x 20 mm tweeter, 1 x 89 mm woofer. Battery capacity: Battery life: Noise level: - Miscellaneous: Multi-room function, Google Assistant, built-in Qi charging

Harman/Kardon Citation Oasis

The basic idea is fantastic: Harman Kardon's excellent Citation series plus a clock radio plus Google Assistant. However, the execution leaves a lot to be desired. Admittedly, our judgement is based in part on what we’ve come to expect when it says HK Citation on the box, namely gorgeous design, easy operation, and – perhaps above all – crisp and elegant sound.

It's hard to find many clock radio-like smart speakers that tick all these boxes in a good way, but we hadn’t expected HK to miss the target with this device.

Rather smoothed out

No, it doesn't sound bad. But it doesn’t sound that good either. The sound is markedly tinny, with a smoothed out treble and a definition that isn’t even close to what the Citation One speakers are capable of, for example. OK, so maybe we’re being a bit fussy. After all, this is a smart clock radio. Not a fully-fledged Sono competitor to replace a proper hi-fi speaker in a multi-room solution. This is just a complement. But all the same.


There’s a nice tension in the bass, although it’s not very deep. This can be put down to the form factor and of course isn’t a problem in the true sense, because this is just a clock radio replacement. It’ll primarily be played at moderate volume, and function is more important than bass. But we would at least have liked to see a clearer treble and a much less hollow mid-range.


So isn’t it at least attractive, then? Weeell... Same thing here. It's not ugly, exactly, but the Oasis is by no means as stylish as the Citation One speakers. It’s oval and chunky and has a fairly large display on the front. But it’s not very futuristic or "Danish furniture trend" in its visual style (even if it has woollen fabric from the Danish brand Kvadrat on the outside). It feels very much like… well, yeah… a clock radio.

Fiddly connection

We also experience a lot of problems when we try to connect the speaker via the Google Home app. Exactly why is difficult to say, but only after the fourth attempt does the speaker finally connect to our Wi-Fi, which otherwise works flawlessly. Although we named the speaker “Dining Room” (we’re testing it in the kitchen), it’s still called HK Citation Oasis in the list. We repeat the installation a couple of times and have the same problem, no matter where we place it. We try out connecting it via the Google Home app both on a Huawei Mate 20 Pro and via an iPad. And we get the same result, no matter where we place the Oasis.

It finally works as it should and has all those smart functions that make it really helpful as a clock radio. It has everything from DAB support to Google Assistant and wireless charging (place your phone on it overnight), with all that means in terms of convenience in this context (“Hey, Google… set the alarm for 06.30”). But given that it says Harman Kardon on it and costs the best part of £200, we can’t give it more than an average score.

For a higher score, it would have needed significantly better definition and treble, and a cooler appearance. A little disappointing, at least by HK standards. But that still goes a long way.

Lots of finesse and lots of features
Hollow mid-rangethin treblea bit dull looking

8. Google Nest Hub

Pared down and rather limited smart display

Type: Smart speaker with display Supported voice service: Google Assistant Speaker: 1.57” woofer + 1 treble Screen: 7 inch, 1024x600 pixels Microphone: Yes Camera: No Connection: Bluetooth, Wi-Fi Dimensions: 178.5x118x67.3 mm Weight: 479 g Controls: Touch screen, microphone switch, touch control

Google Nest Hub

The Google Nest Hub is the smaller of two smart displays from Google.

Attractive and easy to position

Just like everything from Google Nest, the device comes with an oversized and really rather bulky mains adapter. Apart from that, you get a long cable and a well-designed product that’s easy to position.

The 7 inch screen rests on a rounded foot housing the speaker and electronics. The entire construction is as stylish and discreet as other gadgets from Google’s flora of smart devices.

The size of the screen is as much an advantage as it is a disadvantage. It makes it easy to position, but a 7-inch screen needs to be quite close for you to actually see what’s going on in a YouTube video, for instance. But it’s excellent for reading recipes on.

Few functions but good sound

Unlike the 10 inch Nest Hub Max model, this one doesn’t have a camera. This is an advantage if you don’t want a camera where the screen is going to be positioned, but it’s also a disadvantage because a smart screen is perfect as a device for video calls in your home. Video calls work, but only in that you can see the person you’re talking with, and not the other way round.

One advantage is that a Nest Hub can easily replace a Nest/Google Home Mini, for example in the kitchen, and with significantly better sound into the bargain. It’s still not quite as good as Google’s normal Home speakers, but you won’t be ashamed of playing background music on the Nest Hub.

The actual installation as straightforward as ever. Once it’s going, you have far more choice in terms of the settings. You can set Google Photo to display images on it, like a photo frame, and also choose various settings for how the screen should save power. The screen adapts to the ambient light and actually looks really good in most circumstances.

The Google Nest Hub suffers from not having a camera for video calls (with a shut-off button like the one for the microphone, of course). Other than that, it’s a really attractive and competent smart display for the home.

Convenient and easy to position formatgood displayamazingly good sound
No camerabulky mains adapter

9. Google Nest Mini

Small but good updates to Google’s smallest speaker

Type: Smart speaker Supported voice service: Google Assistant Speaker: 1x40 mm Screen: No Microphone: Yes Camera: No Connection: Bluetooth, Wi-Fi Dimensions: 42x98x98 mm Weight: 173 g Controls: Microphone switch, touch controls

The Google Nest Mini is a second generation, or update, to the Google Home Mini. Google is now grouping everything within the smart home under its Nest subsidiary, which also explains the name change.

Lots of small upgrades

In terms of size and appearance, it looks like its predecessor. The most obvious thing on the outside is that there is no USB port for power – instead there’s a normal power adapter. This is explained by the fact that the power consumption has almost doubled, from 9 to 15 watts. We’d have rather had a USB-C connector.

On the back is another new addition that was previously a popular accessory for the Google Home Mini – a bracket to simplify wall-mounting the device.

After an installation that's as exemplary as always with Google's smart speakers, we find the next new feature. There are now touch controls on top of the speaker (hidden under the speaker fabric) to activate the assistant and change the volume. A convenient solution, but at the same time maybe not something you’re going to use very often because you still primarily talk to the speaker.

More sound for your money – but not enough

The main reason to get excited about the Nest Mini is on the inside. It now has an extra microphone, which makes quite a difference to the assistant hearing pretty much everything we say and reacting to almost every “Hey Google” we use to activate it.

It also has better sound, primarily in the form of more bass than before. It’s a good upgrade from the previous one, but at the same time you’re never going to fool yourself that this speaker will replace a dedicated larger one. At low volume you can have it as a radio in the background, but beyond that the sound quickly becomes far too limited.

It also has an AI chip to handle some of the voice searches locally, which is meant to speed them up. During our test period, we didn’t notice any difference in terms of speed, but according to Google your most common questions should get faster answers.

At the same time, we can’t get away from the feeling that the Nest Mini really should have had siblings. The competing Amazon system has a range of small speakers in different price classes and with different special functions. Google’s speaker would have benefited from this too, because as it stands this is still a high entry price for the ecosystem.

But the Google Nest Mini is a relatively complete and well-equipped entry level speaker for Google’s voice assistant, which is improving all the time. The upgrades here aren’t reason enough to get rid of your earlier Google Mini speakers, but this is certainly a worthy successor.

Good voice pick-upbuilt-in wall mounting bracketbetter sound than predecessor
Uses more powerno USB power connector

Price Comparison

Illustration - There are no prices right now

There are no prices right now

10. Google Home Mini

Convenient assistant with thin sound

Type: Smart speaker Supported voice service: Google Assistant Speaker: 1x40 mm Screen: No Microphone: Yes Camera: No Connection: Bluetooth, Wi-Fi Dimensions: 42x98x98 mm Weight: 173 g Controls: Microphone switch

Google Home Mini

The Google Home Mini microphone switch microphone switch is the smallest of Google’s smart speakers, and it’s about the same size as a doughnut (a jam one without a hole in, of course). The size makes it very easy to position almost anywhere in your home without it having to be visible or take up space.

Large power pack

The cable included is also a good length to allow for easy positioning. Unfortunately, something that's the hallmark of all Google's home gadgets is a ludicrously badly designed power adapter that takes up far too much plug space. Fortunately, this speaker is energy-efficient enough to be run on pretty much any USB charger – but it would be nice to include that in the package.

At the same time, there’s only one button – to switch off the microphone – on the speaker. If you want to wall mount it you need to buy the accessories separately, and you can only control it via your voice or with the app. In other words, there are no volume or other buttons. Then again, it is a speaker designed for a voice assistant, so perhaps that’s not so important in this context.

Sound for speech

Installing the Google Home Mini is very simple. Plug it in, start the Home app and add it – that’s it. Beyond that, there isn’t much you can do with it. You can change the settings for volume, bass and treble.

But then, as we’ve already said, you don’t need more than that. This part usually works really well, and at least 9 out of 10 times we say “Hey Google” the speaker picks it up. This is even true if we put the speaker on top of a cupboard or something.

The sound when the assistant talks is really good. It’s clear and with surprising depth in the voice.

Of course, it’s not so impressive when you try to play music. In purely physical terms, a jam doughnut-sized speaker doesn’t offer much when it comes to sound resources, and you can hear that regardless of the musical genre. On low volume as a desk radio it’s OK, but no more than that. But the Google Home Mini still represents a simple first step into the world of Google smart speakers. During the year we’ve been testing it, the assistant has developed enormously, as have the accessories that support the system. The Google Home Mini is a really good voice assistant in a relatively OK speaker – but not such a good choice for anyone looking for a really good speaker with built-in voice assistance.

Easily placedsimple installationmicrophone switch
Sound only suitable for speechbulky power adapter

All about smart speakers

In recent years, digital assistants in the form of smart speakers in the home have become increasingly popular. But what do they actually involve? What’s available? How do they work, and do they really listen to everything you say? Let’s start from the beginning.

Smart speakers, smart assistants, voice assistants, smart monitors… what's the difference? All of the different terms in this area can be confusing to start with, and it can be hard to know what means what. But if we start from the basics, the whole thing is quite simple.

The foundation is a smart assistant, digital assistant or voice assistant, which are different terms for the same thing. This is essentially a computer system that can process questions and look for the answers, and may have several parts connected to it. What the system looks like depends on how you interact with it.

The method that gets all the attention is, of course, voice control. You say a command or ask a question and the system gives you an answer depending on what it knows or the services you’ve connected to it. You can achieve the same result by typing on a keyboard or touching a screen.

For example, you can ask a question: “What will the weather be like on Sunday?” The question is sent via the internet to the servers and data centres that contain the assistant system. There it’s interpreted and processed and the answer comes back to you in the blink of an eye. The speaker's voice assistant might answer something like: “On Sunday it’ll be sunny and 20 degrees”. It’s just like searching on Google but using voice communication.

Another example is linked services. For instance, you might have remotely controlled lights in your home that you’ve connected to your digital assistant. When you say “turn on the kitchen light”, the command is sent in the same way but also goes to the light you've designated as ‘kitchen light’.

All of the above involves the assistant, whether it's Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa or whatever.

The next issue is how you access the assistant, and that’s where smart speakers come in.

Because you have almost exactly the same assistant with almost exactly the same features regardless of whether you're talking to your phone, TV, bedroom speaker or anything else, as long as they communicate with the same assistant. So if you have Google Assistant on your phone, it's the same

Google Assistant with the same features as the Google Assistant on your smart speaker. That's why it's important to know which assistant you want to use – or maybe even already use – and which devices can interact with that assistant.

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