Sunday, November 29, 2020
Tech

which voice assistant should you get? – Which? News

which voice assistant should you get? – Which? News
2views


Amazon loves to slash the prices of its Alexa speakers around Black Friday each year – and you can always expect rivals like Google to follow suit. This makes Black Friday an ideal time to clinch a real bargain on a smart speaker – but patience is the key. We’ll be keeping a sharp eye out for the best deals.

Products and deals are carefully chosen by our experts. Every product with a deal scores well in our independent lab tests – but we suggest you check our rigorous reviews to see which ones are Best Buys and and which are the ideal ones for you.

We also only highlight deals that we genuinely regard to be great value, based on our extensive pricing expertise, so you can be certain you’re getting a good price.

Before you buy, though, it’s worth deciding exactly what you want from a smart speaker. Read on for our advice on how to choose.

Get a round-up of all the best Black Friday deals, or browse our Black Friday insider’s guide.

Smart speaker and Alexa speaker Black Friday deals: highlights

(A recent Which? investigation into Currys PC World suggests the firm has an issue with how it handles complaints about faulty products. So do consider this before making a purchase.)

Best deals on Alexa smart speakers for Black Friday 2020

Amazon Echo Show 5 – £79.99 RRP, now £40 (50% off)

Lowest ever price at Amazon.co.uk

We liked: Responsive voice control, sharp and clear display, good touchscreen.

We didn’t like:Sound quality could be better, small screen may be too fiddly for some.

Smart displays like the Echo Show 5 are best thought of as smart speakers with screens – you control them through voice controls, and the screen adds extra functionality including the ability to see song lyrics on the screen, watch movie trailers or following cooking recipe steps on the screen as you cook.

Find out more and full details on how well it performed in our expert tests Amazon Echo Show 5 review, or buy it now at Amazon.co.uk, AO.com or Very.co.uk.

Amazon Echo Studio – was £189, now £145 (23% off)

 

We liked: Lots of features, built-in Zigbee smart hub for controlling smart home devices, slightly cheaper than some rival high-end models.

We didn’t like: Some advanced features are poorly implemented, Amazon subscriptions needed to access some features.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking the best deals on Amazon’s own products are always on Amazon’s website – this AO.com offer proves that’s not always the case, and is £15 cheaper than the current price on Amazon.co.uk.

This is Amazon’s high-end Amazon Echo for those looking for the highest sound quality in its Alexa speaker range.

So does it deliver, or are there better alternatives? Find out in our full Amazon Echo Studio review, or buy it now at AO.com.

Best deals on Google Assistant and Google Home smart speakers for Black Friday 2020

Google Home Max – was £299, now £199 (33% off)

We liked: Entertaining powerful sound, easy to use, Google Assistant voice control works well.

We didn’t like: Very heavy, detaches from base easily.

If you’re looking for a powerful, fully-featured smart speaker to rival multi-room brands like Sonos and Bose, the Google Home Max is it. Chromecast multi-room support allows you to connect it up to a wide range of Chromecast-supporting speakers including those from other brands. It’s a stereo speaker, but you can create an even better stereo effect by connecting two Google Home Max speakers together as well.

Read our full Google Home Max review, or buy it now at Currys PC World or Argos.

Polk Audio Assist – was £180, now £120 33% off)

We liked: Superb sound, easy to use, Chromecast cross-brand multi-room support, Google Assistant control.

We didn’t like: No physical wired connections to connect to other devices.

There aren’t many smart speakers with hi-fi-like sound quality aimed at audiophiles, and those that are available – like the Google Home Max and those from Bose and Sonos – tend to be pretty expensive. But the Polk Audio Assist from this audio specialist brand is an exception, and we’ve sought out an exceptional deal that’s a huge saving over its £180 RRP.

Does it have the sound quality and great Google Assistant control to exceed the bigger brands? Check out our full Polk Audio Assist review for all the answers, or buy it now at electricshop .

Best deals on Siri and Apple HomePod smart speakers this Black Friday

Apple HomePod – was £320, now £271 (15% off)

We liked: Apple Music integration (with a subscription).

We didn’t like: Siri voice assistant is limited compared to Alexa and Google Assistant.

If you own lots of Apple products, the Apple HomePod will be one of the devices that plays nicest with all your devices. It’s a high-end smart speaker promising some of the best sound quality around – but deals are rarely that generous on Apple products. Is it worth its high price?

Read our full Apple HomePod review for all the answers, or buy it now at Jigsaw24.

Our smart speakers expert says

‘Ask yourself how you see yourself using your smart speaker. If you’re just going to be asking it questions, a smaller cheaper device will probably do the job just fine. If you’d like great-sounding music to fill a room, go for a larger one around the size of a jug of water. Smart displays with a screen are particularly handy in the kitchen, as you can follow cooking recipes and view other information on the screen without needing to use your hands. See our voice assistants guide for information on privacy when using voice assistants.’

Oliver Trebilcock, audio expert, Which?

Alexa speaker deals to avoid

Libratone Zipp Mini 2 – was £130, now £84 (35% off)

This looks like a stylish Alexa speaker from premium Danish audio brand Libratone, but based on the results of our expert audio tests at the Which? lab, there are much better alternatives at a similar or cheaper price.

Take a look at our Libratone Zipp Mini 2 review.

How to choose the best voice assistant speaker

It’s important to choose the right smart speaker for your purposes, as all have their pros and cons. If you already own an Alexa speaker or Google Assistant speaker, you’ll obviously want to stick with the same voice assistant for your next purchase, as otherwise it will be very confusing switching between the two.

Amazon Alexa vs Google Assistant – which voice assistant should I choose?

Alexa and Google Assistant are the two dominant voice assistants for wireless speakers. Siri isn’t as fully featured, but if you’re heavily invested in Apple products and services it could still be worth considering.

Both Alexa and Google Assistant have a similar level of capability – that isn’t a reason to choose between them. If you use lots of Amazon services, such as Amazon Music Unlimited, or want to be able to purchase through the voice assistant from Amazon (with your Amazon Prime subscription), you’ll want to choose an Alexa speaker.

Meanwhile, if you use lots of Google services such as Google Calendar and Gmail, you’ll find these services have better support on Google Assistant. Choosing Google Assistant also gives you access to the incredible power of Google Search, which means that Google Assistant tends to be a bit more capable of handling obscure queries, as it has the fallback option of reading you things its finds of relevance from webpages on the internet.

One big difference is the word you need to say to get each voice assistant to listen to you – for Alexa it’s simply ‘Alexa’, whereas it’s ‘Hey, Google’ or ‘OK Google’ for Google Assistant, and ‘Hey, Siri’ for Siri. You’ll be saying this a lot, so your preference here might swing your decision if you’re unsure which to go for.


Already own an Alexa voice assistant, or want a flavour of what it can offer? Read our Ask Alexa page for a regularly updated list of skills, tips and tricks.


Are third-party smart speakers like those from Bose and Sonos just as good?

So long as Alexa, Google Assistant or Siri voice control are built in to your smart speaker, you usually get as full an experience with smart speakers from other brands – such as LG, Ultimate Ears and JBL – as with Amazon’s own Echo and Google’s Home and Nest devices. Bose and Sonos speakers often let you choose between Alexa and Google Assistant, too, so you can get extra choice in these cases by going for a third-party branded speaker.

There are a few exceptions. A small number of smart speakers restrict what the voice assistants can do, such as limiting them to only controlling music. This is the case with the Audio Pro A10 (Alexa) and Bluesound Pulse Flex 2i (Alexa and Siri) for example.

Microphone quality is also essential to a good voice assistant experience, and we have found this lets down a few third-party smart speakers. Some models can also be a bit slow to respond to your voice commands. You can check our smart speaker reviews to ensure you get a great model.

The only feature you will often miss out on with a third-party smart speaker is free calls to most UK mobile and landline numbers (excluding emergency numbers) – a feature many people don’t realise is available anyway. Google is discontinuing this feature for its own Google Home and Google Nest smart speakers in mid-December 2020, so it’s not a consideration if you’re considering a Google Assistant speaker. However, this feature is still available on almost all Amazon Echo devices, so if this is something you think you’ll use Alexa for, it’s probably worth sticking with an Amazon Echo device. You can still call other Alexa devices with third-party Alexa speakers, and vice versa with Google Assistant, it’s just more limited, as you just can’t call any mobile or landline number – you’ll just need to use your mobile phone or landline instead in that case.

Are ‘works with’ voice assistants just as good?

Yamaha MusicCast 50 Black Friday

If a wireless speaker says it ‘works with’ Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant or Apple HomeKit (look for a logo like the one below), that means it doesn’t have a voice assistant built in and so it’s not a smart speaker. Avoid these models if you want to be able to talk directly to your speaker.

Works with Amazon Alexa Black Friday

However, if you already have a voice assistant such as an Amazon Echo Dot, you can link a ‘works with Amazon Alexa’ speaker to the Dot, and then control this speaker using your Echo Dot.

The advantage of this method is it gives you access to a wider range of wireless speakers to choose from, rather than being limited to the 40 or so smart speakers currently on the market.

For more information on this, see our guide on how to set up a smart home.

What size voice-assistant speaker should I buy if I want to play music?

Ultimate Ears Megablast Black Friday

Generally speaking, the higher a maximum volume and the more bass you want your smart speaker to have, the larger it will need to be. Manufacturers have developed all sorts of clever software to counteract this fundamental limitation of physics in recent years, but the basic principle still applies.

If all you really need your smart speaker for is speech, such as podcasts and talk radio, any size smart speaker will do. However, for great-sounding music with depth in the bass, you’ll need a smart speaker at least the size of two soft drink cans placed on top of each other – like the Ultimate Ears Megablast pictured above, or a wider, squatter design of an equivalent size.

This doesn’t mean all larger smart speakers sound great, though – you should read our smart speaker reviews to find which models sound the best.

Is it worth buying a smart display that has a screen?

Amazon Echo Show 5 Black Friday

Smart displays – like the Amazon Echo Show 5 pictured above – are effectively smart speakers with screens. They’re not fully featured tablets – you interact with them through voice control and they have much larger speakers than tablets.

The screen adds a whole new dimension to your voice assistant experience – for example, you can view recipes step-by-step as you prepare them in the kitchen, or watch YouTube videos you ask for.

However, the trade-off is the sound quality. No smart speaker currently on the market that we’ve reviewed has scored more than three stars out of five in our sound quality assessments so, while the best models sound pretty good, if you’re looking for hi-fi quality sound you’ll want to get a dedicated smart speaker instead.

Are Amazon Alexa devices compatible with Google?

No voice assistants are compatible with each other. So if you start buying Alexa speakers like the Amazon Echo Plus or Amazon Echo Show, you’ll need to stick with devices compatible with Alexa, and the same for Google Assistant and Siri.

So it’s really important you choose carefully before buying multiple products for one voice assistant, only to then change your mind about which voice assistant you prefer.

Some smart speakers allow you to choose between multiple voice assistants, although these smart speakers tend to be more expensive. Both Sonos and Bose smart speakers allow you to choose between Alexa and Google Assistant – such as the Sonos One, Sonos Move, Bose Home Speaker 300, larger Bose Home Speaker 500 and Bose Portable Home Speaker.

What can I do with a voice assistant?

Family Alexa speaker Black Friday

If you’re completely new to voice assistants, it can take a few moments to get to grips with how they work – start off by reading our guide on how to buy the best smart speaker.

Voice assistants are basically a voice equivalent of doing a Google search or using apps on your smartphone. The possibilities of what they can do are endless, but common things people ask for are the weather forecast, news and traffic updates, setting alarms and playing games. They’re very powerful, though, and you can make purchases from Amazon and get them delivered to you with Alexa (and an Amazon Prime subscription), or order a takeaway from Just Eat. For a comprehensive list of the most common commands, see our list of the best Google Assistant, Siri and Alexa commands.

For regular updates on the best up-and-coming Alexa commands, be sure also to bookmark our Ask Alexa page, which is updated weekly with the latest commands our experts have found particularly useful.

Voice assistants can also be the central hub to control your smart home devices, such as Philips Hue smart lights or your smart thermostat. If this is your plan, head over to our extensive guide on how to set up your smart home.

What to look out for on Black Friday

Black Friday deals

At Which? we’ll be constantly looking for the best Black Friday deals across all the most popular retailers, from Amazon to Currys PC World, Argos, John Lewis and Richer Sounds.

Check out our Black Friday insider’s guide to get access to all the deals we’ve uncovered – whatever you’re looking for, from a new TV to vacuum cleaner or laptop, you can be sure we’ll have found a great-value deal for you.

Our experts will be bringing you all the latest developments as the best deals come through, and by sticking with us you’ll be sure every product we feature has done well in our independent lab tests. That doesn’t mean they’re all Best Buys, though, so we still suggest you consult our rigorous reviews to find our which products really score the best and which are most suitable for you.

More on Black Friday

Buy Smart newsletter sign up box


This story was originally published on 12 November 2020. We’ll keep updating it whenever we spot great new deals on smart speakers that our experts believe are worth buying.




Source link

Leave a Response