Best Alexa Smart Speaker
- Amazon Echo Dot
Best Google Assistant Smart Speaker
- Google Nest Mini
Best Smart Speaker With Screen
- Amazon Echo Show 5
A smart speaker is a key component of any smart home setup. They let you issue commands and queries verbally and get audio feedback for an intuitive experience. If you’re getting started with smart home appliances, or if you’re trying to fill out your home automation setup, a smart speaker will almost never go amiss.
If you’re just starting out with smart home systems, you may wish to keep the budget down as you dip your toes in. Similarly, if you already have a complex system but want to dot a few more speakers around the house so each room has one, you may want to save a few bucks and go for some budget-friendly smart speakers.
To help you find a good pick, we’ve drawn up our list of the best budget smart speakers in 2021.
- Full Amazon Alexa experience
- 4th generation of the Echo Dot product line
- Microphone off button
- Size: 100 x 100 x 89 mm
- Weight: 341.3 g
- Connectivity: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, 3.5mm jack (out only)
The Amazon Echo Dot has been around for a while now and the fourth generation has built on its success and changed up its shape. Previous versions were puck-shaped, with an upward-firing speaker. In this new version, the speaker is the same but is now tilted forward at an angle. This can mean better audio if you place it against a wall or corner, but can actually be a down-grade from the previous generation if you place it nearer the centre of the room due to the directionality of the sound.
Like any Alexa device, you have full access to Amazon’s Alexa assistant. Useful features include the ability to specifically call through to other named Alexa speakers in your house and notifications or the sounds of a smoke alarm or breaking glass. You can choose to set Alexa to English or Spanish, and If the volume isn’t loud enough you can connect it to other speakers via Bluetooth or a 3.5mm jack. If you prefer, there is a version with an LED clock built-in to the front for a slight price increase. One thing to be aware of is that by default Alexa devices, including the Dot, will share some of your internet connection with strangers via Amazon Sidewalk, you may want to disable this in your Alexa account settings.
- Upward firing 40mm driver
- 3 far-field microphones
- Voice match technology
- Size: 98 x 98 x 42 mm
- Weight: 177 – 183g
- Connectivity: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth
The Google Nest Mini is the second generation of Google’s mini smart speakers. It has a similar footprint to the previous Google Home Mini but offers improved microphones and sound. It uses a puck design similar to Amazon’s 3rd generation Echo Dot. While it has basically the same circumference as the Echo Dot 4th Gen, it is less than half the height due to the different form factors. The design does mean that the speaker is upward-firing, which is better if you plan to place it near the centre of a room but may be less effective if you plan to place it near a wall or corner.
The inclusion of a wall mounting socket on the underside offers some extra flexibility in placement. This flexibility also allows you to effectively neutralise the effective audio quality decrease when placed near a wall. Being a Google product, it uses the Google Assistant rather than Alexa, though which is best will be a personal preference. The lack of a 3.5mm jack for audio out does somewhat limit the compatibility with existing speakers, but this may not be an issue for many users.
- 5-inch 960×480 touchscreen
- 2MP front facing camera
- Can act as a digital photo frame
- Size: 148mm x 86mm x 73mm
- Weight: 410g
- Connectivity: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth
The Amazon Echo Show 5 is the second generation of its Show 5 smart speaker that features a five (and a half) inch screen. The inclusion of a screen offers some interesting extra functionality such as a clock, weather forecasts, or smart photo frame. Unfortunately, the size and resolution of the screen are a bit of a letdown for anything but the most basic of uses. At 5.5 inches across, the resolution is 960 by 480, so while it’s marginally smaller than a modern smartphone, it has a significantly lower resolution, that isn’t even 720p.
The included camera allows you to make video calls to other compatible devices. You can also use the camera as a webcam, to check on your house while out and about. If you’re not particularly trusting of the streaming indicators showing when the camera is in use, there are two ways to disable the camera. There is a combo microphone/camera off button, and a physical camera shutter that you can close.
- IPX6 waterproof
- Portable with up to 8 hours of battery
- Tap to activate Alexa
- Size: 109 x 53mm x 73mm
- Weight: 240g
- Connectivity: Bluetooth, 3.5mm Aux-in, microSD
The DOSS E-go pushes the definition of a smart speaker a little but it offers Alexa functionality, it just comes with a few caveats. The first is that it needs to be connected to your phone for Alexa to work, it doesn’t offer its own internet connection. The second is that you need to press a microphone button to start Alexa listening, there are no wake words. For some this might be a privacy benefit, but realistically like many “smart speakers” without Wi-Fi connections, it’s just a speaker with a microphone that uses the Alexa app on your phone.
Some of the more unique points of this model are its portability and ruggedness. It’s designed for outdoor use, being dust, shock, and waterproof, it can handle being treated a little roughly, though we don’t recommend that you deliberately push it. It comes with a convenient loop making it easy to hook on to backpacks and other things to carry it with you. If you don’t want it to always be connected to your phone via Bluetooth, you can put some songs on a microSD card and play them that way instead. The official app offers three languages, English, German, and Japanese.
That was our round-up of the best budget smart speakers in 2021. Have you recently bought a budget smart speaker? What sold you on it and what has your experience been with it so far.