If you’re already connecting your lightbulbs, speakers, doorbells and more to the internet — perhaps you’ve paid more attention to smart home gadgets now that many of us are spending more time at home — you’ll know the process can be complicated. You might just need one device to address a particular issue, like a smart plug to put a lamp on a schedule. Or you may be thinking about how to build on what you already own, like an Amazon Alexa- or Google Assistant-powered smart speaker, or even Siri and Apple’s HomeKit smart home service.
Amazon Echo (fourth-generation) – The best smart speaker
Amazon’s fourth-gen Echo is brand new and fairly impressive for its $100 price tag. Between its new spherelike profile, powerful sound output and a few forward-looking features, the Echo is still king of the countertop.
Google’s Nest Audio speaker, which also launched in 2020, is a solid competitor with the new Echo, and Apple’s new HomePod Mini plays well in the Apple sandbox, but Amazon wins out in two key categories: Its speaker is far more powerful — the bass is particularly impressive, and it features a built-in Zigbee receiver and Amazon Sidewalk Hub that make connecting devices like lightbulbs and locks to Wi-Fi much more seamless and reliable.
Google Nest Mini
Google’s Nest Mini smart speaker isn’t as powerful as the new Echo, obviously, but it’s a great budget-friendly option for Google-users. The audio quality in the Nest Mini is respectable, given its price and profile. It also has a wall-mounting notch on the underside, if that’s what you’re into. An interesting presence detection method that uses the speaker and microphone to determine your proximity to the Nest Mini helps it trigger LED indicators that help you make better sense of the otherwise obscured physical volume controls.
Google Nest Hub
Amazon may have introduced the smart display with the Echo Show, but Google refined the concept with the Nest Hub (formerly the Home Hub) both in terms of its design, and in the way it leverages its voice assistant. You get the same Google Assistant features in the Nest Hub that you get with the Google Home speaker line, along with a screen interface that gives you just the right amount of visual feedback. It will show you your spoken commands so you know Google heard you correctly, it can deftly walk you through a recipe from popular cooking websites, and it works seamlessly with Google-supported smart home cameras and video doorbells to display their camera feeds on screen.
Amazon Echo Show 8
Amazon’s midtier smart display is the best one in its line. For $130, the Echo Show 8 has great audio quality, a highly visible screen and a convincing nod to privacy with a physical shutter you can slide over its camera. We still like the interface better on the Google Nest Hub and Nest Hub Max. Those Google Assistant displays also have the edge in useful video due to the voice-activated YouTube integration, which Amazon’s lineup lacks. Regardless, for those of you who are committed to an Alexa-only ecosystem, the Echo Show 8 is the best smart display.
These are some of the best smart home systems.