Picking a smart speaker

echo homeIt’s getting to the point where a person might choose to get a smart speaker.  Which reminds us that we are in a fast-changing world.  Used to be there was no such thing as a smart speaker.  Which by the way makes me feel ancient.  Just in case anyone does not know what a smart speaker is, I will now explain.

A smart speaker is the thing that you purchase and install in 2016 so that you do not get left behind.  And my prediction is that by 2018 everyone will have completely forgotten smart speakers, because they will have been replaced by something else.  Brain implants, maybe.

The best way to tell you what a smart speaker is, is to let you hear what happens.  Click here to get an idea.  As you can hear, Alexa was able to check with a transponder in my car to report that the fuel tank is 96% full.  Alexa was able to tell the thermostat in my exercise room to set itself a little lower.  Alexa turned on the lights on the Christmas tree.  Finally, Alexa turned on some cool jazz.

Within our lifetimes, it will get to where we will have forgotten the old days when there was no Alexa or other smart speaker presence in our daily existence.  It will be like the movie 2001:  A Space Odyssey in which Dave asked Hal to open the pod bay doors.  In fact I realized I should try this out.  Here is what happened.

Any way, probably you need to get a smart speaker.  You could try to postpone it, but it is only a matter of time.  You will have to get a smart speaker some day.  So which one should you get?

Before I talk about which one to get, let’s spend a moment observing who is in this field and who is not.  A few years ago I think we would all have expected Apple to be the first entrant and we would have expected any other contender to get left in the dust.  But as a reminder of how fast things change, Apple is in the dust.  In fact Apple is in the dust of at least one other contender that is also in the dust of a first entrant.

The first entrant is Amazon, with its Amazon Echo.  That’s the black slightly sinister looking cylinder shown above.  It costs $179.  The second entrant is Google, with its Google Home.  That’s the slightly more friendly looking orb shown above.  It costs $129.

With either device, you talk to it and it talks back with an AI (artificial intelligence) voice.  The Amazon voice is named Alexa, and the Google voice is named “Ok Google”.  (Apple’s left-in-the-dust voice is named Siri.)  Of course any of these three voices can tell you the weather, and can answer a question like “what is the cube root of 81?”  But the future lies in connections with “the Internet of things”.  As you can tell from the recording above, the smart speaker that I used for the demonstration has a connection with my car, a connection that permits the smart speaker to say whether my fuel tank is full, and permits the smart speaker to say where my car is parked.  It has a connection with the six thermostats that control the heating zones in my home.  It knows how to talk to a switch that controls the lights on my Christmas tree.  It can turn on my home theater and configure the inputs so that I am watching HBO Now.

So let’s circle back around to how to pick a smart speaker for your home.  The main selection criterion I will explore is, which smart speaker connects to more of the systems that I use?  Here’s a comparison table.

Amazon Alexa Google Home
Logitech Harmony universal remote yes no
Automatic car computer yes no
Sensi thermostats yes no
TP-Link light bulbs and wifi switches yes no
D-Link switches yes no
order Domino’s pizza yes no
place a call on my Ooma phone yes no

As you can see, Google is left in Alexa’s dotdust.  Alexa has been around for a year now, and has hundreds of connections to interesting things.  Google’s assistant has only been around for a couple of months, and is just getting started.  But I have to assume that Google is right now spending gobs of money to add features and connections to Google Home.

Oh, and I actually don’t recommend either of these smart speakers.  My recommendation is the Amazon Dot, which costs $49.


 

Have you tried any of these smart speakers?  Can you share comments for other readers?

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