2018 Smart Speaker Roundup

December 11, 2017

As 2017 comes to a close, it's important to look back at what defined the year in music hardware. Speakers and headphones have evolved considerably to a level where app support is practically the norm. True wireless earphones hit the mainstream. 

Beyond that, 2017 was all about digital assistant-powered devices such as smart speakers. It kickstarted in May at the Google I/O conference where they announced the expansion of the Google Assistant ecosystem and capabilities. Apple soon followed with the HomePod smart speaker announcement at their WWDC event in June. If not already clear, the next frontier for the big tech companies would be in artificial intelligence and digital assistants. The only question is which would emerge victorious or would there somehow be a convergence of digital/voice assistants in the future? We'll leave that question for another time while we check out the smart speakers that hit the markets this year and pave the way for 2018.

1. Amazon Echo (2nd Generation)
Amazon Echo 2nd Gen

Voice Assistant - Alexa
Launched - Oct 2017
Price - USD 99.99
What's the deal? - 
It ups the ante on the 1st gen with a new speaker, with Dolby processing, and new design. It fits very well in the living room as it doesn't look as industrial as its predecessor.

2. Amazon Echo Dot
Amazon Echo Dot

Voice Assistant - Alexa
Launched - Oct 2016
Price - USD 49.99
What's the deal? - 
A very compact alternative to the Amazon Echo, with all the capability of Alexa at your disposal. It connects through a 3.5mm audio cable or Bluetooth. At half the price of the Amazon Echo, this is a great option to an entry-level smart speaker.

3. Apple HomePod
Apple HomePod

Voice Assistant - Siri
Launched - June 2017. To sell in Early 2018.
Price - USD 349
What's the deal? - 
Apple's first big speaker since the discontinued iPod Hi-Fi. To make the deal sweeter, make them look more compact, add Siri voice assistant and presto, you get the Apple HomePod. Would've sold like hotcakes if they'd come out by X'mas. Likely will sell like hotcakes once they are out in 2018, anyway.

4. Google Home Mini 

Voice Assistant - Google Assistant
Launched - Oct 2017
Price - USD 49
What's the deal? - No prizes for guessing who its competitor is. The Google Home Mini is about the size of the Echo Dot, has a similar price tag and looks pretty darn good. Only drawback is the lack of a 3.5mm jack.

5. Harman Kardon Invoke

Voice Assistant - Microsoft Cortana
Launched - Oct 2017
Price - USD 199
What's the deal? - 
It looks very much like an Echo, or Bose SoundLink Revolve, but is the very first to feature Microsoft Cortana digital assistant. The speakers, unlike the Home or the Echo, are more powerful and hence sound that much better.

6. Sonos One

Voice Assistant - Alexa
Launched - Oct 2017
Price - USD 199 / SGD 329
What's the deal? - 
If you've noticed, Oct 2017 was a popular month for smart speaker launches. Likely one of the best sounding smart speakers in the whole selection, the Sonos One differentiates itself from the Sonos Play:1 by the integration of Alexa. Like the other speakers in the Sonos ecosystem, they run only on the Wi-Fi network. 

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