Canadian Smart Homes

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Which smart speaker is right for you?


March 31, 2021
By Chia-Chi Hsu
Amazon Echo PHOTO: Amazon

A smart speaker is more functional and practical than a Bluetooth speaker, which simply plays your favourite music in the corner of your living room and bedroom.

Those smart speakers have one common value: they detect your voice and help manage your devices. For example, you can order the smart speaker to turn on your desired home appliances, once you come back home from work.

In this article, we will guide you to analyze the pros and cons of Google Nest Audio, Apple HomePod mini, and Amazon Echo (4th Gen). Google, Apple, and Amazon are the top three brands in the smart speaker market.

Google Nest Audio

Last year in Taiwan, the Google project manager of Asia Pacific, Sophie Lee, said in the Decode Google press conference that the selling point of Google Nest Audio is its high audio quality. It offers 75 per cent higher volume and 50 per cent stronger bass than its first-generation Google Home. The sound sent out from Google Nest Audio has directionality because it doesn’t contain speakers in the back. However, its sound improvements are rich enough for party use.

The built-in Google Assistant app can receive your voice order by “OK Google” or “Hey Google.” The app is both available to Android and iOS users. They can turn on and off those home appliances by voice or by the app. However, iOS users need to turn their screen to Google Assistant app first before the speaker can receive their orders.

Many Taiwanese original design or equipment manufacturers have highly participated in developing AI and combining the technology in smart speakers. For example, Foxconn and Compal are responsible for manufacturing Amazon Echo, Inventec is responsible for Apple HomePod, and Quanta and Pegatron are responsible for Google smart speakers.

The technology invested in Google Nest Audio “is actually customer confidential information that we are not able to disclose,” said Wendy Wu, head of Solution Go-to-Market at Quanta Computer Inc.

To reach broader customers and compete with Google Nest Audio and Amazon at the same price level, Apple later released lower-priced Apple HomePod mini in 2020. The Apple HomePod has received positive feedback on its Siri technology and audio quality since 2018.

“Most people just want a decent speaker for a low price that works with everything. Google and Amazon capture most of that market,” said Sebastian, who worked as a Best Buy sales associate in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA).

Apple HomePod mini

The Apple HomePod mini is budget-friendly and renowned for its compact size. It’s only 8.43 centimetres tall. Apple HomePod mini has a backlit touch surface on the top, and the speaker itself is wrapped with seamless mesh fabric.

However, its apertures in the mesh fabric are larger than those in Google Nest Audio. Apple HomePod mini is relatively easier to stick tiny dust.

The size instead limits its audio quality. Even though it can fill the audio to every angle in the room, it lacks a strong bass. The maximum volume is not loud enough for a party, according to DXOMARK.

“As an iPhone user, I use Google Nest Audio more often instead because the power switch, the remote control and other home appliances at my home mostly support Google Assistant,” said tech reviewer Larry Chou, who was invited as a special guest to the Decode Google press conference last year. He shares his experience using smart devices on his YouTube channel, iamLarrie.

Different from Google Nest Audio, Apple Homepod mini only supports those home accessories certified by Apple. Besides, you can play your music on Spotify or YouTube via Bluetooth on both Apple HomePod mini and Google Nest Audio. However, you can only orally order Apple HomePod mini to play music on Apple music because it only certifies Apple music as their music streaming service in the iOS system.

“Even though the release of Apple HomePod mini competes against other smart speakers at the lower price level, iPhone users might not remain as loyal and find that other brands can also provide the same or better quality,” Chou said.

Data from Statista shows that 45 per cent of Canadians primarily use iPhone. However, according to another data from Statista, the bar chart for 2019 and 2020 shows that the ownership rate of Apple HomePod in Canada dropped from four per cent to three per cent.

“Google has improved their technology on their smart speakers. They have developed its extensiveness to all smartphones, and even iPhone users have access to it,” Chou said.

Amazon Echo (4th Gen)

Before you are allowed to use Amazon Echo to control your home appliances, you need to make sure that those appliances are certified by Amazon Alexa app. Amazon Alexa certifies more home appliances than Google Home does.

“If they (the customers) have no smart appliances yet and are just starting, I would recommend Alexa as it’s the best price and overall best experience,” Sebastian said. “Alexa has been around for the longest and has built a great ecosystem for smart appliances that work with it, as well as its app experience being the most seamless.”

Apple HomePod mini can support 21 languages, and Google can support 13 languages, while Amazon Alexa can only support eight languages. Alexa can only receive voice orders in English, French, German, Hindi, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese and Spanish.

Amazon Echo and Google Nest Audio can both play songs for you on Spotify, YouTube Music, Apple Music, and more. It also supports Android and iOS users to control their home appliances by voice, but both users cannot directly call Alexa out on their phones. Instead, users need to turn on the Amazon Alexa app first to make further demands.

Buying a smart speaker is a good first place to start when building a smart home. Not only is the price of these three smart speakers similar to those Bluetooth speakers on the market, but the audio quality is also improving.

However, the technology of vocal control in smart speakers is still developing.

“If you are looking for the effectiveness and stability of smart home devices, you can start controlling them with smartphones and tablets,” Chou said.


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