smart speak­ers

We pick out the best brainy boom box

Mac Format - - CONTENTS -

Ap­ple HomePod

£319 fea­tures Siri, Blue­tooth (not used for au­dio play­back), Wi-Fi, Air­Play

Credit to Ap­ple for so many things here. Since HomePod’s re­lease in Fe­bru­ary, it has been given soft­ware up­dates to add mul­ti­room play­back, stereo pair­ing with im­pec­ca­ble bal­ance, and a lot more. When run­ning the lat­est firmware, HomePod of­fers a great ex­pe­ri­ence; it’s per­fectly adept at hear­ing your com­mands for Siri, the au­dio qual­ity is sim­ply ex­cel­lent, the net­work­ing ut­terly sta­ble, and a HomePod can act as a home hub, negat­ing the need to keep an iPad plugged in and on­line.

So, it’s ab­so­lutely the best way to cen­tralise Siri in your home. But darn, these things are ex­pen­sive – con­sid­er­ing you could fill a home full of Echo de­vices for the price of one HomePod, you’ll have to re­ally want to buy in to buy one.

Ama­zon Echo Plus

£139.99 fea­tures Alexa, Blue­tooth, Wi-Fi, Spo­tify Con­nect

By the time you read this, Ama­zon’s sec­ond-gen­er­a­tion Echo Plus will likely be al­most upon us, all cloth-clad and pretty – but, con­cep­tu­ally, it’s only a tiny step on from the orig­i­nal Echo Plus that we’ve tested here. This ver­sion sounds great, lis­tens oh-so­care­fully – its mi­cro­phone ar­ray blows that of the smaller Echo Dot out of the wa­ter – and it acts as a home hub, in this case for Zig­bee-com­pat­i­ble de­vices.

Zig­bee is a pro­to­col that, like HomeKit, is avail­able for third par­ties to use, and a whole host of them have; Zig­bee com­pat­i­bil­ity is rarely as well pub­li­cised as the Alexa name, so look for that in­stead. Given Ama­zon’s range of di­rectly Alexa-com­pat­i­ble de­vices, you’ve got an ecosys­tem that’s grow­ing fast and shows no sign of stop­ping.

Google Home Max

£399 fea­tures Google As­sis­tant, Blue­tooth, Wi-Fi, Chrome­cast Au­dio

It’s ob­vi­ous that Google has thought hard about sound qual­ity on its big-boy As­sis­tant-pow­ered speaker, be­cause this thing is loud and im­pres­sive. It is, by a small mar­gin over HomePod, the most im­pres­sive of all three in terms of sound qual­ity, and it has no prob­lem hear­ing com­mands even at high vol­ume.

Like HomePod, though, it’s a touch over­priced for what it does, and un­like our other con­tenders, it doesn’t con­fer any fur­ther smart home func­tion­al­ity be­yond its built-in in­te­gra­tion with Google As­sis­tant, which is a shame. Re­ally, this is just a way to make your mu­sic loud, with an in­ter­face to Google’s robo-helper built in; if you’re not hav­ing a party, the ad­e­quate Google Home (£129) might be a bet­ter pur­chase.

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