Best smart hubs & speakers: Pricing & reviews

Smart Hubs & Speakers Buyer's Guide

Features / Benefits
Price / ROI
Buying Options
Echo 2 by AmazonAlexa integration Third-party skills Color and texture options$70-$80Amazon
Echo Plus by AmazonAlexa integration Built-in smart hub Future proof$149Amazon
Echo Show by AmazonAlexa integration 7-inch screen Future proof$229Amazon
Home by GoogleGoogle Assistant Chromecast control$129Best Buy
Home Max by GoogleGoogle Assistant integration High-quality sound Access to Google account and Chromecast$399Best Buy
One by SonosAlexa integration High quality sound$179Amazon
SmartThings by SamsungDevice grouping by room Third-party support$70Amazon
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The concept of a "smart home" has become widespread among people looking for more control and flexibility. "Smart home" represents the interconnectedness of appliances, devices, and systems and the power and ease of wireless connectivity management.

A smart home device makes managing your home easier and more accessible by connecting you wirelessly to the objects in your home that make your life run seamlessly. Smart home devices can help save energy and money while connecting your home to the internet and giving you access to many functions. In a way, smart home devices are turning our homes into pieces of tech themselves.

Smart home speakers

Smart home speakers take voice commands to control smart devices in your home, which have been wirelessly linked to your speaker. In addition, smart speakers have native features that can be accessed through simple voice commands, like weather reports, list-building, and news reports. A typical implementation of a smart speaker is to link it to a compatible smart hub, which gives you voice control over every device connected to your smart hub.

Smart home hubs

Most smart home hubs do not take voice commands directly, but they connect your devices and centralize their operation and management. Smart home devices around your home communicate on several frequencies depending on the brand and device. You can think of smart hubs as translators for devices with differing communication frequencies. 

Smart home speakers and hubs tie all your devices into one smart network to be controlled through one unifying mobile app or voice commands. Smart hubs allow different types of devices from other brands to be accessed through the same interface. They are all devices that would otherwise be incompatible to communicate and coordinate actions.

Most smart home speakers can't unify all of your smart devices, but smart speakers have access to powerful software that can play music, tell you the weather, and make lists, among other handy actions to help make your day run. Smart speakers are compatible with many smart home devices, all through hands-free voice commands. The leading smart speakers on the market are consistent with a range of smart thermostats, light bulbs, and media devices, among several others.

There are three main characteristics to evaluate as you compare your smart home speaker and hub options: compatibility, ease of use, and aesthetics.


The essential feature of a smart home hub or speaker is its compatibility with the wide range of smart home products on the market. A smart home hub's intelligence is limited by the connections it can make with other smart devices, so always make sure that you are buying the hub or speaker that has compatibility with the products you already own or plan to believe in the future. 

Smart hubs and speakers can come with "future-proof" compatibility capabilities. Some products have a lively developer community that will produce third-party applications to link up non-compatible products. In contrast, others have built-in, unactivated protocol capabilities for future smart home devices. As new smart home devices become available, you won't need to worry about those new devices being incompatible with your old hub or speaker.

Mobile app/ease of use

How well the mobile app works and allows home control is critical for smart home hubs. Mobile apps allow you to connect and control other smart home devices. The interface for that control is an integral part of how a smart home hub functions.

In the case of smart speakers, a mobile app or web page is usually used to facilitate setup, and not much else due to the voice control aspect of smart speakers. More importantly, a speaker must respond to voice commands and communicate efficiently.


Smart speakers, in particular, are visible pieces of tech in your home. Having an aesthetically pleasing smart home device can be essential when deciding on a hub or speaker. Some devices come with interchangeable colored parts, while others have unique, modern shapes that fit in today's current home. Many hubs and speakers will also have some lighting aspect, indicating power or recognition of a voice command.

EnergySage Smart Hubs & Speakers Reviews

The 2nd-generation of Amazon's original smart speaker, the new Echo 2, still operates on Amazon's Alexa software, which can be activated by saying "Hey Alexa," "Alexa," or even "Amazon." From there, you can direct Alexa to do just about anything for you by speaking.

What can it do for you? Alexa has capabilities for weather, music, news reports, smart device control, and much, much more. You can even make free voice calls to anyone with an Echo device or the Alexa app. Amazon has also released a software development kit for third-party developers to create "Skills," of which there are thousands (like calling an Uber or ordering a pizza).

For homeowners who want access to powerful voice control capabilities and an ever-evolving network of third-party support, any of the Amazon products is an incredible smart home solution. 

Buying Options: Amazon

The Echo Plus is a smart speaker and smart hub combined. All the other Echo products require a smart hub to connect to most other smart products, while the Echo Plus makes that additional purchase unnecessary. You still get news reports, weather, calendar reminders, and music (plus a lot more), but the Plus will connect to any other "smart" product you own right out of the box. 

In addition to new smart hub capabilities, the Echo Plus has some hardware and visual features that set it apart from the standard Echo 2. First, the Echo Plus has higher quality audio as a larger device. While still not a high-end speaker, the Echo Plus's larger size makes for a louder, crisper audio device. And second, unlike the Echo 2, the Plus comes in only three color options: black, silver, and white.

Buying Options: Amazon

Sometimes a new recipe needs more than a step-by-step list. Other times you want to get that new Amazon Prime show started before the cooking is done. For these cases and more, the Echo Show has a seven-inch screen displaying whatever video you need on your countertop. Like other Echo products, you can link it to your suite of smart devices with the help of a hub.

Buying Options: Amazon

To answer the Amazon Echo, Google released their Home smart speaker. The biggest advantage of Google Home is the wealth of data available through Google. Google Home can pull information from all aspects of your Google account (such as web browsing, emails, and GPS records) to customize your experience. 

For example, Google Home can use your Google Calendar to proactively give you reminders and alert you to traffic on your commute. Additionally, Google Home can recognize different voices in your family, allowing it to customize responses for different users. Integration with Google's Chromecast media streaming device is an additional advantage.

Google Home can control many smart home devices, and more are constantly being added to its capabilities. A unique feature of Google Home is its ability to communicate especially well with televisions and Chromecast. You can simply tell your system vocally to cue up the next episode of your favorite show through your Google Home linked to a Chromecast device in your house. 

As a bonus, you can swap out the colorful base for your Google Home, allowing you to match it to the aesthetic of whatever room it happens to reside in. The Google Home is an excellent option for anyone looking for a high-quality speaker with a wealth of information at the ready, all activated by your voice.

Buying Options: Best Buy

Smart speakers have traditionally been focussed only on the "smart" aspect of home automation, but the Google Home Max compromises nothing in the sound department. A larger, more powerful speaker than the standard Google Home, the Max offers high-quality sound to complement the intelligent capabilities of Google Assistant.

Not interested in talking to your speaker? You can connect an audio player to your Home Max with USB-C, Bluetooth, or an auxiliary cord, so you don't need to rely on voice commands to play music if you choose. While the Home Max has the full power of Google Assistant, it also functions as a high-quality standalone speaker.

The Home Max can do everything the original Google Home can do regarding smart capabilities and controlling other devices (more supported smart devices are constantly being added), plus some cool new tricks. One unique feature of the Home Max is "smart sound," which is the name for its ability to self-adjust audio levels based on its position in a room. For example, suppose your Home Max speaker is situated in a corner. In that case, it will automatically adjust the audio settings to make sure that music levels are rebalanced to sound best, given the extra amplification being near a wall might create. 

With its sleek appearance, excellent sound quality, and access to Google Assistant, the Google Home Max is the perfect centerpiece for a voice-controlled smart home audio system.

Buying Options: Best Buy

The Sonos One is the product to beat for those looking to invest in a smart speaker with the highest audio quality. Like the Amazon Echo, the Sonos One utilizes Amazon Alexa to let you access various tasks using your voice, from pizza delivery to setting alarms. Additionally, Sonos has said they plan to add support for Google Assistant as an alternative software to control the One. Beyond the software, the Sonos One offers the best audio quality of any smart speaker. With an already impressive sound for a 6-inch speaker, you can maximize your Sonos One's audio power by pairing it with other Sonos speakers. 

However, operating with Alexa on a non-Amazon product has some drawbacks. Most notably, the Sonos One is incompatible with all other Echo applications, although Sonos has said they will integrate new compatibilities over time. To control your smart home devices through a high-quality speaker, you might be better off pairing the Sonos One with a smart hub instead. The Sonos One is a great smart speaker choice for shoppers looking for home automation and a high-quality music player at the same time.

Buying Options: Amazon

A powerful smart home hub option, the Samsung SmartThings offers many robust features. Most notably, SmartThings can connect to over 200 products, and several "SmartApps" are available to help facilitate device communication. SmartThings also supports IFTTT programming, a unique way of making several events occur simultaneously across several smart devices. Aside from IFTTT, SmartThings employs SmartApps to help you create customizable functions that allow fine tuning of countless connected device actions.

A great feature of Samsung SmartThings is its partner mobile app, which you can use on iOS, Android, and Windows devices. SmartApps are easily accessible within the SmartThings app. The mobile app offers intuitive ways to group devices into rooms and find new devices in your home network, making SmartThings a powerful tool. 

As a bonus, Samsung SmartThings has a backup battery attached – if your power goes out, your smart home can operate as usual. The Samsung SmartThings hub is suitable for someone who wants highly customizable home automation built around your rooms and routines.

Buying Options: Amazon

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