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Smart Home

How many Google Home or Alexa speakers should you own? It depends

Can't get enough of Google Home or Alexa? This is for you.

Josh Miller/CNET

In just a few, short years, smart speakers like Google Home and Amazon Echo have become ubiquitous. Calling them by their wake phrases is now second nature and even my grandparents and 4-year-old niece both know how to tell Alexa to change the color of the lights or play their favorite songs.

In March, an estimated 47.3 million adults in the US owned or had access to a smart speaker. That number has certainly only grown since. And the rate at which it will grow moving forward will only increase as the number of devices grow and asking price falls.

The question that remains isn't: Should you own a smart speaker? You absolutely should (unless you're not keen on a device recording your voice anytime you wake it). Instead, the question is: Should you buy another smart speaker? And if so, how many should you have? That's no easy question to answer, but we'll give it the ol' college try.

Read more: The complete list of Google Home commands and the complete list of Alexa commands.

Consider the size of your house, not just the rooms

Since one person's house is different from the next, there is no blanket answer. While there's nothing stopping you from adding a smart speaker to every room, much to the dismay of Google and Amazon, we don't recommend it. It's overkill for two reasons:

  • You probably won't use each smart speaker enough to justify the cost of having one in every room of your home.
  • Smart speakers are remarkably good at picking up your voice, even from a few rooms away.

For instance, if you have a master bath attached to your master bedroom, your smart speaker is likely enough for both rooms, even if you like to listen to music while you shower. Not only will placing something like the original Google Home or new Amazon Echo in the bedroom (but still near the bathroom door) let you listen to music in both rooms, it will keep it further from damaging steam and condensation.

Depending on the layout of your home, you might also be able to get away with a single speaker for the kitchen, dining room and living room.

Your kids will want in on the fun

Smart speakers can be a great form of entertainment and education, especially for young kids. There are tons of games to play and educational skills that can help bring you together as a family. And interacting with an Alexa speaker might help peel them away from YouTube on the iPad for once.

An even better use for placing an Echo Dot in each of your kids' rooms is Alexa and Google Home's intercom functions. You can broadcast throughout the entire house that it's time to leave or dinner is ready. Or you can drop in on them, individually, to see what they're up to.

Music streaming

A bigger determining factor than the size of your house or family is what you plan on using the smart speakers for.

If you're mainly getting the news or weather and controlling the various smart devices around your home, you probably don't need to invest in multiple Google Home Max ($399 at Dell Home) or Echo Plus ($150 at Amazon.com) speakers. You can save some serious cash by blanketing your house with cheaper Echo Dot speakers.

On the other hand, if you primarily intend to use smart speakers for streaming audio throughout the entire house — a la Sonos — your money is better spent strategically placing two or more higher-end smart speakers with significantly better audio.

Then again, if you already have a high-end sound system in your home, pair it with a few Echo Dots and get the best of both worlds.

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Some rooms are better than others

After living in CNET's San Francisco Smart Home for a week, I broke down some of the better places to have a smart speaker in your house. While you can find a use for Alexa or Google Home speakers in pretty much any room of the house, some locations in your home will ultimately be better suited for a smart speaker.

For instance, if you cook a lot, you might find Google Home is more useful in the kitchen than in your living room.

It took me almost a year of living with smart speakers to realize that I really don't need a full-sized Echo in my living room. In the living room, I just tend to watch television and use the Echo to control the lights or ask for the weather. Instead, the larger, better sounding and more expensive Echo should be placed in the kitchen, where I need (serious) help cooking and can use it to stream music while I cook or clean.

The same goes for the main bathroom (not attached to the master bedroom in my home). I would rather have a better sounding and louder speaker there than in the bedroom so I can hear it while I shower. In the bedroom, I still tend to stream music, but generally only as an alarm or when I'm trying to fall asleep. The quality and volume don't matter as much in the bedroom, even if the speaker is used just as much, if not more.

Take a speaker with you

Fremo/YouTube

If you don't want to spend a fortune or have a Google Home or Alexa speaker in every room of your home, you can buy just one and take it with you.

The Amazon Tap might be the ugly duckling of the Alexa lineup, but it can go anywhere, thanks to its built-in battery. Fortunately, there are better options available, such as a battery base. The Fremo EVO gives the Echo Dot a rechargeable battery and a better speaker while the MegaBoot by Koozie will power the Echo for up to 18 hours.

If you prefer Google Home, there's the Ninety7 Battery Base for the original Google Home speaker. And the Mini Back Pack for the Google Home Mini may not be a battery, but it's a mount that plugs straight into any outlet.

Consider the alternatives

These days, smart speakers don't have to be just smart speakers at all. In fact, sometimes it's better when they're not.

For example, in my case, I don't need a fully-fledged Echo in my living room. Conveniently, this is also where my thermostat is located, so opting for something like the Ecobee4 would kill two birds with one stone. Or instead of buying an Alexa speaker, you could opt for something like the iHome iAVS16 Alarm Clock or Sandman Doppler, which are both primarily alarm clocks with Alexa built-in.

Buying devices that double as Alexa speakers and placing those around the house can help mitigate any guilt you have about owning so many smart speakers. Then again, this certainly won't save you any money. But if you're in the market for multiple smart speakers in the first place, you've likely come to grips with placing convenience and fun ahead of cost savings anyway.

Smart home compatibility tool: Find out what smart home platforms work with your existing kit and vice versa.

CNET Smart Home: We transformed a real house into a test lab for the hottest category in tech.