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The best smart speakers of 2019

With smart speakers from Amazon, Google and Apple as well as third-party products from the likes of Sonos, we can help you choose from all the exciting options.

The Amazon Echo Dot and the Google Home Mini are both awesome gadgets. When you need an answer to a trivia question burning your brain, or if you want to check your calendar or turn on the lights without moving from the couch, a smart speaker can help. Pretty much all of your options, including the two above, let you turn on the lights, play music, set a reminder, ask a question and more with a simple voice command. If that sounds appealing to you, it might be time to give in to the growing hype of this burgeoning category and buy a smart speaker.

Amazon helped popularize the category with the original Echo and the now famous digital assistant known as Alexa, but today you have a variety of options from several different companies. As far as hardware, the differences largely come down to size, price and sound quality. If you don't need much oomph from your music, you can save money for the same smarts in a smaller body.  

Amazon, Google, and Apple all have competent smart speakers, and the competition between these tech giants has made this category better and better.

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If you have an affinity for one of those brands in particular, your job of picking a speaker is pretty easy. Head here for help picking an Amazon smart speaker. The company that started the smart speaker trend still has the most options.

Here's a guide if you want a Google-equipped smart speaker, but your options are simpler. Pick up the $50 Google Home Mini if you want a low-cost entry point. Grab the $300 Google Home Max if you want impressive sound quality and are willing to pay for it. The original $100 Google Home is also a solid option if you want something in the middle.

The $350 Apple HomePod is your only option if you want a Siri-enabled smart speaker. But there's good news too: It sounds great.

If you're platform agnostic, all of your choices might seem intimidating at first, but picking the perfect smart speaker can be easy if you know what you're looking for. We're here to help you do just that.

Note that the products discussed here are independently chosen by our editors. CNET may get a share of the revenue if you buy anything featured on our site.

Ben Fox Rubin/CNET

Alexa's still the best. Amazon's digital assistant still has more abilities than the competitive assistants from both Google (called Google Assistant) and Apple (Siri). If you don't want to deal with the nitty gritty of the category and just want to try out a smart speaker, get this one.

The third-gen Amazon Echo Dot looks and sounds better than previous versions, costs only $50 and you can often find it on sale for less. It offers all of the same smarts as more expensive Echo devices. You sacrifice some sound quality for the size and price, but it plugs into your own speakers, so you can easily make up for that difference.

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The $200 Sonos One is the best option if you want a smart speaker that sounds great. Pair two units to play stereo sound, but even a single speaker sounds awesome playing a wide variety of music genres and it costs significantly less than other smart speakers with premium sound quality like the Google Home Max and the Apple HomePod.

Better yet, the Sonos One has both Alexa and Google Assistant built-in -- simply pick which one you'd like to use during setup. Plus, Sonos has Apple's Airplay 2 so you can control it with any Siri-enabled device including your iPhone

Add it up and the Sonos One is a great-sounding, reasonably priced smart speaker that can fit into households centered around Alexa, Google Assistant or Siri. That's a tough pitch to beat.

James Martin/CNET

Amazon used to be the unquestioned ruler of the smart speaker world, but Google has done an admirable job of catching up. At this point, picking between the entry level models from the two companies -- the Amazon Echo Dot or the Google Home Mini -- comes down to splitting hairs. The Dot is still our favorite overall, but by a small margin. 

Google Assistant now has almost as many capabilities as Alexa, making the $50 Google Home Mini a solid alternative to the Amazon Echo Dot. Plus, Google Assistant is a little smarter than Alexa. It responds more flexibly to commands if you can't remember the exact name of your smart home devices and Google's grouped commands called routines work with more types of devices than similar routines from Amazon.

Google's great at walking you through recipes, as you can go step-by-step and skip forward or back. Google Assistant can recognize multiple voices, so it'll give you and your spouse different answers if you each ask about your calendars. Alexa can do this now too, but Google still has the edge in assistant intelligence. The Google Home Mini is a great, low-cost way to take advantage of those smarts.

Chris Monroe/CNET

Deciding which assistant you want at the center of your smart home is a tough call. Both Alexa and Google Assistant work with lots of devices. Both help you organize and control them easily. While Google Assistant is a little smarter, Alexa works with more smart home devices and makes setup easier. 

Ultimately, we'll give the smart home edge to Alexa and the $150 Echo Plus. Alexa can send alerts if your smart speaker hears glass breaking or a smoke detector blaring. The Echo Plus combines the usual Alexa smarts with a speaker that sounds good and has a smart-home hub built in so you can sync your small sensors directly to it. 

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Siri's first smart speaker adapts its sound to the room you're in and sounds fantastic playing all genres of music. Its sound outclasses the Sonos One and even squeaks by the similarly priced Google Home Max. Thanks to Siri, you can also control your smart home and ask for help as you would with the other smart speakers.

The Apple HomePod is a bit more limited that the rest, however. You can only play music from Apple's music service with voice commands. The rest give you a few popular streaming options to pick from. As for the smart home, you're limited to devices that work with Apple's smart-home platform called HomeKit. So the HomePod has a few limitations that the rest don't have, but that shouldn't matter to you if you're already invested in Apple products and just want great sound quality.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Given the wide array of smart speakers, you can surprisingly only find a handful that are portable. Fortunately, the JBL Link 20 checks all of the right boxes to qualify as a good battery-powered smart speaker. It has Google Assistant built-in, so it has smarts similar to the Google Home Mini. It has decent battery life and solid sound quality. 

Even better, it's fully waterproof and can connect to your home's Wi-Fi network or you can stream with it through your phone's Bluetooth. $200 is a little pricey. It's often on sale for $150 and it's sold out at the moment, but JBL representatives reassured us it'll be back in stock soon. 

In the meantime, the similar JBL Link 10 is a solid and cheaper, if slightly less impressive, alternative. 

Other options

Those smart speakers are our favorites, but you still have lots of other options if you're looking for something specific. Read our breakdown of Alexa vs. Google Assistant vs Siri if you'd like to decide by platform.

Otherwise, neither the original Amazon Echo nor the original Google Home made an appearance above because you can get the same smarts for less with smaller versions of each. That said, if you want a smart speaker that splits the difference between affordability and premium sound, both are still solid options.

If you like the idea of always-listening help but want something more visual, check out our smart display best list. They essentially combine smart speakers with a touchscreen so you can watch videos, scroll through pictures and control your smart home with a touch. Amazon and Google both have several options in this booming category of smart-home tech. 

Amazon also has lots of other third-party devices with Alexa built inGoogle's third-party speakers are on the rise as well. Check out the Amazon Tap or the UE MegaBlast if you want Alexa in a portable body. The TicHome Mini offers another more compact choice if you want a portable smart speaker with Google Assistant. 

Finally, the Harman Kardon Invoke uses Microsoft's assistant Cortana. It's competent enough if you're a Windows fan, but otherwise doesn't have enough going for it to stand out from the crowd. Samsung even has a much-delayed smart speaker due out soon with Bixby

Figure out what platform or features you'd like, and you should be able to quickly narrow your options and find the best smart speaker for you and your family.