There is a lot to like about the second-generation Amazon Echo.
First, Amazon dressed it up rather than make it look like a plastic tumbler. Then, aside from the all-silver Echo, you can now choose from three fabric coverings (heather gray fabric, sandstone fabric, and charcoal fabric) and two wood-like finishes (walnut and oak). But the most significant selling points for Amazon Echo is its features and functionality. You can ask it to turn on the lights, lock the doors, and a host of other stuff.
It does not only work with a majority of your connected devices, but it can also get you an Uber, order you pizza, or tell you about your schedule after it reads you the news. It also works with other Echo devices, so you can tell one Amazon Echo device in the den to play a lullaby in the nursery and the Echo in your baby’s room will do it. You can also call or message people without taking out your phone.
The Amazon Echo is equipped with seven microphones, along with noise cancellation and beamforming technologies. All of these allow the Amazon Echo to hear you when you say the wake word, Alexa. It does not matter where you are in the room, or even if the kids are fighting, if somebody’s playing music, or if the robot vacuum is running, Alexa will hear you.
More than being an all-around assistant, the Amazon Echo is an excellent speaker. It can fill the room with great sound, and you can tweak any setting with voice commands.
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How the Amazon Echo rates
How popular is the Amazon Echo? To give you an idea, the second-generation Amazon Echo gets a rating of 4.5 stars out of 5.0 stars, with more than 31,000 reviews. An overwhelming 86% of these reviews are positive.
The second-generation Echo is not only loved by customers; critics also rave about it. For instance, it gets a rating of 8.0/10.0 stars from the Verge, a perfect 5.0 stars from Expert Reviews, and 4.0/5.0 stars from Tech Advisor UK, while CNET gave it an 8.5 stars rating out of 10.0.
Top Rated Echo Alternatives
If you are looking for a good substitute for the first-generation Amazon Echo, you should check out our article here. But, when it comes to the second-generation Amazon Echo, what are the best alternatives?
When talking about devices that can act on voice commands, Google Home is often mentioned alongside Amazon’s Alexa speakers. Google Home can do practically everything that the Amazon Echo can do, including controlling your connected devices, making phone calls, and even helping you out with specific tasks.
On its own, the Google Home is an excellent device. It does an excellent job of answering your questions and can understand context clues better than any other smart speaker. Plus, it comes in four different colors: black, pink, brown, and gray.
As with other Google products, you would be pleasantly amazed by this speaker’s easter eggs. Google Home can answer the same questions differently, and even tell you a joke. Oh, and don’t forget to ask what it thinks about Siri.
Google Home also has the ability to learn how to interact with different users. For instance, it answers you differently from the way it responds to your kids. It also has far-field microphones that work as well as the ones you see on Amazon Alexa.
However, Google Home has always been catching up with Alexa. When it first came out, this device had noticeably fewer integrations. Until today, Alexa has more skills and works with more connected gadgets than Google Home does. Sound quality is middling. Additionally, unlike Amazon Echo, the Google Home retains that boring white plastic build for its top part, while having different colored bases to make it look a bit more modern.
Google Home runs on Google Assistant, but the speaker cannot track packages, take down voice notes, or create lists.
If you are asked to name a voice-activated assistant, chances are you’d mention Alexa, Google Assistant, and Siri. With the wildly popular Amazon Echo, you really cannot expect Apple not to throw their hat into the fray. Apple HomePod is foremost a speaker that gives you high fidelity sounds in an incredible-looking package.
Like the Amazon Echo speaker, Apple HomePod also controls connected devices around your home and helps you do your tasks. What you would love most about the Apple HomePod is that it consistently delivers excellent sound quality. It does not matter whether you are playing a classical piece or headbanging to Linkin’ Park at the background. It is straightforward to set up, and it works with other Apple and HomeKit devices out of the box. There is also an excellent array of far-field microphones. This feature allows the speaker to hear you even when you are at the other end of the room.
What’s more, the Apple HomePod looks rather elegant with its fabric mesh covering. You can choose between white or space gray, both of which can easily blend in with your home decor. It is designed by Apple, a company known for creating visually stunning devices that are characterized by minimalism and elegant lines.
More than that, the HomePod has accelerometers that help it become aware of its location in the room. Once you tell it to play music, it uses these accelerometers and then calculates where it is so that it could direct sound for the best audio quality.
However, the HomePod is not perfect. One downside is that it is an Apple-centric device. You can only use voice commands with audio and music services from Apple. For instance, if you want to play a song on Spotify, you would need to play it on your phone and then use AirPlay 2 so that it comes out on your HomePod. It also does not work on Android phones.
You can only control HomeKit devices, and that list is quite limited. In short, you are going to miss out on a lot especially when you compare it to Amazon Echo or Google Home.
Should you pay $349 for the Apple HomePod then? If you currently have mostly Apple and HomeKit devices, or if you only care about sound quality, then this should be a good buy. However, if you want something that can fully control your smart home, or have customized responses depending on who spoke, then look for something else. Even with HomeKit security devices, Siri cannot lock your doors even if you ask her to.
The Sonos One is designed to be an excellent speaker. It has an impressive audio quality that allows you to satisfy the audiophile in you. However, it can also act as a voice assistant that can control your smart devices. It can also tell you about your schedule, or order pizza for you. The Sonos One has Amazon Alexa built into it. This feature allows you to enjoy all the voice command features you get from the Amazon Echo. It will soon have support for Google Assistant, making the Sonos One work just like a Google Home speaker.
Why you would want to pay $200 for the Sonos One when it only piggybacks on the capabilities of Amazon Alexa? This speaker sounds excellent. The Sonos One is designed to mimic the Sonos Play:1, which is an excellent speaker that combines its small size and an under-$200 price tag to attract buyers.
At $199, the Sonos One is more than twice the price of an Amazon Echo, but is more affordable than the Apple HomePod. It may not sound as good as Apple’s speakers, but it does work with more smart devices and is closer in features and functions to the Amazon Echo. However, unlike the Amazon Echo, the Sonos One cannot call other speakers and does not directly connect to Zigbee devices. Amazon Echo can connect directly to Zigbee devices without needing a hub.
Harman Kardon Allure
The Harman Kardon Allure is yet another one of those smart speakers designed to sound excellent first and foremost. But it also has the convenience of being able to respond to voice commands. The Harman Kardon Allure delivers room-filling sound, with good bass.
The Allure also looks good. Unlike most other smart speakers available right now, it has a more futuristic appearance. It combines a metal grille bottom and a plastic top. There is a light ring inside the transparent top that allows you to see how the speaker responds to voice commands.
The Allure uses Amazon Alexa technology to handle voice commands, so it can practically do everything that an Amazon Echo does. Like the Sonos One, this sells for around $199.95. It is also double the price of an Echo, but it does have a better sound quality than an Amazon speaker.
Ultimate Ears Megablast
At its core, Ultimate Ears Megablast is a speaker that delivers great sound. The speaker connects via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth and can listen for your voice commands. But its most significant difference from the other smart speakers is that you can take it swimming. The Ultimate Ears Megablast is waterproof, making it a good choice for pool parties or for dancing in the rain.
It does have a few downsides, though. For one, it is quite expensive at $249.99. It also does not have too many physical controls. You can change the volume, but there is no way for you to skip to the next song using just the buttons on the speaker. You also cannot link it with other speakers.
Nevertheless, this speaker gives you the best sound quality among all portable speakers that are currently available, and the waterproof rating does not hurt either.
There are no shortage of smart speakers that are worth considering.
The Harmon Kardon Invoke, for one, has better sound quality than the Amazon Echo. Plus, you get unlimited Skype calling with your purchase. However, it works with Microsoft Cortana, which means that it does not have the full range of skills and compatibility that Amazon Alexa offers. Well, here’s the rub: Amazon Alexa lords it over when it comes to controlling smart devices, while Google Home is the best at answering questions. With Cortana, you can get better office-related assistance, such as making a Skype call or checking your schedule. Cortana needs work in controlling your smart home, and the list of devices that it can manage is rather limited. At $199.95, you can get astounding sound quality but middle-of-the-road voice capabilities with the Invoke.
Then you have the Google Home Mini, which gives you a more affordable version of Google Home but with rather poor sound quality. You can also get the Google Home Max, which has outstanding sound but costs $350. Not to mention the different Amazon Echo variants, such as the Echo Dot, Echo Show, and Echo Plus.
Side-by-side comparison of the best Amazon Echo alternatives
To make it easier for you to choose, here is a comparison table of the best smart speakers.
|Model||Amazon Echo||Google Home||Apple HomePod||Sonos One||Harman Kardon Allure||Ultimate Ears Megablast|
|Dimensions (inches)||3.4 x 3.4 x 5.8||3.8 x 3.8 x 5.6||5.6 x 5.6 x 6.8||4.7 x 4.7 x 6.4||6.5 x 6.5 x 7.6||3.5 x 3.5 x 9.3|
|Platform||Amazon Alexa||Google Assistant||Siri||Amazon Alexa||Amazon Alexa||Amazon Alexa|
|Far-field voice recognition||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Controls smart home devices||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Plays streaming music||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Free audio calls to US, Mexico, Canada||Yes||Yes||No||No||No||No|
Final Say: What is the best Amazon Echo alternative?
Amazon Echo is a tough act to beat. Amazon has made sure that it delivered a smart speaker that is big on features and low on price. However, there has been a lot of contenders for Amazon’s throne and they have been steadily challenging its dominance.
You have Google Home and Apple HomePod. Coming from tech giants, these two offer you a good mix of features, price, and sound quality. If you want a smart speaker that is affordable and gives you great answers to any query, you can get the Google Home with its artificial intelligence and use of Google Assistant.
However, if sound quality is more important to you than anything else, get the more expensive Apple HomePod. It may cost more than other smart speakers and can only connect with HomeKit devices, but it delivers consistently great sound quality.
Another category of smart speakers is made up of those that use Amazon Alexa for its voice command features. While these speakers deliver great sound, they do not offer all of the features you find on Amazon Echo. For one, you cannot place free calls to local numbers. Among the Sonos One, Harman Kardon Allure, and Ultimate Ears Megablast, you would most likely want to pick the Sonos One because it delivers a consistently excellent sound quality. But if you are looking for a portable speaker, check out the Ultimate Ears Megablast.
Lastly, if you are paranoid about your privacy, you might want to avoid Apple HomePod or the Ultimate Ears Megablast. These speakers do not have a physical mute button that allows you to make sure that nobody else is listening in on your conversation. You can, however, mute their microphones using their respective mobile apps.
Patrick Sinclair is a geek; make no mistake about that. He runs All Home Robotics in his spare time so he doesn’t have to think about his depressing cubicle and it gives him an excuse to buy expensive gadgets to review!