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Turning your home into a smart home can be exciting, but intimidating. We’ll take you through the options with this handy buyer’s guide.
You’ll need an Android or iOS smartphone and a strong WiFi network with an internet speed between at least 30 to 50 Mbps (Megabits per second). If you’re not sure how strong your WiFi network is, you can use a bandwidth calculator or a WiFi speed test to find out.
You’ll also need a smart home hub —the centerpiece of any smart home. Retailing for about $50 each (but on sale for $22 and $19, respectively, for Black Friday weekend), the Echo Dot and the Google Home Mini are the best entry-level hubs on the market. But which is best?
The Amazon Echo Dot brings all your smart home devices together with the power of the Amazon Alexa voice assistant. It’s great for streaming music, as it doubles as a WiFi and Bluetooth speaker. And if you get two Echo Dot speakers, you can pair them together for stereo sound.
The Echo Dot connects to Amazon Music, Apple Music, Spotify, Sirius XM, and other music streaming services, which can all be controlled with the sound of your voice via Alexa. Just ask, “Hey Alexa! Play Ticket To Ride by The Beatles on Amazon Music.”
With Alexa, you can get news, sports scores and weather updates. You can also set alarms, look up recipes, play games, and even re-order Amazon essentials like paper towels and toilet paper.
The Echo Dot can control other Alexa-compatible devices. For example, if you have Philips Hue White A19 60-watt LED Smart Bulbs you can ask Alexa to turn them on or off. Simply say, “Hey Alexa! Turn off Philips Hue in the living room.” You can even do this after you left the house using the Echo Dot app.
The Echo Dot works with third-party services too. Pair it with the Domino’s Pizza app for the easiest delivery ever. Just say, “Hey Alexa! Order my usual from Domino’s.” The voice assistant will then send your order to Domino’s for delivery.
If privacy is a concern, the Echo Dot includes a button that turns off the microphone and disconnects it from the internet. Just turn the device back on whenever you want to use it.
If you use Amazon services on a daily basis, such as Prime Delivery, Prime Video and Amazon Music, the Echo Dot can make life easier. And if you’re not particularly tech-savvy, it’s a great choice as it’s so easy to use.
“I cannot say enough about the Amazon Echo Dot. It’s wonderful,” a very satisfied Amazon reviewer wrote. “Loud, crisp and knows my voice so well. I love the size. It’s convenient and easy to stow away. My guests have absolutely enjoyed asking questions and especially using it with my Spotify. I purchased a wall mount that works very well. I would recommend this to anyone who loves to have music around the house. Did I mention the price? Unbeatable. Don’t get a knock off! Just get the Amazon Echo Dot and do yourself a favor. I am just over the moon about this item. Thanks Amazon!”
Available in three colors: Charcoal, Heather Gray, and Sandstone.
Shop it: Echo Dot (3rd gen), $22 (was $50), amazon.com
Google Home Mini
The Google Home Mini is a great hub for Google lovers. If you’re an avid Gmail user, Chromecast enthusiast, Android aficionado, or someone who won’t go anywhere unless it’s marked in Google Calendars, then the Google Home Mini powered with Google Assistant is for you.
It’s a smart Bluetooth speaker with access to Spotify, Google Play Music, YouTube Music, iHeartRadio, and more. It offers smooth stereo sound when paired with another Google Home Mini or any Bluetooth speaker. Think of it as a less expensive version of Sonos or Bose smart speakers.
The Google Home Mini has no physical buttons, but rather just a sliding switch for privacy and special “zones” on the device that you can tap to adjust volume. Google wants users to have a true hands-free experience using the Google Assistant voice control.
All you have to say is: “Hey Google! Turn up the volume.” Or “Hey Google! Turn off music.”
The Google Home Mini is compatible with Google Chromecast for hands-free video streaming and Android for hands-free calendar event creation, making lists with Google Keep, setting reminders and more. In fact, if you already have these devices, the Google hub will automatically seek them out as soon as you sync it to your home’s WiFi network.
If you’re in the Google ecosystem already, with Android, Chromecast and everything else Google, the Google Home Mini will seamlessly slide into your life.
“I really like it as a speaker for my Spotify,” wrote a Walmart reviewer. “It's handy to ask questions and about the weather. It even has some humor! Just ask it to sing you a song or tell you a joke. I seem to rarely be facing the clock and I can ask it the time. I like how I can use smart bulbs and now I can turn the light on and off with it too.”
Available in four colors: Aqua, Chalk, Charcoal, and Coral.
Shop it: Google Home Mini, $19 (was $49), walmart.com
The Amazon Echo Dot and the Google Home Mini are similar in terms of audio quality, build and accessibility. But since Amazon announced the Echo Dot first (in October of 2016), the online retailer had a head-start on the Google Home Mini, which dropped August 2017.
The voice assistant is probably the biggest difference between the two hubs — whether you want Alexa or Google Assistant. Most smart home devices are compatible with both, so it just depends which service you use more: Amazon or Google? The answer will tell you which hub is best for you.
And in terms of music, audio quality is similar. The Google smart speaker has richer audio, so it’s better if you’re across the room, while the Echo Dot has more bass and sounds slightly better when it’s next to you. However, the Google Home Mini doesn’t support Amazon Music, while the Echo Dot doesn’t support Google Play Music. So you’d probably want to pick the hub that works with what you already use.
Another deciding factor is Apple Music compatibility. If you use Apple Music, then you should probably pick the Amazon hub which supports it (Google does not).
The reviews quoted above reflect the most recent versions at the time of publication.
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