Three Features You Need in Your Next Smart Speaker

Not all smart speakers are equally smart. Let’s zero in on what you need.

Small portable white speaker
A smart speaker can transform your portable listening experience into something amazing.Unsplash/Nicolas J Leclercq

There’s a wide variety of smart speaker feature-sets, and more isn’t always better. Sometimes you just want something that will play music, and sometimes you want something that can scour the internet and answer your deepest questions. There are plenty of reasons to choose either path. In both cases, we’ve got you covered. Start with these three things and you you’ll be rockin’ in no time.

Sonos Move - Battery-powered Smart Speaker, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth with Alexa built-in
With a variety of built-in connection options, this is a no-compromise device.Sonos

The smartest of the smart speakers have digital assistants built right into them, with no phone required to use them (though you’ll still need an internet connection for most things). This lets you adjust volume, start/stop music, search for new songs, or even ask for help in the kitchen, all with your voice alone. Other speakers rely on the assistants built into your phone to accomplish this, which isn’t a bad option, either, it’s just slightly less convenient.

OontZ Angle 3 (3rd Gen) - Bluetooth Portable Speaker
Small enough to fit in a jacket pocket, but rugged and water resistant, this device is all about taking your music with you.OontZ

If you want to take your music on the go, then portability should be at the forefront of your mind. You want a speaker to be small and light enough to be easy to pack, but tough enough to withstand the harsher conditions from a day working in the field, lounging at the beach, or hiking a trail. Beyond size, look at battery life and weather resistance.

Sonos One SL - Microphone-Free Smart Speaker – Black
Designed to work with Apple Airplay 2 and WiFi, you can pair this unit to other devices to fill a room with balanced acoustics.Sonos

These days there are a number of different protocols through which it’s possible to play music on a smart speaker. Bluetooth is generally the most basic, allowing you to connect a phone, tablet, or laptop directly to the speaker. Some have built-in Wi-Fi, allowing your speaker to connect directly to your home network so you can keep streaming music even if you wander out of range with your phone. Others will feature proprietary systems for connecting. You’ll typically see these features impact the price, so think about what you’re most likely to use most often.