What is a smart speaker?

Using your hands to do anything is old fashioned and clearly not from the future which star trek considered. A smart speaker is the answer to these problems, but what exactly are they and how do they work?

This guide tells you everything you need to know about the technology, how it works, and the options available.

What is a smart speaker?

A smart speaker has built-in microphones so it can listen for a wake-up word, take your voice request, and then perform the right action, which can range from giving you a voice response (like the current weather forecast) or controlling a smart device (like turning on a light).

All smart speakers work with a voice assistant, the main three being Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant and Apple Siri. The voice assistant you get depends on the product you buy. Each primary voice assistant has its own line of speakers: Alexa gets the Echo line, including the 4th Gen Amazon Echo; Google Assistant gets Nest Hub range, including Nest Mini; Apple Siri works on HomePod Mini speakers.

Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant also have third-party companies that make speakers. Most come preinstalled with a voice assistant, but the Sonos range, such as Sonos One or Sonos Arc, lets you choose which voice assistant you want to use.

All voice assistants are cloud-based. In other words, your voice request is sent to a cloud server for processing, and the result is sent back to your smart speaker. The advantage of this system is that there are few software updates to manage, and new features appear instantly on all connected smart speakers. It also means that smart speakers don’t become obsolete very quickly: the first-gen Amazon Echo has, for the most part, the same range of features as the latest model.

What can smart speakers do?

Smart speakers are capable of doing a lot of varied jobs. In their simplest form, you can ask basic questions, such as the weather forecast, what’s the answer to a sum, or even who’s starring in an upcoming movie. You can also link your personal accounts to smart speakers, to get updated calendar appointments, for example.

With the addition of smart home skills, you can link your smart devices to a speaker, giving you voice control of your home, like turning up the heat without having to get off the couch.

All smart speakers can stream music directly from a linked account to a music service like Spotify. You can usually stream music to speakers from your phone, and most speakers can also be used via Bluetooth.

What about smart displays?

A smart display is similar to a smart speaker, except it has a built-in display, so you can see visual information alongside voice responses. This can be a full week’s weather forecast on screen or something more specific, like a video feed from a security camera.

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