Voice assistants occupy an increasingly large place in tech: from a surprising gadget, they have risen to the rank of conductors of what is called the Internet of Things. And they have a growing place in popular culture, and in the furniture of his home.
But not all are created equal. The best voice assistant has the distinction of being determined by two very distinct factors, which must be taken into account at the time of purchase. The Artificial Intelligence that drives it - and there are only a handful of them that are really serious - and the quality of the object itself. Two factors that we have taken into account in our comparison. To see more clearly, go to the buying guide.
The best voice assistants in 2021
1. Echo Dot 3 (3rd Gen) - The best cheap voice assistant with Alexa
The Amazon Echo Dot is one of the latest voice assistants in the Amazon range. Ultra popular since its launch, the Echo Dot is a mini, inexpensive version of the original voice assistant - in Amazon's case, the significantly more expensive Echo.
The third generation of the Amazon Echo Dot is a sleeker voice assistant than previous versions. Its design is more rounded and neat, but above all it is no longer entirely plastic. This one is covered in a soft, gray fabric - an aesthetic advantage over most entry-level competitors. There are three shades of gray to choose from - be careful though, it is not possible to change it afterwards. Unlike some Boom speakers, for example, the fabric is attached to the speaker. We find the trademark of Amazon is there: the luminous circle that changes color according to the actions and status of the device. Design is not an anecdotal element when choosing your voice assistant. Indeed, for it to function at its best, it must be within earshot at all times;
On the upper part, there are four buttons that control the volume, the mute function and an action button - which allows you to validate your choices for example. Some people will prefer the tactile buttons on Google's Home Mini.
The speaker is rather compact, but it is not necessarily portable: it must indeed be left plugged in, it does not have a battery. On the other hand, you can install an additional battery, which converts it into a nomadic model; but it is an additional purchase and often non-owner, so any malfunction will not be covered by the warranty.
You can connect your voice assistant via WiFi, according to the 802.11ac standard - the most recent to date. If your router is compatible, it allows you to use it on the 2.4 or 5GHz band: enough to benefit from an excellent network for music, for example, thanks to 5GHz, but also 2.4 compatibility for your connected objects.
Sound quality is arguably one of the areas where Amazon has made the most progress since the Echo dot 2. Despite its low price and small size, the Echo 3 performs very well for a voice assistant. Obviously, with a device of this caliber, the bass lacks power, but the midrange and treble are rather well calibrated. Note that like all Echo devices, if you have two, you can pair them for a stereo effect.
The recognition of the microphone is very correct - the Echo range from Amazon is quite famous in this area.
If you value Amazon Artificial Intelligence and are on a budget, the Echo Dot 3 is your best entry-level choice.
2. Google Nest Mini - The best inexpensive voice assistant
Google Nest released its new voice assistant in 2019. Nest Mini, like the Echo Dot, is its compact entry-level lineup, and it is a big hit. If the price is slightly higher than the Echo Dot, this voice assistant has solid advantages that can make it more attractive - especially in terms of Android compatibility.
The Nest Mini is very similar to the Home Mini. Google has taken the same direction as the Echo Dot by replacing the plastic shell with a fabric covering which, according to the brand, is made from recycled bottles. All the changes made in terms of designs are positive, with the possible exception of one point. The micro-USB socket of the previous model has been replaced by a round power supply - so you can no longer use just any cable.
The big news is the possibility of mounting the Nest Mini on a wall. For a voice assistant, this is quite a novel idea, but it is not illogical. The cable is much less annoying than if you put it on a coffee table, for example, and the speaker takes up less space than if you put it on a surface.
Especially since the asset is not only aesthetic: it is also sound. The Nest Mini's bass driver is on the back, and it can use the wall as a resonance return, which amplifies volume and sound quality.
Because yes, despite its small size, the sound quality is a little better than that of the Echo Dot. The bass and mids are much more present and clear than on the previous models of Nest Mini - which we deplored the messy sound and lack of clarity. It may lack a bit of power, especially if you compare it to models admittedly more expensive, but bigger: difficult to hear the responses of the AI if there is noise around you for example.
The other innovations made by Google are anecdotal, but still fun. We can mention the presence of a sensor that adapts the output volume of the AI to the sound level, to avoid having to repeat the response. Or the touch sensor located under the fabric that detects your hand when you approach the device, and backlit the buttons. In short, small futuristic elements that improve user comfort.
But the most notable of these advances is the integrated machine learning microchip, which allows the voice assistant to gradually adapt to your voice. You can also pair several Nest Minis for a stereo or surround setup.
There are many reasons to prefer Google for its voice assistant. Besides the sound quality, we can note the build quality: the devices in the Nest line are renowned for their durability. Google's update support is also very dynamic, with many new features appearing every year.
3. Amazon Echo 3 - The best cheap voice assistant for sound quality
Amazon's “new” voice assistant isn't entirely new. It is a merger between two popular ranges of the brand, Echo and Echo Plus which, instead of having each a new version in 2019, gave a very satisfactory compromise: the Echo 3. Straddling the entry and the mid-range of Amazon voice assistants, the Echo 3 is therefore a very comfortable upgrade for a low price, especially in terms of sound quality.
The first element of difference with its predecessor is its size. Noticeably wider and taller than the Echo 2 - without being bulky - it exudes more authority and hints at better build and hardware quality. Like many ranges of voice assistants, it opts for fabric, which gives it a more user-friendly and pleasant appearance. The rest of the design is very classic. Amazon's voice assistant features four control buttons and the famous colorful LED ring.
It is on the sound quality that Amazon scores points. Aggressively positioned on the market - at less than 100 € - this voice assistant offers by far the best quality. With its 3 ″ subwoofer and Dolby Audio sound, music is played in 360 degrees. Admittedly, the bass is not quite as powerful as on some classic speakers for this price, but we come close. The quality is on par with some models from Sonos - it's still a big competitor, and Amazon wasn't meant to specialize in sound. Especially since the maximum volume is very generous!
The features cover - almost - everything that Alexa can offer, with its legendary compatibility with connected objects. Only, it lacks a ZigBee integration worthy of the name. If the Echo 3 is one of the first connected objects you have - and it's not what you expect from a voice assistant as a priority - that's okay. But if you wanted to use it for the control of lights, locks, or whatever, it would be better to go for the higher range.
Thanks to the integrated Bluetooth 5.0, we have good compatibility with most major brands, on the other hand. Despite the absence of the ZigBee, the Echo 3 works perfectly with Philips Hue Lights for example - Bluetooth bulbs that change color on demand.
Amazon's voice assistant therefore offers one of the best sound qualities for this price. Unfortunately, we are a little behind Google in terms of functionality. If you are keen on using your voice assistant as a speaker for music and are on a tight budget, on the other hand, this is clearly the safest choice.
4. Google Home - Google's best voice assistant
Google Home is the backbone of the brand for the voice assistant market. While Google came in a little after Amazon, and now puts the majority of its efforts on the Nest line, there are still plenty of reasons to prefer the Google Home to the competition.
The design of the Google Home voice assistant has not changed since the last model, to believe that the phenomena of nostalgia are effective on increasingly short cycles - the first model having appeared in 2016. It still has this funny one. in shape, between the modern vase and the indoor deodorant, with a wider base and an inclined surface in white plastic. You can change the color of the base at will, you just have to buy several shells, and there are other materials - metal or fabric. Not everyone likes it; but some find the Google Home more elegant and less cold than the Amazon Echo cylinder.
Sound quality is one of the attractions of Google Home. In addition to great compatibility with Google Play Music, Spotify, Pandora - and more recently Deezer - the hardware quality is there. What to take advantage of the widest possible catalog of music, by crossing all these services. If you can hardly compare the quality of Google Home to that of more specialized devices - like Sonos - it is still quite correct.
Among the novelties of Google in terms of software, we find the MACC - Multiple Actions and Continued Conversation. The first users of voice assistants deplored that the AI gave different answers depending on the wording of the question, and that it was sometimes difficult to chain several logical requests without having to specify its request each time. For example, if you ask him "OK Google, what are the best restaurants in Annecy?" "And that you later specify" OK Google, and the pizzerias? », The AI is able to put your second request into context. And she's not going to suddenly give you the definition of a pizzeria.
But there are also a few missing in terms of functionality - some were even present at the base and were subsequently withdrawn! For example, we deplore the difference in Guest Mode, which allowed content to be broadcast via Google Cast without being connected to the same WiFi network. It's a shame, it was more practical to enter 4 security digits than a whole WiFi code ...
On the other hand, Google's great strength in this regard is compatibility. The brand recently announced that its voice assistant is compatible with more than 5,000 devices, ranging from cars to cell phones. Google's many partnerships are also an advantage: for example, the voice assistant is now fully compatible with Pandora Premium, and of course all Android services such as Android Smart TV. Don't feel like using the remote? Ask Google Home to launch your Netflix series.
The Google Home is a voice assistant that makes all the right compromises: versatile, efficient and all at an affordable price, it is one of the best mid-range models. Especially when you know that you have to go up to at least 50 € to find a competitor model… And that the latter cannot boast of having so many features.
5. Sonos One (Gen 2) - The ultra-compatible voice assistant with the best sound quality
The great difficulty that brands like Google or Amazon encounter is to produce both a qualitative voice assistant and a correct speaker. The problem is, none of these brands have ever really specialized in audio quality… This is where Sonos comes in. Sonos is one of the leaders in mid-range audio devices, and arguably one of the best speaker brands. Count 30 € more for the integration of Alexa; Google Assistant is present by default.
In terms of shape and size, the Sonos One looks almost exactly like the popular Play: 1. The only difference is on the top, since the classic control buttons have been replaced by touch buttons, with new controls suitable for its use as a voice assistant. The LEDs indicate the status of the speaker - depending on whether it is ready to listen or not.
The funny thing is the possibility of connecting the speaker via Ethernet. We are not quite used to seeing this option, and yet it is relevant. Unlike a classic speaker, which you will connect directly to your smartphone via Bluetooth, a voice assistant streams content directly: depending on the quality of your wireless network, you will therefore prefer to connect it to ethernet. One thing is certain, it's not the Sonos that will give you wireless connectivity problems. The brand is renowned for the quality of its Bluetooth, which this time is equipped with the 5.0 standard - the most recent and the most reliable.
Alexa integration - like Google Assistant - is excellent. We have access to all features, including specific requests for sound. For example, you can say “Alexa, play the White Stripes in the bedroom,” and the speaker you've paired - and set up - in that room will go off and play the band's most famous tunes. So we have a lot of freedom of interaction.
The two things the Sonos One particularly shines on is the quality of the audio and the microphone. Like the Echo 3, the sound is broadcast at - almost - 360 degrees.
The quality of the microphone greatly reduces the chances that your query will not be understood. In real conditions, some users who had tried the Echo Dot before, for example, reported that the Sonos was less likely to ask to repeat.
On the other hand, the sound quality really stands out from a typical voice assistant. With performance similar to the Sonos Play: 1 speaker, you can hear faithful, smooth and deep sounds, even at high volumes. There is even a kind of stereo illusion, since the drivers take advantage of the omnidirectional of the speaker, and play on this aspect for a fuller sound. Even for a device of this size, the bass is surprisingly present and well calibrated.
The other important aspect of the Sonos One in terms of sound quality is the possibility of pairing the voice assistant with all Sonos devices - which in addition to being compatible with other speakers, is particularly flexible and configurable via Sonos pairing interface. What a lot of fun if you have other speakers from the brand - which we highly recommend!
Versatile, and with extraordinary sound quality. This is probably how we can summarize this voice assistant. The Sonos One has good AI integration, and even if we do not find all of the features available on proprietary Google or Amazon products, the freedom of use is very satisfactory.
6. Amazon Echo Studio - The best voice assistant with Alexa
The Echo Studio is an opportunity for Amazon to position itself in the audiophile voice assistant market. And it works ! This model, among the most expensive of the brand, presents solid audio performance, without losing a crumb of the integration of the AI.
The design of this voice assistant takes several elements of the Echo range, with a sober cylindrical shape and a softer and more pleasant fabric covering than the first models. On the other hand, it is considerably larger than its predecessors; and it is necessary, to fit the 4 directional drivers and the imposing lower subwoofer.
The volume, mute and action buttons are located on the upper part, and we find the LED ring which informs the status of the voice assistant. Small peculiarity, however: there is a large opening near the base. This is a technique that we are starting to find on several models of small speakers that try to offer the best audio performance at the bass level. This gap acts as an additional resonance box which increases the presence and depth of the bass.
And in fact, it works. The multi-directional aspect of this voice assistant, which can broadcast 360-degree sound, is supported by two technologies. One is hardware, since there are 5 drivers in all; the other software. On paper, it's all there, including Dolby Atmos, the new Dolby surround standard, which offers high-resolution support.
The 3D sound diffusion is quite convincing, especially considering that the speakers that offer this type of technology - especially soundbars - cost 1.5 to 3 times more expensive than this voice assistant. And that's not to mention the integration of AI, of course, which inflates the price.
The bass is very decent, arguably among the best for a speaker of this size and in this price bracket. And the ability to set the sound calibrations yourself via the Dolby Atmos Music app is a plus. On the other hand, it will undoubtedly be necessary: we found that the default calibration was not perfect, especially for the surround balance.
This small black spot, which will especially affect demanding audiophiles, does not tarnish the picture: the mids and highs are dynamic, clear and well calibrated, with a detailed and powerful sound.
The quality of the microphone is also surprising; although it may be necessary to speak up if there is a lot of surrounding noise, overall the voice assistant does not make you repeat your requests twice.
As on all recent Echo models, the integration of the AI is impeccable. You get all of Alexa's features, and unlike Google, updates bring new things instead of removing them.
If you are looking for versatility, in the sense that you want your voice assistant to be the primary sound source in your environment, this model is hands down the best choice. The sound quality almost rivals that of Sonos, but also offers better AI integration. Amazon's effort to penetrate this market is commendable, especially for a price that remains very affordable.
7. Apple HomePod - The best voice assistant with Siri
Until then, we hadn't talked about Apple voice assistants. For good reason: Like all Apple devices, they're usually a lot more expensive, and while they're very good value for money, it's hard to send them back to back with models from Google or Amazon. On the other hand, of the wide range of voice assistants from Apple, the HomePod is undoubtedly the best and fully deserves its place in this comparison.
The HomePod is a design gem; and that has always been Apple's great asset. This voice assistant is covered with a gray or white fabric covering, for a quite modest size of 17 by 14cm. Like many devices of the brand, it is the density that is appreciable: we feel that the optimization of space has been carefully thought out. On the top of the voice assistant, there is a touch control panel for volume or AI activation.
In terms of sound features, Apple today offers many features that make it very competitive with other brands. The AirPlay 2, found on all recent Apple audio models, allows for ultra-easy and reliable stereo coupling, as well as excellent control of the audio environment room by room. And it is this point in particular that allows it to compete strongly with Amazon and Google.
En revanche, c’est Siri qui constitue le principal point noir de cet assistant vocal. L’IA d’Apple a encore un long chemin à faire pour rejoindre ses compétiteurs. Comme beaucoup de produits Apple, on peut aussi regretter l’aspect verrouillé et propriétaire de l’assistant vocal. On ne peut pas s’en servir pour Spotify ou tout autre service de streaming par exemple. Là où Google offre une bibliothèque de plusieurs dizaines de millions de titres à travers toutes les plateformes, on est ici cantonnés à l’Apple Music. Ça, c’est si on demande à Siri de jouer de la musique. On peut en revanche se servir de l’assistant vocal comme d’une simple enceinte et, via Bluetooth, jouer les morceaux qu’on veut à partir de n’importe quelle app. Mais dans ce cas, me direz-vous, c’est une enceinte ; pas un assistant vocal. Et pour ce prix, c’est assez ennuyeux.
On the other hand, the sound quality is quite correct. Problem being, in this price bracket, we can expect a better calibration, especially when we are tempted to compare the voice assistant with cheaper competitors - like the Sonos One or the Echo Studio. The 7 independent drivers located near the base of the voice assistant deliver sound quality equal to 360 degrees, plus a woofer to support the bass.
The good point is the excellent support of the Spatial Awareness, which recalibrates the sound according to the environment - the voice assistant adjusts the strength of the sound and detects, for example, if it is placed in the middle of a room or against a wall. Suddenly, the fluid aspect of the directional vs multidirectional is a real plus for the quality of listening. The same is true if two HomePods are used for stereo or surround editing.
To be completely honest, the sound quality is still impressive for the size; simply, not for the price. Harmonic distortion is virtually non-existent, and you can find fairly even bass at any listening volume. However, the latter will tend to lack presence.
The sound quality of the HomePod makes it one of the best voice assistants, and the integration of AI pairs very well with the great flexibility of use of the Apple Play 2. On the other hand, the main problem is Siri herself. Less efficient, less intelligent, and at an even lower development phase compared to Google and Alexa, it is one of the most negative points. And it is common to all Apple products: you can only benefit from the features if you already have many models of the same brand and you are loyal to the app owners of the brand. If this is your case, the Apple HomePod is by far the best voice assistant of the brand, and a great solution to complete your Apple setup.
Buyer's Guide: Everything You Need to Know About the Best Voice Assistants
The size of your voice assistant not only determines the aesthetic appearance, but also the price and sound quality. These three factors which will guide the choice of your voice assistant are in fact linked in most cases. Smaller, cheaper voice assistants tend to have lower sound quality.
The sound quality factor doesn't just increase with price: most voice assistants are multi-directional, requiring multiple drivers and therefore more space. When it comes to micro audio devices, one of the characteristics that suffers the most from miniaturization is the resonance and powerful bass. These are the ones that stand out the least on a smaller voice assistant.
The sound quality
How do you know if the sound is good without trying a voice assistant? If you are going to use it to listen to music, this is a critical question.
If the size and price of the device is already a good indicator, you can also take a closer look at the number and size of the drivers. The presence of a woofer - a specific bass driver - should already guarantee a certain quality of listening, especially if it is coupled with software support. For example, the Apple HomePod is equipped with the SA, for Spatial Awareness, which calibrates the volume of the drivers according to the position of the voice assistant in the room; or the Amazon Echo Studio, which integrates Dolby Atmos.
After determining these first two factors, you will undoubtedly find yourself faced with at least 2 recent models that meet your expectations. One from Amazon, and one from Google; possibly Apple also depending on your budget. Or yet another audio brand that incorporates one of these AIs.
The connection is often the same on voice assistants - WiFi and Bluetooth 5.0 - the issue of compatibility is played especially at the software level. What app do you use for your music? Your schedule? Your messages ? If you want to use the voice assistant for office automation, do you mainly use Google or Apple tools? Android or Fire?
Consult the apps and services you use the most, from all your connected objects - TV, watch, smartphone, tablet, weather station - and check compatibility with the voice assistant of your choice.
This is especially important for media library apps. Siri usually requires you to go through Apple Music, for example; If all of your favorite playlists, which you've spent years developing, are all on Spotify, you're going to feel limited in your use of the voice assistant.
Features and options
Beyond the basic features, you will sometimes find others that are worth a look. Here are some examples.
The multi-user support allows the voice assistant to recognize the voices of several people, and to personalize a certain number of profiles within the household. For example, if you ask the voice assistant for your calendar, it should be able to recognize your profile and give you yours, without having to specify your name.
Another cool feature is multi-room streaming. It allows you to cast the music from room to room depending on where you are, so that it follows you wherever you go. Sonos has shown very good results in this area in particular.
Finally, it is more and more common to find a machine-learning microchip inside the voice assistant itself. It allows part of the evolution of AI to be processed locally, instead of sending everything to a cloud: the learning curve of the latter is generally more efficient and more personalized.
FAQ: we answer your questions about voice assistants
What is the best voice assistant?
Besides sound quality, the most important aspect remains that of Artificial Intelligence. You have three main competitors in this area. Alexa, Google and Siri.
In this area, Google is undoubtedly the most successful and the most dynamic. Successful, because it is based on an unequaled database - Google has already integrated the lives of many people, especially via Android - and dynamic, because the brand does not hesitate to develop new tools frequently.
Alexa, on the other hand, is the most popular. Amazon's AI is easier to learn, more straightforward in its use, and more easily customizable. Amazon's great success has been to position itself on the side of compatibility, as for Google. In addition to a very good integration with Android products, the AI enjoys good compatibility with other Amazon products like Fire, or Fitbit. And we can expect Amazon's IOT universe to grow bigger.
Siri, finally, is the oldest. Apple's Artificial Intelligence is rather successful, even if it is more limited to the products of the apple brand. More spiritual, more human, better calibrated for human conversation; but also more limited in its software interactions.
🤔 What are the alternatives to Alexa, Google and Siri for a voice assistant?
Several companies have created their own artificial intelligence. We can cite Jarvis, from Facebook - a reference to Douglas Adams - or even Bixby from Samsung. Bixby integration is still relatively limited to the most popular Samsung products, such as smart fridges, or compatible smart TVs. We can consider investing in this AI, promised for integration into the Samsung Galaxy Home, a voice assistant to come in 2020 or 2021.
But we already know that the panel of compatible devices will be more limited, and we recommend it especially to fans of Samsung technologies who know that they will stay faithful to it ... while taking into account that the Google Assistant will undoubtedly always be compatible with Samsung models.
🔗 What is the best connection for a voice assistant?
Communication between a voice assistant and connected objects - or IoT - is mainly done by WiFi. So we want a dual-band compatible device, and this is the case with most serious and recent voice assistants.
The 5GHz band ensures a comfortable download stream, for music in HD for example. The 2.4GHz band allows upload communication with connected objects.
We are also expecting a recent and efficient Bluetooth standard, with obviously a preference for 5.0. This is the standard that will be found on the most recent connected objects, and it has the advantage of being more stable, more reliable and less energy intensive.
🌐 What is IoT?
The IoT or Internet of Things is a network of connected objects that appeared with the popularization of this type of device. It allows you to connect your various gadgets and manage them via a centralized platform - your smartphone or a voice assistant.
With a cohesive and compatible network, you can control every aspect of your home through IoT. The arrival of 5G should further popularize this connection model.
⚙️ How does a voice assistant work?
To put it simply, a voice assistant is a speaker with a microphone that processes and communicates data - your requests in particular - with a centralized server.
When you ask Google or Siri a question, for example, Artificial Intelligence transmits this question to its central server and sends you the answer; you therefore use the voice assistant as a terminal, similar to a smartphone or a computer.
Improving Artificial Intelligence relies on returning your data - anonymized - to the brand's machine learning software. The more a system is used, the more data AI collects on user behavior, the better it will perform in the future.
👂🏼 Does a voice assistant listen to everything I say?
In fact, yes; voice assistants need this data collection to improve their algorithm. Despite some controversy when the device was launched, the major brands - Google, Amazon and Apple - have implemented data protections that guarantee the anonymity of returns.
In Europe, this obligation is reinforced by laws of the European Union. In fact, companies do store this data but cannot use it, for example, to resell it to third-party companies.
🛒 How much does a voice assistant cost?
Since a voice assistant is often paired with a speaker, it is this last point that will determine the price. A basic voice assistant, which allows you to centralize your connected objects and carry out orders, can cost around 40-70 €.
If you are looking for other features, like a screen or better sound quality, the price increases proportionally.
- The best smartphones for photography in 2021
- The 6 Best Mountain Bike MTB GPS
- The 6 Best External Hard Drives for PS4