The best smart speakers of 2020 are hard-working gadgets, giving you access to your favorite music and clever voice assistants, and allowing you to control your smart home devices with your voice alone.
Amazon’s Echo and Google’s Nest (née Home) line of speakers dominate the smart home market – and the companies’ smallest wireless speakers are among their most popular.
Now in its third generation, the Amazon Echo Dot was first launched in 2016 – and since then, it’s seen multiple upgrades that has ensured its place as the company’s best-selling speaker of all time.
Its biggest competitor is the Google Nest Mini, which was launched in 2019 as the successor to the tech giant’s hugely successful Home Mini speaker.
The Amazon Echo Dot (3rd Generation) and the Google Nest Mini are both great choices if you want smart home connectivity at a low price, without the bulk of larger models like the Echo Studio and the Google Home Hub.
Due to their small builds, neither speaker offers an outstanding audio performance, and are better suited as desk buddies rather than your only music-playing wireless speaker. Even so, the Echo Dot and the Nest Mini both have access to all the music streaming services you could want if you do feel like playing some tunes.
Perhaps the biggest draw of the Amazon Echo Dot (3rd Generation) and the Google Nest Mini is their low prices; at launch, both speakers cost $49.99 / £49.99 / AU$79, and that price is often discounted to around $30 / £30 / AU$50.
Those discounts are set to get even better over the next few months, with Amazon Prime Day expected to fall in October following coronavirus-related delays, and then Black Friday 2020 following in late November.
Amazon Prime Day will be a particularly good time to buy the Echo Dot; Amazon is notorious for giving its own products huge discounts during its annual sale, so it’s well worth waiting until then if you decide Amazon’s speaker is the best model for you.
Not sure which speaker is best for you? With similar prices and builds, it’s understandable if you’re having trouble making a choice – that’s why we’ve compared the Amazon Echo Dot (3rd Generation) and the Google Nest Mini, so you can make an informed buying decision.
What’s good about the Amazon Echo Dot?
Setting up the Amazon Echo Dot is really simple, especially if you have one or more Alexa speakers already setup in your house. If that’s you, all you need to do is head into the Amazon Alexa app and tap the plus icon in the Devices section – the app will do a quick scan for nearby devices and before you know it you’ll be up and running with your new smart speaker.
If you don’t have the Alexa or an Echo Device already installed, you’ll have to go through the process of downloading the app and signing into your Amazon account, but then it’s more or less the same process as above.
Buying an Echo Dot means buying into the Amazon Alexa ecosystem – and that means you can control any Alexa-compatible smart home devices with your voice alone, as well as tapping into the growing library of Alexa skills.
Alexa skills are like special tricks that your smart speaker can perform for you, from turning on the smart lights in your home through to ordering a pizza – and these skills are constantly being updated and improved. Most Skills need to be downloaded, just like apps, and allow you to perform tasks, tricks or commands by asking Alexa to carry them out. For example, to get Alexa to turn on your Philips Hue lights, you’ll need the Philips Hue Skill.
As Amazon allows third-party developers to create their own skills, the Echo Dot gives you access to more niche commands (like ordering a pizza from your favorite restaurant or playing an interactive board game), as well as integration with its own services and products, including the Amazon Fire TV Stick.
Great call quality
The Amazon Echo Dot (3rd Generation) can be used to make calls to other Echo speakers and mobile phones – and the call quality is nearly as good, if not better than using the speakerphone setting on your handset.
That’s thanks to the Dot’s microphone array and noise reduction algorithm, which work together to ensure your voice sounds crystal clear.
As for music playback, the audio quality offered by the third-gen Dot is much better than that of its predecessors, although you’ll probably want to use a larger speaker as your main listening device. Luckily, Echo devices support multi-room audio, so you can simultaneously stream music over a number of different speakers and boost the sound output that way.
- Looking for something a little different? Check out the Amazon Echo Dot with Clock, which comes complete with a timepiece integrated into its fabric grille.
What’s good about the Google Nest Mini?
Unlike the Amazon Echo Dot (3rd Generation), the Google Nest Mini boasts support for Bluetooth connectivity – and that means you can easily hook it up to a smartphone to stream music and let your friends act as DJ without them needing to set up a Google Home account.
The Google Nest Mini also pips the Echo Dot in terms of audio quality, thanks to its surprisingly loud volume and good mid-range performance, making it ideal for listening to podcasts in particular.
The bass is a little anemic, however, and the trebles can sound a little harsh at higher volumes. Even so, the Nest Mini provides a far better sound than its predecessor, the Google Home Mini, but retains its multi-room audio smarts.
Amazon’s Alexa and Google Assistant are pretty evenly matched in terms of smart home connectivity, but the latter does benefit from having the world’s biggest search engine at its (virtual) fingertips – and that means it’s really adept at answering your questions and carrying out web-based searches.
It also integrates seamlessly into the larger Google ecosystem, so it can tap into your calendar to make appointments and set reminders and timers, as well as connect to Chromecast-enabled TVs and streaming devices.
Like the Amazon Echo Dot, the Google Nest Mini can control your smart home devices, acting as a single voice-activated hub for your smart light bulbs, smart thermostats, and even your outdoor security camera.
While the Amazon Echo Dot looks pretty slick, the Google Nest Mini offers more color variants and a sleeker overall design.
Coming in Chalk, Charcoal, Coral, and Sky (light blue), the fabric mesh covering means that the Nest Mini can either seamlessly integrate into your home, or deliver a much-need pop of color, depending on your tastes.
The Google Nest Mini is also wall-mountable, allowing it to double up as an attractive focal point in your home.
If you’re looking for a small, inexpensive smart speaker that will give you control over your smart home devices, the Amazon Echo Dot (3rd Generation) and the Google Nest Mini are both great choices.
These speakers are so evenly-matched in terms of hardware and voice assistant capabilities that the biggest decision you need to make is between the two smart ecosystems.
If you’re already locked into the Alexa ecosystem with devices like the Amazon Fire TV Stick and the Echo Studio, you’ll want to opt for the Echo Dot – and if you’re a Google Assistant fan and already own a Google Chromecast streaming dongle or smart displays like the Google Nest Hub Max, the Google Nest Mini is the best choice for you.
Starting your smart home from scratch? There are a few areas where one speaker wins out over the other.
In the case of the Amazon Echo Dot, its fantastic call quality makes it best suited for those who want to use their speaker for hands-free voice calls.
It’s the Google Nest that just about pips the Echo Dot in terms of general audio quality however, and the availability of a range of different colors as well as the ability to wall-mount the tiny smart speaker gives you more flexibility when it comes to design.
Neither speaker comes with a 3.5mm audio port, but both can be hooked up to other speakers in their respective ecosystems to create multi room audio setups – just don’t rely on either as your main source of music playback, or you’ll probably be disappointed.
Another important thing to consider is price; yes, both speakers were the same price at launch, but the Echo Dot is likely to see the biggest discounts on Amazon Prime Day, which means it may be the better option for budget-conscious shoppers.