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Slashdot Asks: Which Smart Speaker Do You Prefer? 234

Every tech company wants to produce a smart speaker these days. Earlier this month, Apple finally launched the HomePod, a smart speaker that uses Siri to answer basic questions and play music via Apple Music. In December, Google released their premium Google Home Max speaker that uses the Google Assistant and Google's wealth of knowledge to play music, answer questions, set reminders, and so on. It may be the most advanced smart speaker on the market as it has the hardware capable of playing high fidelity audio, and a digital assistant that can perform over one million actions. There is, however, no denying the appeal of the Amazon Echo, which is powered by the Alexa digital assistant. Since it first made its debut in late 2014, it has had more time to develop its skill set. Amazon says Alexa controls "tens of millions of devices," including Windows 10 PCs.

A new report from The Guardian, citing the industry site MusicAlly, says that Spotify is working on a line of "category defining" hardware products "akin to Pebble Watch, Amazon Echo, and Snap Spectacles." The streaming music company has posted an ad for a senior product manager to "define the product requirements for internet connected hardware [and] the software that powers it." With Spotify looking to launch a smart speaker in the not-too-distant-future, the decision to purchase a smart speaker has become all the more difficult. Do you own a smart speaker? If so, which device do you own and why? Do you see a clear winner, or can they all satisfy your basic needs?
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Slashdot Asks: Which Smart Speaker Do You Prefer?

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  • by rrohbeck ( 944847 ) on Tuesday February 20, 2018 @06:13PM (#56159965)

    Don't need speakers that eavesdrop on me. If I want that I'll use a microphone.

    • I also like a stereo image, and Apple's speakers promise that, but not out yet. Sorry, I'm happy with a pair of Yamaha monitors that work, don't need updates, don't phone home, and have a real flat response for mixing. If I want bass, I'll boost that on my EQ.

      Plus, wires can do better sound quality than any Bluetooth protocol.

    • I see the BeauHD sycophants have started modding. Too bad I've already posted.
    • by Anubis IV ( 1279820 ) on Tuesday February 20, 2018 @07:55PM (#56160719)

      I too prefer dumb speakers, but for different reasons than you:
      1) For the sound quality, they're almost assuredly cheaper.
      2) In the tech industry's timescale, they essentially never become obsolete.

      Most of the smart speakers either sound like crap or else sound far worse than comparably priced dumb speakers. Even if you buy into the HomePod hype, unless you're hopelessly technologically illiterate or you have no way to fit a stereo set in your home, why pay $350 for a device that simulates stereo when you can have actual stereo from better speakers for the same price? Toss in a wireless receiver with a wired output and you'll have better wireless compatibility than what the HomePod has, without any of the lock-in to AirPlay or Apple's ecosystem.

      On the other side, my parents have had the same speakers since before I was born (34 years ago). The speakers still work just fine. The dumb speakers I have today will—barring an accident—still be working just fine when the kid I have on the way is as old as I am today. Even if the world were to switch entirely to wireless or those wireless protocols were to change, I could simply swap out the aforementioned wireless receiver with a different one. Meanwhile, if I had bought into the HomePod or Alexa or whatever, I'd have to scrap the entire speaker to get on the new protocol.

      No thanks.

      If nothing else, the ones that are staking their name on sound quality at least need to give me a line in jack. Until then, so far as I'm concerned, they're smart accessories, not smart speakers.

      • by niks42 ( 768188 )
        I have a pair of KEF 104 which were manufactured in 1978, and they are my go-to speakers. They've had the bass/midrange units replaced with some Peerless drivers about 15 years ago; still love them. I have yet to get Amazon Echo to play through them, but about to move house so that will be part of the new setup. I want Echo to play through external speakers when the amp is switched to that input, but otherwise use its internal speaker - so I might have to fit a small relay inside Echo to switch the output w
    • by Chrisq ( 894406 )

      I like my dumb speakers

      Don't need speakers that eavesdrop on me. If I want that I'll use a microphone.

      In that case surely you mean you like your deaf speakers.

  • None (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Jamlad ( 3436419 ) on Tuesday February 20, 2018 @06:13PM (#56159971)
    Why the hell would I want something so Orwellian in my home? Cellphones are bad enough.
    • Hear, hear.
      Was about to post the same thing.
      Smart speakers are a novelty and it's fun to yell out "Alexa, Fire Photon Torpedoes" and get a response but I don't want or need a smart speaker. I've got bluetooth through my AV reciever - connect to it and bada bing, I'm controlling my smartphone music through it and I don't need wifi access or an Amazon/Apple/Google account for it.
    • by pope1 ( 40057 )

      Orwell got so many things right in 1984, the only thing he really got wrong were the size of the screens...

  • by El Cubano ( 631386 ) on Tuesday February 20, 2018 @06:16PM (#56159991)
    Personally, I am a fan of Neil deGrasse Tyson.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Personally, I am a fan of Neil deGrasse Tyson.

      This wins the comment section.

  • by rockmuelle ( 575982 ) on Tuesday February 20, 2018 @06:16PM (#56160005)

    'nuff said.

    -Chris

  • Nope. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by PopeRatzo ( 965947 ) on Tuesday February 20, 2018 @06:16PM (#56160007) Journal

    I'm not as stupid as I look. I refuse to let Google, Amazon, Apple, or anyone put a smart speaker into my home without a FISA warrant. Christ, are people really dumb enough to pay any of these dick companies to spy on them?

    • I refuse to let Google, Amazon, Apple, or anyone put a smart speaker into my home without a FISA warrant.

      You don't have a cellphone then, right? It's way more insidious to carry one in your pocket than to just have one in your house.

      I don't have a smart speaker either, but let's face it. Your phone can already be listening in on you. Have you analyzed whatever is being sent to play services recently?

      • You don't have a cellphone then, right?

        You mean my burner phone? My latest one is registered to a "J. Assange".

      • I don't have a smart speaker either, but let's face it. Your phone can already be listening in on you. Have you analyzed whatever is being sent to play services recently?

        The nice thing about Android is that it's more or less just Linux. iptables and tcpdump work just the same on Android as they do any normal Linux system.

        The other nice thing about Android it works just fine without any Google malware installed.

  • Explain why I would want to replace my current speakers with a smart speaker.
  • The Dumb One (Score:5, Insightful)

    by CanHasDIY ( 1672858 ) on Tuesday February 20, 2018 @06:23PM (#56160047) Homepage Journal

    Seriously, I'd prefer all my output devices be as stupid as digitally possible.

  • With Spotify looking to launch a smart speaker in the not-too-distant-future, the decision to purchase a smart speaker has become all the more difficult.

    The decision is as easy as it always was: Don't!

    Seriously, after talking about the dangers of eavesdropping and the big brother, having the computer's camera covered [theguardian.com], who would possibly pay money to have a permanently-connected microphone installed in their dwelling?

    You may think, you can turn it off, but you can not be certain. If the criminals and intelligence agencies manage to break into your computer, why would they not break into your "smart speaker"? Police too may find it much easier to gain the cooperation of the device's manufacturer to listen on you, than to get a warrant and then wire your house without you noticing.

    Just say no and control your music the old-fashioned way — as we all did only a few years ago.

    • Police too may find it much easier to gain the cooperation of the device's manufacturer to listen on you, than to get a warrant and then wire your house without you noticing.

      After all, the mainstream news said they already did it with OnStar, a few years back, using it to bug the cars of some suspected crooks with the assistance of the company. (They got in legal trouble for it - not because of the bugging, but because it interfered with the emergency service coverage that OnStar was selling.)

      At least with

  • by SuperKendall ( 25149 ) on Tuesday February 20, 2018 @06:25PM (#56160071)

    I like the technology and theoretically the sound quality of the HomePod and trust Apple more than other companies not to do anything with the audio from the device, and to treat security seriously enough it probably will not be hacked.

    I like Alexa because it would be possibly useful for quick orders of random things that I don't need soon but end up forgetting to order. I also like they've opened the skill development SDK.

    Google stuff I generally do not trust enough and it doesn't have enough benefits over the other two options to warrant consideration.

    A last option I'm seriously considering though, is just getting a really nice set of speakers to put wherever I'd put a smart speaker, and then buy a box to make them AirPlay compatible (if they did not come that way already). Smart speakers are just over that line for me of a convenience I'm not sure I really care about, also why I do not have a smart thermostat yet (because I know how to program the existing older one to be about the temp I want at various times). The new set of nice compact speakers would probably be a lot cheaper than a stereo pair of smart speakers...

    I'll probably try to hear all of the options in person somewhere before I make a choice on this one, I'm really particular with speakers as I don't care as much about about the low end as many people seem to.

    • A last option I'm seriously considering though, is just getting a really nice set of speakers to put wherever I'd put a smart speaker, and then buy a box to make them AirPlay compatible (if they did not come that way already).

      While it's questionable whether Apple is going to update the hardware... I've used the Airport Express for this sort of thing. Alternatively, if you want optical audio out, you could do the same thing with a cheap third-gen Apple TV (probably cheaper than the Express).

      • I've used the Airport Express for this sort of thing. Alternatively, if you want optical audio out, you could do the same thing with a cheap third-gen Apple TV (probably cheaper than the Express).

        The Airport Express also has optical out built-in.

        Yaz

        • I'd forgotten those were optical out, since they also handle analog (and that's how I've generally used them). The Express is certainly more flexible in that regard. If you can get them from Apple's refurbished store, and if you're in the Mac ecosystem, they're worth grabbing for $65 or thereabouts.

          • If you can get them from Apple's refurbished store, and if you're in the Mac ecosystem, they're worth grabbing for $65 or thereabouts.

            They're great little gadgets -- I'm rather sorry that Apple hasn't really done anything with them for some time (while I can understand they want to differentiate, would it have killed them to release an 802.11ac version). I have two -- an 802.11n model acting as an AirPlay server connected to my surround receiver and as a second access point for my WiFi network (for better coverage in the living room and back yard -- this is where 802.11ac would be nice, as my main WiFi access point is 802.11ac), and an o

    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

      trust Apple more than other companies

      Google stuff I generally do not trust enough and it doesn't have enough benefits over the other two options to warrant consideration.

      It's interesting that Google Home Max offers you a physical microphone disable button, and a detachable power cable, a line in and a USB port. Google also differentiates users by voice, unlike Apple that allow random people to read your text messages, calendar, order stuff etc.

      I'm not saying Google respects your privacy more than Apple, but they certainly offer more privacy enhancing features.

      Oh, and Google Home Max has real stereo.

  • by bigjocker ( 113512 ) * on Tuesday February 20, 2018 @06:29PM (#56160113) Homepage

    ... it's the smart microphone that is always listening the one I don't like.

    It's just a matter of time until somebody gains unauthorized access to the microphone on one of those devices and starts recording every sound in your house. No way they are getting my secret lasagna sauce recipe.

  • by Rick Schumann ( 4662797 ) on Tuesday February 20, 2018 @06:30PM (#56160125) Journal
    Keep your surveillance devices out of my house.
  • Troll? (Score:5, Funny)

    by EvilSS ( 557649 ) on Tuesday February 20, 2018 @06:31PM (#56160149)
    Can we mod articles troll? Asking THIS audience THAT question? Come on!
  • by Speare ( 84249 ) on Tuesday February 20, 2018 @06:32PM (#56160157) Homepage Journal

    There's an OSS variant (probably several) which aren't given due attention in the article.

    The Mycroft project currently listens locally for the watch word, and aggregates ALL of the subsequent queries as audio through a single source to the online engines like Google, Wolfram or others. This anonymizes a lot of what the engines could learn about individual users.

    Their next stage is to expand on the local processing even more, so they will only be sharing plain text to the online engine third parties. This version is due in the first half of this year.

    For me, the benefit is simple local Linux-based Python-based skill development. When my kid was young I would make a family computer into a sort of daily-schedule-keeper, announcing the daily tasks like bathtime or bedtime. I would ssh into the machine when my kid started having "conversations" with the computer. So now I can rebuild a little bit of that in my own personalized smart speaker.

  • Yes, I would please like to be victimized by cyber stalking malware devices you actually have to pay money to own.

  • please stop with the madness of it being a listening device! You carry a microphone in your pocket everywhere you go. If you were really worried about that you'd stop carrying that device.

    • please stop with the madness of it being a listening device! You carry a microphone in your pocket everywhere you go. If you were really worried about that you'd stop carrying that device.

      When your getting beat up by a girl please stop with the madness of asking her to stop. She already punched you. It's not logical to worry about being punched again.

    • Haven't people already confirmed that Alexa and Google Home do NOT transmit any information to the WAN unless they are activated by their keyword? People plugged these things into packet sniffers a long time ago, and found that these privacy warnings are totally overblown.

      You would be better off worrying about your Smart TV, or your older Smartphones and tablets that aren't getting security updates. If someone is going hack your home and plant listening device malware, that's the route they are going to tak

  • I have both Echo and Google Home. Though, because of the cost, I have Echo Dots in every room, and just an Echo and one Google Home in the living room.

    I have many Smart Home devices, mostly Z-Wave and Zigbee (SmartThings controller, Philips Hue bulbs/light strips, Harmony hub & Kodi). By far the Echo's have worked better at controlling my smart home, but Google Home is (very very) slowly catching up, and does have a "few" features that make it better in general, but the price (per room) means it's not enough of an edge to switch out the Echo Dots. Google Home generally wins hands-down with a voice search, Alexa relies on Bing, so it's got both cables tied behind it's back.

    The Amazon Echo still has a way to go on music control, unit grouping, and some other functionality, but it's been leading the pack since it's introduction, and nothing is close to it as yet. Hopefully, Amazon and Google will get over their spat, so that I can get Google Search instead of Bing.

  • Having some brand collect on all talking via a live mic is not a "speaker".
    The basic need of a speaker is for music, tv, movies, games.
    No big brand mic for ads and spying needed.
  • And it's not really because I'm worried about somebody spying on me, as I realize as a user of a smartphone, it's happening anyway (to some extent). But I have come to understand that there's some things I just don't need technology to do for me. I can pick up my phone or sit at a computer and order something. I can get up and turn on some music. The house has a programmable thermostat to turn the heat up and down and teenagers I can tell to turn the lights off when they go to bed.

  • It would be a speaker that automatically plays Donald Trump's voice into the smart speaker, with the appropriate command word. Have him ask for stupid things, repeatedly.

    Fill the spies ears with enough false information and they should lose money.

  • I have a portable Bluetooth speaker that is on wheels and have a handle like a suitcase that I can take all over the house or tailgating even. That's smart enough for me.
  • ... Music Player Daemon.

    I don't trust these preconfectioned "smart speakers". Don't trust them. For obvious reasons.

  • They're all dumb speakers connected to microphones which transmit a recording of your voice to some Internet-based server.

    A true smart speaker would have the voice recognition built into it. If a PC in the 1980s could do it, surely a modern ARM processor can. Then based on what was spoken, it would turn a light on/off, turn on the TV and start a movie, use your Spotify account to play a song, etc. It would only send your query for cloud processing if you specifically asked. e.g. Convert "what time do
  • I don't want the NSA in my house, thanks.
  • by rnturn ( 11092 ) on Tuesday February 20, 2018 @08:50PM (#56161049)
    I don't want to talk to my speaker(s). I don't want or need for my speakers to order pizza for me or to tell me the capital of Montana. I don't need or want my speakers listening to me and sending data back to some monolithic infotech company who thinks what it's learned about me through eavesdropping on what takes place in my home is fair game to be sold to its business partners. All I want my speakers to do is faithfully reproduce the music I send to them. That's it.
  • by thegarbz ( 1787294 ) on Tuesday February 20, 2018 @08:57PM (#56161091)

    This is the type of question you'd ask on a news for nerds site. A tech site where people would be interested in having gadgets.

    Slashdot hasn't been that since back when Linux got USB support. That was the pinnacle of all technological advancement. It's now a site for dissing all mobile phones, being proud of keeping your old battery replaceable phone working, celebrating Apple supporting ancient iPhones, praising laptops that are 7+ years old, questioning why anyone would wear a watch, and wondering why wireless headphones even exist.

    In what world did the submitter and more importantly the editor who approved the submission think they'd get any kind of a positive response to this question on THIS site.

  • Ignore the argument about the speaker manufacturer listening in, these are still computers that have vulnerabilities that can be exploited. Next thing you have someone who is not the manufacturer listening to you, or using the speaker for other purposes. The less devices you have the less attack surface you present.
  • None at all.

    By a strange coincidence “None at all” is exactly how much suspicion the ape-descendant DontBeAMoran had that one of his closest friends was not descended from an ape, but was, in fact, from a small planet somewhere in the vicinity of Betelgeuse. DontBeAMoran’s failure to suspect this reflects the care with which his friend blended himself into human society - after a fairly shaky start. When he first arrived fifteen years ago, the minimal research he had done had suggested to

  • A pair of 1987 Klipsch Fortes in Oiled Walnut hooked up to a Panasonic XR-55 receiver, to which my PC is hooked up via tape loop. I can dump vinyl to MP3, I can order via Amazon, I can do many things.

    Hosting yet another spy in my house isn't one of them. Sorry.

  • I don't "prefer" any smart speaker...I don't want any of them in my home, period .

    If others want a smart speak, fine, but it's just not for me.

  • You know what they all fail at? Wind chill!

    Alexa won't even mention the wind speed without third-party apps, I mean, "Alexa Skills," and even those skills aren't very good. But wind chill? Forget it! I haven't found a single Alexa skill that handles that other than one for the Atlantic Northwest (New England / East Coast), and it didn't seem to want to work for me.

    Google Assistant will tell you the wind speed, but if you ask for the wind chill, all it will tell you is a textbook definition of "wind chil

  • They're all compromised in sound quality, in order to be small and have a bunch of spyware electronics in them.

    I'll stick with my studio monitors+subwoofers, thank you very much. And a decent quality "dumb" bluetooth speaker for the kitchen and garden.

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