Everything you need to know about smart speakers

From their creative capabilities, to voice recognition technology, to best-in-class options: this is an introduction to the world of smart speakers.

What is a smart speaker?

So much more than just a speaker! As well as being able to stream music on request while you workout, smart speakers are like floating, virtual assistants allowing you to do lots of other cool stuff, from dimming smart lights and suggesting nutritional recipes to remembering birthdays and solving important trivia debates.

Smart speakers are one of the fastest adopted technologies in the world today, with over 100 billion smart devices already in existence. As our homes get increasingly smarter around us, the smart speaker will be the pivotal device at its hub.

How does a smart speaker work?

At the heart of every voice-activated smart speaker lies complex voice-recognition technology. All the big players — Apple, Amazon, Google and Microsoft – use their own version, which will pick up on the quirks of your voice and act upon your requests.

If your smart speaker is asleep, it usually has a programmable ‘wake word’ to bring it to life. Once awake, if you ask it to do something specific, your smart speaker will use its own voice recognition service – which usually lives in a technological ‘cloud’ – to decipher your request and deliver a pertinent response.

How does voice-activation work?

Your smart speaker is programmed to identify sections of words known as “phones”. The more you talk to your smart speaker, the more its complex set of algorithms will begin to learn your use of words and speech patterns: it will become more accustomed to you – or ‘smarter’ – and thus way more useful and productive.

In order to get your speaker to complete certain tasks, there’s usually a pattern of instructive words you must use to put it into that mode. For instance, “Hey Google, add cheese, jalapenos and nachos to my shopping list.” Or “Hey Siri, remember my new bike lock code is…”

Voice-activated technology has come on leaps and bounds in recent years and – although utilised and automated differently by the different manufacturers – now lies at the heart of most [smart home](https://www.virginmedia.com/blog/smart-home) products.

Introducing a smart display

As detailed above, standard smart speakers are accessed using your voice, the recognition of which improves the more you use the equipment. However, should you want a screen to interact with your smart speaker and some of the other gadgetry in your smart home, then it might be time for you to consider a smart display.

Smart displays give you a more visual way to access information, such as the weather or your calendar, and will list the song and lyrics of that catchy tune from your playlist. They are not dissimilar from tablets, except the audio is usually far superior and some can have dual uses, such as acting as a makeshift security camera.

Current UK favourites are the Google Nest Hub Max (with security camera facility), Amazon Echo Show, Lenovo Smart Clock and Echo Show 5, with most experts suggesting you pair your smart display with the same operating system or voice assistant i.e the Google Nest Hub Max with the Google Assistant, Amazon Echo Show with Alexa, etc.

Which smart speaker is best for me?

Motivated by superior sound? Want your smart speaker to use the same operating system as your smartphone? Or simply inclined to go for the one that’ll look the best on your kitchen side? The frontrunners in the smart speaker market will cater for all your needs…

Other cool stuff you can do with your smart speaker

They don’t just play music and control smart lights. With a creative imagination you can have them do so much more…

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