Sonos’ first smartspeaker is still one of the best. It sounds excellent, rivaling Apple’s HomePod, yet it costs just $179 (reg. $199). It supports AirPlay 2, built-in Alexa voice commands, and any service you can control from Sonos’ iOS app. You can buy a stereo pair for $348 ($50 off) — the same price Apple charges for a single HomePod.
If there’s a drawback, it’s that there are no Bluetooth or 3.5mm connections. It’s Wi-Fi, Ethernet, or bust.
There are more powerful UE speakers, but as a gift, we feel that the Wonderboom ($66.95) is most realistic. It’s a squat little portable Bluetooth speaker that’s not just waterproof but designed to float. It can be used poolside, camping, or in the shower, thanks to a 10-hour battery and a built-in loop.
The Z625 ($169.99) works well not just as a desktop system, but a solid 2.1-channel system, period. The product delivers 200 watts of RMS power and 400 peak, which can make a TV sound impressive, never mind a Mac or iPad. You can connect up to three devices simultaneously via optical, 3.5mm, and RCA inputs.
Amazon Echo Dot (third-generation)
If someone is more interested in the “smart” half of the smartspeaker equation or already has a decent set of conventional speakers, look no further than the Echo Dot. It won’t blow you away, but it’s $49.99 and brings Alexa voice commands for music, phone calls, smarthome functions and more. For improved sound you can connect it to existing systems via Bluetooth or 3.5mm.
We had to include this somewhere, naturally. It’s the only Siri-based smartspeaker on the market, which will no doubt be appealing if someone is all-in on the Apple ecosystem. It’s also one of the best-sounding home audio products you can buy.
It does have weaknesses though, some by its inherent nature. It demands an iOS device for setup, and Siri just isn’t as good as Alexa or Google Assistant — Apple Music, for instance, is the only music service with native voice commands. The only external audio input option is AirPlay, since there’s no 3.5mm jack, and while it technically has Bluetooth you can’t select that as a pairing option.
JBL Link 20
We’ve been fairly impressed with the Link 20, as you can tell in our review. It seems unassuming, but it delivers excellent bang for the buck in terms of sound quality and features. It supports Bluetooth and Google Assistant, and while it’s primarily intended to be stationary, it has a 10-hour battery at the ready. It’s even IPX7 waterproof, which makes it a great kitchen or bathroom unit.
Lenovo Smart Display
Short of a propped-up iPad, the Smart Display is perhaps the best kitchen or bedside companion you could ask for. It supports any Google Assistant command, naturally, but the addition of a display makes it possible to see detailed weather forecasts, check upcoming Google Calendar events, and see step-by-step directions for recipes and navigation. Contextual buttons allow some touch-based controls.
Most importantly you can ask it to play anything on YouTube, which is handy whether you’re searching for how-to instructions or trying to fall asleep to Bob Ross. You can use your iPhone to cast video from services like Plex and Hulu, too — Netflix, though, seems to be a major exception.
There are two editions of the Smart Display. An 8-inch version is on sale for $159, while a 10-inch version with a bamboo back is currently discounted to $209. We’d honestly recommend the 8-inch version for most people, since audio quality is equal.