Smart speakers have been a hot consumer product ever since their introduction a few years ago. For many homeowners, the smart speaker represents entry into the home automation market. And why not? They are both a novelty and a functional product at the same time.
As with nearly every consumer product, not all smart speakers are identical. You have multiple models from the two biggest players, Amazon and Google, which offer different features and their own idiosyncrasies. Then you have lesser-known brands. Finally, it is entirely possible to build your own smart speaker using an old computer or a no longer used cell phone.
The thing about smart speakers is that there are so many choices in brands, models, functions, and how you actually use them. It is easy to spend a lot and not get what you want. By the same token, it’s easy to spend a little and wind up with something that’s completely useless. To avoid disappointment, think about the following things before you buy a smart speaker:
1. The Ecosystem
One of the first things Consumer Reports mentioned in a 2018 guide on smart speaker purchases is the smart home ecosystem. Amazon offers an ecosystem based on its hardware, software, and smart home philosophy. Google also has its own ecosystem. There are even ecosystems associated with lesser-known manufacturers.
The question is this: do you want an ecosystem that goes beyond the smart speaker to include all sorts of home automation devices? If so, you will either need a smart speaker that works in multiple ecosystems or you’ll need to settle on an ecosystem first, then buy the smart speaker.
2. Device Compatibility
Thinking about ecosystem ultimately leads to the question of device compatibility. Let us say you want your smart speaker to act as a voice-controlled home automation hub. Both Google and Amazon smart speakers are compatible with home automation equipment from Vivint Smart Home. If you are willing to combine Vivint technologies with either Amazon or Google, you are all set. You might not have such an easy time with off-brand devices.
3. Privacy Policies
Privacy is an issue that transcends smart speaker technology and brand names. As a smart speaker owner, you have to be aware that your device is always listening. A manufacturer may claim its device is only listening for the ‘awake’ word or phrase, but can you be sure?
Google and Amazon have already been caught monitoring user conversations even when their smart speakers were not in use. Both have since claimed to have ended the practice. Are you willing to take the chance?
4. Security Breaches
If you are okay with the potential invasion of privacy, how do you feel about security breaches? It is something to think about when you consider that there isn’t a wireless device ever made that is 100% hack-proof. If hackers can get in and take over wireless security cameras, they can also take over smart speakers.
The best you can do in this regard is research. Do an online search for news stories pertaining to smart speaker security. Pay attention to any brands or models that may demonstrate security issues. It is better to be a bit too cautious than to throw up your arms and leave security to chance.
Smart speakers have come a long way over the last several years. They are quickly becoming household devices that homeowners take for granted. If you are planning to jump on the smart speaker train, just don’t jump too quickly. Take your time and think things through before you buy. You will be glad you did.