Everything you need to know about voice assistants

Voice assistants have been a part of our lives for a few years, and it seems like they’re on the edge of a great expansion.

Amazon, Google and Apple are working hard to get us to adopt their virtual assistants into our everyday lives.

Want to know the temperature? Ask Alexa, Google or Siri.

Want to hear some jazz? Just speak your request.

Ask them to tell you a joke or sing Happy Birthday.

You can also incorporate them into your home automation system. I always smile when I ask Alexa to turn on the lights.

Amazon continues to pour money and resources into its Alexa ecosystem of products, even licensing the Alexa voice service to be included in products from other companies.

Google and Apple are behind Amazon in the number of products released, but they are all racing forward.

I thought about including Facebook’s new Portals, but they really don’t meet the definition of a voice assistant. They do a good job with video conferencing with other Portals, but they don’t have the voice interaction and search capabilities that make the others useful.

Here are a few products that you might want to consider.

— Amazon Echo Dot

What is it? This is the smallest and cheapest Echo, and the one shown here is the third generation version. It has a decent speaker, but more importantly, it gives you the ability to pair two Dots for stereo sound or connect to external speakers via Bluetooth or 3.5mm aux-out jack.

Who is it for? This is the perfect first Echo.

What does it cost? $49.99, but special sales can drop the price by half. Shop around.

Where can I get it? Amazon, Best Buy and Target.

— Amazon Echo Show

What is it? This is a second-generation Echo with a camera and a 10-inch video screen. Besides the usual Echo features, you can watch live TV from Hulu or make video calls to other Echo Shows or Echo Spots or even Skype calls. The Show can even show your compatible surveillance cameras.

Who is it for? Great for placement in a kitchen or family room.

What does it cost? $229.99, but watch for sales.

Where can I get it? Amazon, Best Buy and Target.

— iHome iAV14

What is it? The iHome iAV14 Alexa Built-in Bedside/Home Office Speaker System is a bedside alarm clock with Alexa built in. The black box looks good on a nightstand. It is not technically a clock radio, but it does stream music and radio stations from the internet, and Alexa’s alarms will wake you or tell you a bedtime story. It also has a USB port to charge your phone.

Who is it for? Anyone with a table beside their bed or a desk.

What does it cost? $99.99

Where can I get it? ihome.com and Amazon.

— Google Home Max

What is it? This is the premium speaker of the Google Home line. The Max has the best speakers and highest price. Dual woofers and custom tweeters provide very nice sound. Far field microphones enable the Max to hear your commands even when the music is cranked up.

Who is it for? This is the Google Home for music lovers.

What does it cost? $399.99, but look for holiday sales.

Where can I get it? Google.com, Best Buy and Walmart.

— Google Home Mini

What is it? The little brother of the Google Home line. The Mini is hockey puck-sized so it’ll fit nicely in any room. It is affordable, but at the expense of sound quality. The Mini lacks a connection for external speakers.

Who is it for? Good starter speaker for the Google Home assistant.

What does it cost? $49, but expect to find it for less.

Where can I get it? Google, Best Buy, Walmart and Target.

— Google Home Hub

What is it? The first Google Home device with a video screen is much cheaper than its Amazon Show counterpart, but at 7 inches, the screen is closer to the size of a phone than a tablet. The Hub lacks a camera, but if you don’t plan on video chatting, you won’t miss it.

The Hub is also a home automation hub, so it can help you voice-control connected devices all over your house.

Who is it for? Any Google Home user would like a Hub.

What does it cost? $149, but it will be cheaper.

Where can I get it? Google, Best Buy, Walmart and Target.

— Apple HomePod

What is it? Apple finally brings Siri to a home speaker. The HomePod is a substantial speaker with really good sound and the ability to do multiroom audio quite easily.

HomePod has the best voice recognition. You can whisper and be heard, even when the music is playing loudly.

Who is it for? You are stuck with Apple’s audio services, so this is a popular choice for Apple Music customers.

What does it cost? $349

Where can I get it? Apple stores and Apple.com, Walmart.


Jim Rossman writes for The Dallas Morning News. He may be reached at jrossman@dallasnews.com.

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