- Smart speakers and Bluetooth speakers are both typically portable, and rely on wireless connections to play music.
- Regular bluetooth speakers just connect to your phone or computer to play audio, and don't do much else.
- The biggest difference is that smart speakers have built-in internet assistants like Alexa, Siri, and Google Assistant.
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Speakers aren't just for listening to music anymore.
With artificial intelligence and wireless access steadily becoming more common, many speakers now double as remote controls and house assistants. That includes devices like Bluetooth and smart speakers.
You may have come across either or both in someone's home. Although the two types of devices can look similar, there are some key differences.
Connectivity between devices has become more prevalent with the help of Bluetooth. It's built into nearly every modern device, but not many people understand how it works.
These speakers utilize a Bluetooth protocol to receive digital audio when paired with Bluetooth-enabled devices. In simple terms, Bluetooth exchanges data over short distances, transmitting it wirelessly between mobile and fixed devices. Wired speakers differ because they rely on speaker cables to receive audio signals.
Bluetooth technology can get pretty complex, so knowing all the ins and outs isn't necessary to operate a wireless Bluetooth speaker. However, knowing their features - and what brands are already popular with users - can be helpful when trying to decide whether it's the speaker type for you.
Bluetooth speaker features and brands
Current Bluetooth speaker features range depending on the product and your lifestyle needs, but many are geared towards crafting the perfect portable Bluetooth speaker or outdoor Bluetooth speaker experience. That's because consumers are frequently using them in less standard listening environments.
Several popular brands offer varying models to meet your specific needs, whether you're using your Bluetooth speakers for a home entertainment system or a morning hike.
A brand better known for its portability and durability is Ultimate Ears. Their International Protection Code or IP67-rated design with floating capability and a 13-hour battery make them ideal for the outdoors.
JBL Bluetooth speakers are known for their range in sizing and overall sound. Their portable boomboxes and party-sized speakers have a multi-pairing capability to give an immersive environment.
For home theaters, some people opt for Bose Bluetooth speakers for their surround sound system. Their soundbars can also connect to dual speakers or headphones if an individual listening experience is preferred.
Smart speakers, which use voice automation to control a virtual assistant, have become standard elements of home and entertainment systems.
If you have multiple smart devices in your house, these speakers can integrate themselves into your smart home system. This makes tasks like turning off lights or enabling your home security simple. Smart speakers are fitted with numerous helpful tasks and can carry them out using voice automation and a built-in virtual assistant.
Popular and familiar assistants include Apple's Siri and Amazon's Alexa. After setting up your voice assistant, your device speaker listens for your voice, and turns on when you call it. This virtual assistant will then wait for your prompt and perform the requested task using Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and more.
Most smart speakers also double as Bluetooth speakers, meaning they have all the features of the speakers discussed in the previous section and more.
Smart speaker features and brands
A smart speaker is typically set up through a downloadable app. Although it's known for being controlled by voice commands, you can prompt the assistant through a hands-on method directly in the app as well.
Selecting a smart speaker based on features can be a little more involved than choosing a Bluetooth speaker. With smart speakers, you'll mostly want to consider what tech giant you're willing to contend with being in your home.
The Amazon Echo is known for its varying sizes and range of functions. The Echo Dot is a staple among its core collection, while the Echo Show 8 comes with a smart display for users looking for a more visual experience.
Google's latest smart speaker is the Nest Audio, created to give real-time answers to constantly changing information like appointments or weather. The Google Nest line's small size, compared to the larger Google Home speakers, make them a perfect fit in any room.
With Apple discontinuing its high-end HomePod smart speaker despite its robust sound, check out the smaller HomePod Mini, which also offers access to Apple's voice assistant Siri, and has solid sound for its size.
With all of these, however, keep in mind that bringing a smart speaker into your home means giving up some privacy. See the section below for more information.
What to consider when choosing between a Bluetooth speaker or smart speaker
Bluetooth and smart speakers can have some overlap, but when making the choice which to buy, here are some final things to think about.
No additional app is required to play audio through Bluetooth speakers, and nearly every device can connect to them natively. They can be mounted anywhere, from your computer desk or wall, to your patio, or even onto your bike helmet.
And thanks to their design, many Bluetooth speakers can also run on batteries, making them more portable. That's counter to the smart speaker experience, which are usually designed to stay plugged in permanently.
Unfortunately, Bluetooth speakers typically don't operate using voice commands, and require you to always keep another device near them.
Conversely, smart speakers can be an entirely hands-free experience. They require an internet or data connection for their built-in "computer" to work, but this allows for your smart assistant to operate through vocal commands. Getting news updates, completing to-do lists, adjusting house locks, and watching streaming services have never been more effortless and accessible.
Concerns around privacy are arguably the smart speaker's biggest drawback, as these devices are constantly listening, even when a command isn't being said. And when you deactivate the setting that allows your assistant to always listen for your voice command, that makes it a hands-on experience, taking away the ease and flexibility of voice prompts.
Both Bluetooth and smart speakers come in a variety of styles as well as a wide price range to accommodate your higher or lower-end needs. And sometimes, as is the case with Sonos Move speakers, they're 2-in-1.
So choosing which type, brand and model is all about figuring out exactly what you need out of a wireless speaker.