Should you buy a smart speaker?

Creepy eavesdropper or household hero? CHOICE staff talk the pros and cons of smart speakers.

Speak your mind

Love them or hate them, smart speakers are finding their way into more Australian households, catering to our every whim, thought and request. In a 2018 survey of CHOICE members, 21% of respondents said they used a smart speaker at home, with the most popular device being a Google Home.

We're using them for everything from turning the music up or the lights off to keeping track of the weather and entertaining the kids.

But do we really need (or want) Alexa constantly butting into our conversations? And how many times do you want to be yelling out "OK Google"? We asked CHOICE staff how they use their smart speakers, and how they feel about them. And there's opinions on both sides of the fence.

The fans

In daily life

  • "I'm an avid lover of this product: I use mine to read the news, weather and traffic for me in the morning. In the evening, I have a sleep schedule – I say. 'good night', and it prompts me to set an alarm and then plays half an hour of classical music to lull me to sleep." Erin, Campaigns & Communication
  • "When I leave or arrive home, I use a custom command to my smart speaker to turn lights on and off. We use a mini smart speaker as an alarm (which can be set to a particular song using Spotify), and to broadcast to eachother if one person is downstairs and the other in the bedroom." Matthias, Campaigns & Communication
  • "It's a fun addition to my house and appeals to my innate sense of laziness. I've set up bedtime and morning routines with my smart speaker. At bedtime, it turns off the lights, sets my alarm and plays relaxing sounds." Jonathan, Media
  • "I love my smart speaker. Our Google Home is set up to tell us our morning commute, weather and our meetings for the day." Rebecca, IT

In the kitchen

  • "We use it to set cooking timers, get how-to videos for recipes and food prep, convert measures in the kitchen, set reminders and add to shopping lists." Chris, Digital Delivery
  • "I use it in the kitchen to yell out to put a timer on when we are roasting something." Rebecca, IT

Playing music

  • "I enjoy just telling it to start playing music by any artist that pops into my head at the time (though will get frustrated if it starts with a song I don't particularly enjoy, then I just tell it to skip)." Elias, Reviews and Testing
  • "I am just about to replace all my lights in our apartment to make our house even smarter. I want to scream out 'OK Google, put disco lights on' and have my own little party at home." Rebecca, IT
  • "We've used it to rediscover our old favourite songs. It's because of our smart speaker that my toddler is now obsessed with Willie Nelson's On the road again." Amanda, Consumer Insights

A win for parents

  • "My toddler has figured out that our smart speaker is the 'magic Wiggles machine'. It's great for averting a terrible twos-style meltdown when you have your hands full – just yell out 'OK Google, play Do the propeller and she is off dancing." Pru, Content Experience
  • "We've integrated our lights and air con. That kind of integration (especially with a small baby) is super useful. When you're stuck breastfeeding on the couch, being able to call out to Alexa to turn on the TV or turn off the lights is handy." Amanda, Consumer Insights

    We're using them for everything from turning the music up or the lights off to keeping track of the weather and entertaining the kids.

The sceptics

It's lazy and unnecessary

  • "It just seems lazy, and it's another expensive and ultimately unnecessary thing to buy. Also, we end up dumbing down what we're trying to do to something simple enough for these devices to understand, and in turn, we're dumbing down ourselves." Ash, Reviews & Testing
  • "Personally I don't see the problems in my life that they offer a solution for. I don't see the need to get out of one's chair to turn on the lights as a burden crushing society, and I trust that we will keep famine at bay even if Alexa is not helping us manage our grocery list." James, Digital Delivery

Sometimes they just don't really work

  • "They're often slow to respond, can't understand you or completely glitch out and fail to perform a task. When you have more than one (even with the same smart assistant), talking to one can activate another and they trip over each other trying to accomplish your command. 
  • "Once you understand how incredibly complex spoken language is, any semi-reliable voice recognition system is a marvel of technology. Even so, smart speakers really only add minor conveniences to your life, at this stage. They'll probably eventually be far more integral, but they need to get faster, more reliable, and control more appliances in your home to start being a necessary household gadget." Alex, Reviews & Testing

It's listening to you, all the time

  • "Data breaches are so common with online services, it's prudent to keep one's footprint as small as is practical. I'm not a digital hermit but these are an easy pass for me." James, Digital Delivery
  • "To be of use, they must always be listening. I worry that anything and everything they hear will be used to cue delivery of (even more) targeted advertising." Scott, Reviews & Testing

Think of the children!

  • "I dislike the fact that young children are now choosing to interact with smart devices to find things out instead of asking their parents, friends or teachers. And what about those poor kids whose parents have named them Alexa or Siri after their digital assistants (because let's be honest, it's bound to happen)? For their whole lives they are now going to have to deal with these devices every time someone says their name." Ash, Reviews & Testing

Still in love with the idea of buying a smart speaker? Our smart speaker buying guide tells you what to look for when choosing one for your home.

Discover our product reviews. We test and compare Google, Alexa and Siri voice activated speakers for your home, from first and third-party manufacturers including Google, Amazon, Apple, Panasonic, Sonos and more.