Collaborating Authors

Hey Google? Is it you or Alexa?

USATODAY - Tech Top Stories

OK, Google, so what's it going to be? Smart speakers, and the ability to use voice to listen to music, get traffic directions, the latest weather, news updates, recipes and more are among the most popular holiday gift items, with prices starting at around $25. (The Amazon Echo Dot even has a Black Friday sale price of $22.) But if you're new to the category, know that before you buy, you have to make a basic decision – which format to sign up to. Because both speakers don't always work with each other and once you master the commands for one, you're not going to want to use a different set on another speaker. For that reason, there are often simply "Google Homes," or "Alexa manors." Amazon, which launched the Echo speaker five years ago, in November 2014, continues to dominate smart speakers, with rival Google catching up.

Miss the Hi-Fi? Google, Apple & Sonos amp up their smart speakers

USATODAY - Tech Top Stories

Four new features that make Google Home a better connected speaker than it was--but it still has growing pains, reports USA TODAY's Jefferson Graham on Talking Tech. SAN FRANCISCO -- In another era, young tech geeks saved their money for a state-of-the-art stereo system: a great turntable, powerful amplifier and an absolute killer set of stereo hi-fi speakers. That went away with the advent of digital and listening to music on computers, then phones and earbuds or tiny, portable speakers. Cut to 2017, and it's the odd return to the loud-speaker wars. Google's Rishi Chandra speaks about the Google Home Max speaker.

Apple's pricey HomePod sounds great but exacts some tradeoffs

USATODAY - Tech Top Stories

HomePod may be a latecomer on the smart loudspeaker scene but Apple's entry onto the dance floor is about to liven up the party. At least for well-heeled Apple diehards who share my passion for all kinds of music. If you fit that description and are willing to fork over $349 plus embrace the subscription-only Apple Music streaming service, HomePod is well worth the wait, an outcome I reached after testing the speaker for just shy of a week. Apple makes no bones that HomePod is a music-first speaker, and it sounds terrific, all the more notable given how small it is. Vocals were pure, bass deep.

Smart home guide: What you need to know to get plugged in to the connected life

USATODAY - Tech Top Stories

If the idea of asking Alexa or Google to turn on and off your lights appeals to you, and you're not doing it already, the holidays could be a great time to finally get to it. "Competition is growing and prices are dropping which makes now the best time to make your home," smart, says YouTuber Steve Siems, who has a channel called "Steve Does," devoted to smart home reviews and installation. He suggests starting small, with a connected speaker, then adding smart switches and bulbs before venturing further with doorbells and other products. "See what you like and what you need more of," he says. "No need to buy 10 smart plugs then realize you only need three for what you want to do. By the time you use the other seven plugs, something newer, better, and cheaper will be out."