Apple's new, cheaper HomePod is a tough smart speaker to nail down. On the one hand, the HomePod Mini boasts impressive audio quality for its size. The HomePod Mini also has a Thread radio that lets it act as a smart home hub, but for now, there are only a few Thread-enabled smart devices available to control. And while Apple's new Intercom feature makes for an easy way to broadcast messages to household members, it doesn't allow for two-way calling. Now, if you're a dedicated Apple user and you've been waiting for a more affordable Siri-powered smart speaker than the $300 HomePod, the $99 HomePod Mini is your best--and only--bet.
The JBL Link Music is a smart speaker in both design and market positioning. It's a great value for the person who doesn't want to pay a lot for a good-sounding smart speaker. Be forewarned, however; JBL's app is clunky and startup can be sluggish. Hey: you give, you get. The Link Music is the entry-level model in JBL's smart speaker line, but it doesn't compromise much in terms of sonic performance.
Speakers powered by smart assistants are becoming dime-a-dozen commodities. In most cases, a smart speaker is good for voice commands, but I haven't found their musical reproduction particularly satisfying. The Riva Concert is part of Riva Audio's new Voice line of smart speakers that also includes the larger Riva Stadium. This sweet-sounding portable speaker is built to satisfy music lovers, with refined high-tech features you don't often see in smart speakers. Unpacking the Riva, I noted its heavy, solid build.
Apple planted its HomePod smart speaker deep inside a walled garden: You must have an Apple-branded mobile device just to set it up, and you can pretty much use it only with Apple's own services if you want voice control for music. The company then adds insult to injury by leaving its older iPhones, iPads, and iPods outside that garden wall.