When searching for the best smart devices for your home or gifts for your friends, you may come across both terms: “bluetooth speaker” and “smart speaker”. The differences are not immediately apparent and sometimes the terms are applied to the same device so we know it can be a little confusing.
We’re cleaning up the mess right now by explaining what these two categories mean, where they intersect, and which term may be most useful depending on the speaking experience you want. Let’s go!
Let’s start with an overview to provide a brief summary of bluetooth speakers versus smart speakers on the market.
Bluetooth speaker: Often designed for on-the-go activities, these are lightweight speakers designed to play music through a Bluetooth connection to a mobile device such as your smartphone. They help get music in places or situations that would otherwise be difficult to have. Something like the JBL Flip series is a classic example of bluetooth speakers.
Smart speakers: These are speakers that can be controlled via an app, voice command, or other means and provide a way to add smart functionality to audio in a specific location such as a kitchen, lobby, bedroom, or large room. They usually have more functions and are more stationary than Bluetooth speakers. Something like the Sonos One, Apple HomePod Mini, or Amazon Echo would qualify as a smart speaker.
Now let’s take a closer look at the specific features and how they differ between the two.
Portability and Performance
Bluetooth speakers are the masters of portable sound. Brands like JBL, Sonos, and Ultimate Ears (UE) have made names for themselves by creating speakers that you can take with you anywhere, including outdoors. Some are even small enough to attach to a backpack by a carabiner or loop, and most are water and dust resistant … or even able to withstand a dip in the pool. All of this is made possible by their rechargeable batteries that allow at least several hours of music playback before they need to be recharged.
Smart speakers are less portable. They are generally designed to be placed in a central location on a shelf, desk, or table. They also usually need a nearby electrical outlet to power them and usually don’t have batteries.
Here, too, there is certainly some overlap between these loudspeaker categories. Some smart speakers are also very portable (see our selection of Bose portable speakers on our list of kitchen smart speakers as an example), and some bluetooth speakers aren’t suitable for outdoor mobile use. However, it’s more common for a bluetooth speaker to have a rechargeable battery, handle, and resistance to water and dust – while a smart speaker more often requires a wired connection, is larger, and doesn’t have a portability design.
Bluetooth speakers are somewhat tied to their natural portability, which means their drivers and other components can’t be that big. Today’s technology can do really amazing things with these tiny speakers, and they produce a lot of sound for their size, but the audio quality often pays its price. Smart speakers, which are more central and often (but not always) larger, are the clear choice when it comes to sound quality. Many smart speakers support connections to televisions, speaker bars, and home entertainment systems for this reason (some, like the Echo Studio, are designed specifically for this).
If you really want bluetooth speakers to create house-filling sound, there is an option: both bluetooth and smart speakers usually have the ability to connect to other models of the same type so you can play the same audio through multiple sources .
Bluetooth speaker can have voice assistant compatibility (the JBL Link Portable has Google Assistant, for example) but this is not guaranteed and is unlikely on smaller models. As the name suggests, they focus more on using the Bluetooth wireless protocol for control and playback.
Smart speakers don’t always have voice assistants and their accompanying microphones, either, but it’s much more common and has become an expected feature in recent years. Amazon’s Echoes have Alexa, the Nest Minis have the Google Assistant, and HomePods have Siri. Other brands often offer a combination of Alexa and / or Google Assistant support.
Voice assistants enable the smart speaker to act as a hub for many types of interactions. With the right voice commands, you can ask questions about the weather, get updates on sports games, schedule events, and call one of your contacts. They can also connect to supported smart devices in your home and allow you to control them with voice commands. Bluetooth speakers usually can’t do these things.
Control and display elements
The controls for Bluetooth and smart speakers are relatively the same. Both usually have options for power, volume, and playback. Smart speakers may be a little fancier at displaying these controls with larger LED lights or rings than indicators, but they do the same thing. The big difference is that smart speakers usually come with microphones and an extra mute button to turn those microphones off for privacy reasons.
Smart displays are an additional touchscreen that is usually only available on a smart speaker, e.g.or a . Bluetooth speakers are too small and portable for a touchscreen, and it wouldn’t be nearly as useful. If you’re interested in an additional touchscreen, focus on the smart speaker options.
Bluetooth vs. WLAN
Bluetooth speakers generally don’t need a Wi-Fi connection to function. A direct bluetooth connection to your phone is enough to stream music and other audio files. This feature also helps them save battery life and make setup a lot easier.
Smart speakers have both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connections and often need Wi-Fi connections to function properly. That is why they are tied to the home or office. However, this Wi-Fi connection also enables additional functions such as voice assistants, control of smart devices and more.
Note: This is different from streaming audio over Bluetooth compared to streaming audio over Wi-Fi. Smart speakers may require a Wi-Fi connection without turning on Wi-Fi streaming, although some offer Wi-Fi streaming as well as Bluetooth connectivity. Bluetooth speakers generally cannot stream over Wi-Fi at all. Some people prefer speakers that can stream over Wi-Fi because it can make streaming from a computer more reliable, you don’t have to worry too much about range, and it makes complex setups a little easier.
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