Bluetooth speakers vs. smart speakers: Which One Is Better?

In your search for smart devices for your home or gifts for your friends, you may see both terms: “Bluetooth speaker” and “smart speaker.” The differences aren’t obvious right away, and sometimes the terms are used to describe the same thing, so we know it can be confusing.

Here, we’re going to explain what these two categories mean, where they overlap, and which term might be best for you based on the kind of speaker experience you want. Let’s do this!

Basic Definitions

The JBL Flip 6 portable speaker.
JBL

Let’s start with a quick look at Bluetooth speakers and smart speakers on the market.

Bluetooth speakers: These are small, portable speakers that connect to a Bluetooth-enabled device like your smartphone to play music. They are usually made for on-the-go activities and can play music. They help people get music in places or situations where it would be hard to get it otherwise. Something like the JBL Flip series is a good example of a Bluetooth speaker that works well.

Smart Speakers: A smart speaker is a speaker that can be controlled by an app, voice command, or some other way. They can be used to add smart features to audio in a specific place, like a kitchen or a lobby or a bedroom or great room. They have more features and are more likely to stay in one place. Bluetooth speakers, on the other hand, are more likely to move. A speaker like the Sonos One, Apple HomePod Mini, or Amazon Echo is called a “smart speaker.”

We’re going to get more specific about some of the differences between the two.

Portability and Power

Blue HomePod Mini sitting on desk while person works.

Bluetooth speakers are the best at making a portable sound. People who make speakers you can take with you, like JBL, Sonos, and Ultimate Ears (UE), have made a lot of money. You can take them anywhere, even outside. A carabiner or a loop on your backpack might be all that’s needed to attach some of these things. Most of them are resistant to water and dust, and some can even withstand a quick dip in the pool! All of this is made possible by their rechargeable batteries, which can play music for at least a few hours before needing to be charged.

Smart speakers are not as easy to move around as they used to be. They are usually meant to be placed in the middle of a shelf, desk, or table. They also usually need to be near a power outlet to get power, and they don’t usually have battery packs with them.

Again, there’s a lot of overlap between these speaker groups. Some smart speakers are also very portable, like our Bose portable speaker pick on our smart kitchen speaker list. Some Bluetooth speakers aren’t meant to be used outside or on the go. However, Bluetooth speakers usually have rechargeable batteries, a handle and are resistant to water and dust. On the other hand, smart speakers usually need a wired connection, are bigger and don’t have a design that makes them easy to move around.

Sound Quality

Echo Dot (4th Gen, 2020 release).

Bluetooth speakers aren’t as big as they could be because they’re so small. It means that their drivers and other parts can’t be as big. Despite their small size, these speakers can do a lot with today’s technology. They can make a lot of sound for their small size, but the sound quality can be sacrificed. Smart speakers, which are usually in the middle of the room and can be bigger, are the clear winner when it comes to sound. Because many smart speakers can connect to TVs, speaker bars, and other home entertainment systems, this is why (some, such as the Echo Studio, are specifically designed for it).

If you want Bluetooth speakers that can fill the whole house with sound, there is a way: Bluetooth and smart speakers usually can connect to other speakers of the same type, so you can play the same music from different places.

Voice Assistants

Google Nest Min next to a TV.

Bluetooth speakers can work with voice assistants, like the JBL Link Portable, Google Assistant. But it’s not always the case, and it’s not likely to work with smaller models—people who call them that are more focused on using Bluetooth to control and playback music.

You can get smart speakers without voice assistants and microphones, but they’re more common nowadays. In the last few years, it’s become normal for them to come with them. The Nest Mini uses Google Assistant, and the HomePod uses Siri. Other brands often support both Alexa and Google Assistant simultaneously, but this isn’t always the case.

There are voice assistants that make it possible for the smart speaker to act as a hub for many different interactions. Using the right voice commands can help you ask about the weather, find out about sports games and schedule events, and call one of your friends. They can also connect to smart devices in your home and let you control them with your voice. Bluetooth speakers aren’t usually able to do things like this.

Controls and Indicators

Amazon Echo Dot (4th Gen) on table.
John Velasco

Controls for Bluetooth and smart speakers are a lot like each other. Each has options for power, volume, and playback, but they’re both likely to have these things. Smart speakers maybe a little fancier in showing these controls, with bigger LED lights or rings as indicators, but they still do the same thing. In this case, the big difference is that smart speakers usually come with microphones and a button that lets you turn them off for your safety.

Smart Displays

Google Nest Hub 2nd Gen.
John Velasco 

Smart displays are extra touchscreens that usually only work with smart speakers, like an Echo Show or a Nest Hub Max. They usually only work with these kinds of speakers. Bluetooth speakers are too small and light to fit on a touchscreen, and they wouldn’t be nearly as useful as they would be. If you want to add an extra touchscreen to your home, there are many smart speaker options.

Bluetooth vs. Wi-Fi: Which is better?

Sonos x Floyd One Stand seen from the back.
Sonos, Floyd

They don’t usually need a Wi-Fi connection to work. The only thing you need to do to stream music and other audio connects your phone to Bluetooth. It also helps them save battery power, making setting up a lot easier.

They have Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connections, and they often need Wi-Fi connections to work well. So, they stay at home or work. Even though there is a Wi-Fi connection, extra features can be used, such as voice assistants and smart device control.

It’s not the same as streaming music over Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. Smart speakers may need a Wi-Fi connection even if you don’t want to use Wi-Fi streaming. Some smart speakers also have Bluetooth connectivity. They can’t stream music over Wi-Fi at all. Some people like speakers that can stream music over Wi-Fi because that can make streaming from a computer more stable, you don’t have to think about range as much, and it makes complicated setups a little less complicated.

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