Top 3 smart speakers under $100 – Apple HomePod mini vs. Google Nest Audio vs. Amazon Echo 2020

In the space of a couple of months, the smart speaker game at $100 has seriously heated up, with devices from Apple, Google and Amazon.

Two months ago, we put together our pick of the best smart speakers at each price point. In the under $100 section, both Amazon and Google’s offerings were weak, with nothing from Apple. At the time, Google’s Home speaker was discontinued and Amazon’s best offering was a two year old Echo Plus.

Fast forward just two months later and the competition for the best $100 smart speaker has heated up, with the three biggest smart assistants coming in the form of Alexa with Amazon Echo, Google-Assistant with Nest Audio and Siri with Apple HomePod mini. Amazon’s new Echo speaker replaces last generations with bumped up sound quality and a new design. Google’s new Nest Audio replaces the Google Home speaker with similar improvements as Amazon. Apple’s new HomePod mini is the companies new HomePod in a smaller physical package at a lower price point.

With many around the world still in lockdown, how do these home speakers stack up? If a decent music player, assistant to answer your questions/set timers and smart home controller is what you’re after, one of these may be the perfect Christmas present for you or a loved one.

Amazon Echo 4th Gen
  • New look, new sound – Echo delivers clear highs, dynamic mids, and deep bass for rich, detailed sound that automatically adapts to any room.
  • Voice control your entertainment – Stream songs from Amazon Music, Apple Music, Sirius XM, and more. Plus listen to radio stations, podcasts, and Audible audiobooks.
  • Ready to help – Ask Alexa to play music, answer questions, play the news, check the weather, set alarms, control compatible smart home devices, and more.
  • Smart home made simple – With the built-in hub, easily set up compatible Zigbee devices or Ring Smart Lighting products (coming soon) to voice control lights, locks, and sensors.
  • Fill your home with sound – With multi-room music, play synchronized music across Echo devices in different rooms. Or pair your Echo with Fire TV to feel scenes come to life with home theater audio.
  • Connect with others – Call almost anyone hands-free. Instantly drop in on other rooms or announce to the whole house that dinner’s ready.
  • Designed to protect your privacy – Built with multiple layers of privacy protections and controls, including a microphone off button that electronically disconnects the microphones.

Size:

5.7 x 5.7 x 5.2-inches

Speakers:

3.0-inches neodymium woofer and 2×0.8-inches tweeters

Note: at the time of writing, Amazon’s Echo speaker is currently on sale with 30% off for Black Friday week, at just $69.99. Come back to RouteNote’s blog later this week to see if the other two speakers go on sale.


Apple HomePod mini
  • Fills the entire room with rich 360-degree audio
  • Siri is your do-it-all intelligent assistant, helping with everyday tasks
  • Easily control your smart home
  • Designed to keep your data private and secure
  • Place multiple HomePod mini speakers around the house for a connected sound system
  • Intercom messages to every room
  • Pair two HomePod mini speakers together for immersive stereo sound
  • Voice recognition gives each family member a personalized experience
  • Seamlessly hand off audio by bringing your iPhone close to HomePod

Size:

3.3 x 3.3 x 3.9-inches

Speakers:

Full-range driver and dual passive radiators


Google Nest Audio
  • Designed to protect your privacy – Nest Audio comes with privacy built in. You can delete your Assistant history by saying, “Hey Google, delete what I just said.” Or to turn off the mic, just use the switch on the back.
  • It’s all about sound – Just say, “Hey Google, play some music,” and crisp vocals and powerful bass fill the room. Nest Audio adapts to your environment and whatever you’re listening to, so music sounds better.
  • Music here. Music there. Music everywhere. – Create a home audio system that fills your home with sound. Nest Audio works together with your other Nest speakers and displays, Chromecast-enabled devices, or compatible speakers. And it’s easy to set up.
  • Connect with family and friends – Nest Audio helps you stay in touch. Just say, “Hey Google” to broadcast messages on every Nest speaker and display in the house. Use your Nest speakers as an intercom and chat from room to room. And make audio calls with Duo.
  • Huge help around the house – You can say things like, “Hey Google, what’s the weather this weekend?” Ask Google about the news or sports scores. Hear your schedule. Make calls. And set timers and alarms. Even turn on the lights or turn up the heat. All with your voice.
  • Thoughtfully designed. Environmentally sound. – Inspired by your home, Nest Audio’s colors, size, and shape fit beautifully into any room. It’s also designed with the environment in mind.

Size:

4.89 x 3.07 x 6.89-inches

Speakers:

2.95-inches woofer and 0.75-inch tweeter


If you’re after pure sound quality, Amazon Echo will offer you the most bang for your buck, however none of these three smart speakers will let you down. All will produce excelling sounding, room-filling, loud music. If you are neatly tied in with Google, Amazon or Apple, I recommend staying with your existing smart assistant. That is to say, for example if you own an iPhone, MacBook and use iMessage a lot: buy a HomePod mini, if you own an older Echo Dot, Fire Stick and want to order items on Amazon: buy an Echo, if you own a Google Pixel, Chromebook and use Gmail: buy a Nest Audio. These speakers shine when they interact and pair with their own products.

Beats collaborate with Ambush for special edition glow-in-the-dark Powerbeats

Japanese design label Ambush collaborate with Beats for a special edition glow-in-the-dark variant of their Powerbeats wireless earbuds.

The AMBUSH Glow Powerbeats feature AMBUSH written along both earbuds, with an accented red “b”. Included in the box is a black ripstop pouch. Beyond style, the glow could be good for keeping runners visible at night.

Korean-American co-founder of Ambush and style icon Yoon Ahn says the glow-in-the-dark style represents the city of Tokyo at night. “When I walk around Shibuya, I always listen to music. So I was like, ‘It would be cool if what I’m listening to also glowed and became part of the environment.”

Yoon Ahn

Aside from colours, the Powerbeats are exactly the same as previous versions, complete with a hook for a secure-fit, sweat/water resistance, Apple’s H1 chip for quick connectivity and “Hey Siri”, physical controls using the b button and two-way volume rocker, cable around the back of the neck, and an impressive 15 hours of playback

No word yet on whether this design will come to the truely wireless Powerbeats Pro line.

Powerbeats AMBUSH Glow are available to purchase starting today for $199.95, $50 more than other colours: Black, White and Red.

This Bluetooth speaker beams music directly into your ears only – no headphones required

Image credit: Noveto

By beaming sound into your ears only, SoundBeaming offers the freedom of speakers with the privacy and immersion of headphones.

Israeli-based company Noveto announce their new SoundBeaming technology. Using DSP algorithms to push ultrasonic waves via a transducer array, SoundBeaming focuses this audio into pockets just outside of your ears, before emitting audible sound. A 3D sensing module, tracks the position of your ears in real-time. As your head moves, so do the pockets of audio. This gives the sound a spatial 3D effect without surround sound speakers or stereo headphones. According to Noveto, “the sound feel as if it comes from almost within oneself”.

SoundBeaming 3
Image credit: Noveto

This could be great for many applications, such as video conferencing without disturbing others in the office, movies or gaming without waking up neighbours, in-car directions without interrupting the music for passengers/blocking out traffic noise, or treadmill on-screen audio without sharing sweaty headphones.

Image credit: Noveto

Noveto are hoping to introduce the tech in two forms, SoundBeamer 1.0 – the companies Bluetooth speaker and by working with third-parties to embed SoundBeaming into their products. SoundBeamer 1.0 is planned for release in December 2021. Noveto say SoundBeamer 1.0 “is designed primarily for video conferencing but can also be used for SoundBeaming anything from podcasts to meditation and more.” This suggest the speaker could be somewhat limited in terms of audio quality.

Image credit: Noveto

  • 3D sensing module for locating ear position and built-in mic
  • Proprietary Noveto DSP and chipsets
  • Custom-designed dual transducer array
  • Noveto Connect utility software

You don’t believe it because it sounds like a speaker, but no one else can hear it…it’s supporting you and you’re in the middle of everything. It’s happening around you.
You don’t need to tell the device where you are. It’s not streaming to one exact place. It follows you wherever you go. So it’s personally for you — follows you, plays what you want inside your head.
This is what we dream of. A world where we get the sound you want. You don’t need to disturb others and others don’t get disturbed by your sound. But you can still interact with them.

Ayana Wallwater, Product Manager, Noveto to the Associated Press

We’ll have to wait until this technology is in the hands of consumers to see if its claims are true, with potential concerns around positioning of the speaker and listener, sound outside the optimal position, sound quality, etc.

Video credit: Noveto

djay Pro AI for Mac with support for Apple’s new M1 chip

Image credit: Algoriddim

The latest update to the djay Mac app with Neural Mix brings new features as well as support for new Apple Silicon-powered Macs.

If benchmarks of the new Apple M1 chip are to be believed, the new MacBook Air, MacBook Pro 13″ and Mac mini released next week are all computers to get very excited about. However, all of this new unlocked power will go to waste unless it is utilised by developers. We know Apple has updated all of their apps to be compatible with Apple Silicon, meaning apps like Safari or Logic Pro X will be ready on day one, but third-parties are working hard to get their apps up to speed.

Algoriddim update their djay Pro AI Mac app with Neural Mix to be fully optimized for M1 chips. “Separate vocals/instrumentals of any track in real-time, loop & apply effects on individual components, add beats – and so much more.” These AI processes require powerful hardware to operate in real-time.

NEURAL MIX
  • Isolate vocals, drums, bass lines, and instrumentals in real-time
  • FX routing: apply audio effects to individual components of music (Vocal Echo, Harmonic Filter, Drum Reverb, and more)
  • Loop routing: Loop the beat while the melody of the same song continues playing, and vice versa
  • AI crossfades: seamlessly blend and swap drums, bass lines, or vocals of two tracks
  • AI waveforms: see vocals, drums, and harmonic waveforms per track side by side
MUSIC PRODUCTION TOOLS
  • Sequencer: create instant beats on top of music
  • Looper: remix music with up to 48 loops per track
  • Beat-matched sequencing of drums and samples
  • Extensive content library with 1000+ loops and samples

Download djay for free here. The free version is fairly limited. Pro subscriptions are $7/month or $50/year.

Peloton partner with Beyoncé for homecoming-themed workouts

Peloton enter into a multi-year deal with Beyoncé to provide homecoming-themed workouts to the app, as celebrations move online.

US exercise equipment and media company Peloton announced they’re working with Beyoncé to provide homecoming-theme workouts with the artist’s music. According to Peloton, Beyoncé is the most requested artists on the platform, with over 3.6 million plays from members. For the fall homecoming online celebrations, Peloton are offering a free two-year digital membership to students at ten participating Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) to those that signup by the end of November. These include: Bennett College, Clark Atlanta University, Grambling State University, Hampton University, Howard University, Morehouse College and Morehouse School of Medicine, Spelman College, Texas Southern University and Wilberforce University. Peloton hope the partnership will help them increase recruitment efforts HBCUs for both interns and undergraduate jobs.

Workouts available include include indoor cycling, running, strength, bootcamp, yoga and meditation. These can be accessed via the app as well as Peloton Bike, Bike+ and Tread+, however some don’t requiring Peloton equipment. Digital memberships are $12.99/month, with the first 30 days free.

Peloton Beyonce

Peloton and I both believe that the power of music can help uplift, motivate and inspire those on their fitness journeys. I’ve been a Peloton member for several years, and I’m excited to partner with a company that helps people, young and old, be the best versions of themselves, in an innovative and adaptable way. I’m proud to celebrate the students at HBCUs with this donation, to encourage them to find and embrace their own wellness regimens.

Beyoncé, Press Release

Beyoncé’s commitment to empowerment and artistic expression is an inspiration to the entire Peloton community. It is a privilege to be able to work closely with her and her extraordinary team to broaden access to our platform and collaborate on incredible offerings we think our Members will love.

Gwen Bethel Riley, Head of Music, Peloton

Google are giving away free Stadia Premiere Edition bundles to YouTube Premium subscribers

If you’re a subscriber to YouTube Premium in the US or UK, you are eligble for a free Stadia Premiere Edition bundle worth $99 including a Chromecase Ultra and Stadia Controller.

Be sure to login to your Google account with the active YouTube Premium account and simply head here to claim your free bundle. You’ll need to sign up for Stadia Pro to claim the bundle. Stadia Pro subscriptions are free for one month, then $9.99/month. If cloud gaming isn’t your thing, the offer is still an easy way to get a free Chromecast Ultra.

Google clearly want to get Stadia in as many hands as possible to keep up with competition from services such as xCloud and GeForce Now.

YouTube Premium accounts cost $12/month for access to ad-free videos, background play, offline videos and YouTube Music Premium. Unfortunately, new YouTube Premium customers cannot make use of the deal. You must have been subscribed since 6th November. The offer is active until 31st December.

Non-YouTube Premium members can find out more about Stadia here.

ByteDance, the company behind TikTok, looks to $180 billion valuation

ByteDance are looking to raise $2 billion in funding that would raise the TikTok parent’s valuation to an incredible $180 billion.

Beijing based ByteDance have had a tumultuous year that has seen their app TikTok reach astronomical levels of worldwide popularity but also found them in conflict with India and the U.S.. Despite the ban of their biggest asset in India and an ongoing conflict with Trump and the U.S., the company aren’t dissuaded from expanding.

New reports suggest that ByteDance are in discussions with a group of investors to raise a whopping $2 billion in funding. The terms for the funding round are open to change but are said to involve investors Sequoia.

ByteDance’s most recent valuation put them at $140 billion but this new funding could raise them to a value of $180 billion. Should they choose to advance with the round then it should be easy to find the investors, ByteDance are in a very strong position globally. TikTok and it’s Chinese equivalent – Douyin – are huge, not to mention their other popular apps like Resso.

Last year ByteDance generated $17 billion in revenue, that’s more than YouTube’s total ad-revenue. Yes, more than YouTube! Their social apps have made a huge influence and are only growing, even in spite of conflicts in certain territories.

Apple’s new MacBook mini debuted at the ‘One More Thing’ event

Yesterday saw Apple hold their fourth virtual event, debuting the new M1 Apple Silicon chip running on MacBook Air, MacBook Pro 13″ and Mac mini.

At WWDC last June, Apple announced their plans to bring their own custom designed Silicon to Macs with promises of the first ARM-based Macs before the end of the year. Yesterday at Apple’s ‘One More Thing’ event, we indeed got our first three Macs with the new M1 chip: MacBook Air, MacBook Pro 13″ and Mac mini. According to Apple, M1 delivers an impressive leap in performance and efficiency.

M1 joins Apple’s other own designed SoCs (system on a chip) alongside the A-series iPhone, iPad and Apple TV chips, S-series Watch chips and W/H-series headphone chips.

For more on Apple Silicon, M1, Big Sur, MacBook Air, MacBook Pro 13″, buying advice and what’s next for Apple, click here.


Mac mini
  • 8-core CPU – up to 3x faster performance over the previous generation
  • 8-core GPU – up to 6x faster graphics performance
  • 16-core Neural Engine – up to 15x faster machine learning performance
  • 2x faster SSD
  • Advance thermal design
  • Wi-Fi 6
  • Two Thunderbolt/USB-C 4 ports, Two USB-A ports, Gigabit Ethernet, 3.5mm headphone jack
  • Silver
  • $699 – $100 cheaper than the previous model
  • Available for pre-order today, shipping starts 17th November

Apple’s new MacBook Pro 13″ debuted at the ‘One More Thing’ event

Yesterday saw Apple hold their fourth virtual event, debuting the new M1 Apple Silicon chip running on MacBook Air, MacBook Pro 13″ and Mac mini.

At WWDC last June, Apple announced their plans to bring their own custom designed Silicon to Macs with promises of the first ARM-based Macs before the end of the year. Yesterday at Apple’s ‘One More Thing’ event, we indeed got our first three Macs with the new M1 chip: MacBook Air, MacBook Pro 13″ and Mac mini. According to Apple, M1 delivers an impressive leap in performance and efficiency.

M1 joins Apple’s other own designed SoCs (system on a chip) alongside the A-series iPhone, iPad and Apple TV chips, S-series Watch chips and W/H-series headphone chips.

For more on Apple Silicon, M1, Big Sur, MacBook Air, Mac mini, buying advice and what’s next for Apple, click here.


MacBook Pro 13″
  • 8-core CPU – up to 2.8x faster performance over the previous generation
  • 8-core GPU – up to 5x faster graphics performance
  • 16-core Neural Engine – up to 11x faster machine learning performance
  • 2x faster SSD
  • Active cooling with the single fan
  • Up to 17 hours of wireless web browsing
  • Up to 20 hours of video playback – 10 hours more than before
  • Wi-Fi 6
  • “Studio-quality” three-mic array
  • Touch Bar
  • Retina display with P3 wide colour gamut – 25% more colours than sRGB
  • 720p webcam – greater noise reduction, dynamic range, white balance and face detection
  • Two Thunderbolt/USB-C 4 ports, 3.5mm headphone jack
  • Space Gray or Silver
  • Same starting price $1299
  • $1199 for education
  • Available for pre-order today, shipping starts 17th November

Apple’s ‘One More Thing’ event round-up, Mac buying guide and what’s next for Apple?

Yesterday saw Apple hold their fourth virtual event, debuting the new M1 Apple Silicon chip running on MacBook Air, MacBook Pro 13″ and Mac mini.

At WWDC last June, Apple announced their plans to bring their own custom designed Silicon to Macs with promises of the first ARM-based Macs before the end of the year. Yesterday at Apple’s ‘One More Thing’ event, we indeed got our first three Macs with the new M1 chip: MacBook Air, MacBook Pro 13″ and Mac mini. According to Apple, M1 delivers an impressive leap in performance and efficiency.

M1 joins Apple’s other own designed SoCs (system on a chip) alongside the A-series iPhone, iPad and Apple TV chips, S-series Watch chips and W/H-series headphone chips.


What is Apple Silicon?

You may hear Apple Silicon referred to as an ARM chip or SoC. The idea is, until now Apple needed multiple chips inside one computer for different aspects of the processing on-board Macs, such as CPU, GPU, I/O, security and RAM, notably replying on Intel for CPU chips. Now, with Apple Silicon they’re going at it alone, with all of this processing taking place on one in-house designed compact chip. This allows Apple to have full control of the hardware and software, a key reason Apple’s phones and tablets have been leading the industry in terms of speed for over ten years now.


Apple M1

Apple’s first Silicon chip found across all three new Macs is M1.

  • 8-core CPU – Made up of 4 high-performance cores and 4 high-efficiency cores, with the high performance cores used for heavy applications such as video, photo or audio editing, while the effiency cores will handle web browsing or media consumptions while keep fans silent and power consumption to a minimum, both leading to better battery life.
  • 7/8-core GPU
  • 16-core Neural Engine
  • 8/16GB DRAM

Efficiency is key here. According to Apple, M1 will deliver the better performance at lower power consumption. Apple say up to 2x faster CPU performance than the latest PC laptop chip and matches performance using just 25% of the power, with up to 2x faster GPU performance than the latest PC laptop chip and matches performance using just 33% of the power. These numbers are from Apple so should be taken with a pinch of salt, however Apple’s performance specs tend to be reliable. We won’t know how these chips truely compare to the competition until next week when M1 Macs start shipping.


macOS 11 – Big Sur

Big Sur is Apple’s latest macOS. With M1, Big Sur wakes from sleep instantly and launches apps faster, much like iPhone and iPad. All apps from Apple will be ready for M1 on release day such as Logic Pro X. Third-party app developers are working on making their apps compatible with M1 such as Adobe saying Lightroom will be updated next month and Photoshop early next year. Any Intel apps should still work using Rosetta 2. Due to the similar architecture, iPhone and iPad apps can now run directly on Big Sur. Big Sur will be released tomorrow (12th November).

M1 apps crop

MacBook Air
  • 8-core CPU – up to 3.5x faster performance over the previous generation
  • 8-core GPU – up to 5x faster graphics performance
  • 16-core Neural Engine – up to 9x faster machine learning performance
  • 2x faster SSD
  • No fans – silent design
  • Up to 15 hours of wireless web browsing
  • Up to 18 hours of video playback – 6 hours more than before
  • Wi-Fi 6
  • Retina display with P3 wide colour gamut – 25% more colours than sRGB
  • 720p webcam – greater noise reduction, dynamic range, white balance and face detection
  • Two Thunderbolt/USB-C 4 ports, 3.5mm headphone jack
  • Space Gray, Gold or Silver
  • Same starting price $999
  • $899 for education
  • Available for pre-order today, shipping starts 17th November

MacBook Pro 13″
  • 8-core CPU – up to 2.8x faster performance over the previous generation
  • 8-core GPU – up to 5x faster graphics performance
  • 16-core Neural Engine – up to 11x faster machine learning performance
  • 2x faster SSD
  • Active cooling with the single fan
  • Up to 17 hours of wireless web browsing
  • Up to 20 hours of video playback – 10 hours more than before
  • Wi-Fi 6
  • “Studio-quality” three-mic array
  • Touch Bar
  • Retina display with P3 wide colour gamut – 25% more colours than sRGB
  • 720p webcam – greater noise reduction, dynamic range, white balance and face detection
  • Two Thunderbolt/USB-C 4 ports, 3.5mm headphone jack
  • Space Gray or Silver
  • Same starting price $1299
  • $1199 for education
  • Available for pre-order today, shipping starts 17th November

Mac mini
  • 8-core CPU – up to 3x faster performance over the previous generation
  • 8-core GPU – up to 6x faster graphics performance
  • 16-core Neural Engine – up to 15x faster machine learning performance
  • 2x faster SSD
  • Advance thermal design
  • Wi-Fi 6
  • Two Thunderbolt/USB-C 4 ports, Two USB-A ports, Gigabit Ethernet, 3.5mm headphone jack
  • Silver
  • $699 – $100 cheaper than the previous model
  • Available for pre-order today, shipping starts 17th November

The bigger picture

As predicted, Apple have started on lower-end Macs, putting a relatively low spec chip into their lower-end products. Strangely almost the exact same M1 chip appears in all three Macs. The only tiny difference in specs between the three is a baseline MacBook Air with a 7-core GPU rather than the 8-core found on the more expensive MacBook Air, MacBook Pro and Mac mini. Usually, Apple’s MacBook Air is sold with a slightly lower spec than the MacBook Pro, justifying the lower MacBook Air price, making MacBook Air the go to for lightweight users and MacBook Pro for creatives. However this year’s M1 suggests performance will be very similar between both laptops. The biggest performance difference will likely come from the fan that’s present in the MacBook Pro and Mac mini. Whether the fan will result in any real world difference remains to be seen. The other notable differences between MacBook Air and MacBook Pro are the Touch Bar and improved battery life on the MacBook Pro.


What Mac should you buy and should you upgrade it?

All new Macs can be compared in detail here.

If you want a compact laptop, you should wait a week to see how performance differs between the MacBook Air and $300 more expensive MacBook Pro.

If you’re after a desktop Mac and have a smaller budget than the iMac or don’t need the display included on the all-in-one, Mac mini is a great buy.

Ignoring the 7/8 GPU on the MacBook Air, the upgrade options are the same across all three new Macs. Remember, neither are upgradable after the fact.

  • $200 extra for double the RAM from 8GB to 16GB RAM
  • 256GB SSD included, +$200 512GB, +$400 1TB SSD, +$800 2TB SSD

I recommend upgrading the RAM if you’re planning on doing anything intensive such as video, photo or audio editing. Storage is down to your personal use. Personally I’d stick with 256GB on the Mac mini and keep an external SSD nearby when needed.

Remember, performance of third-party apps may be limited until developers update apps to work on Apple Silicon. Depending on the apps you use regularly, you may want to wait a few months before dropping over $1000.

Intel-based MacBook Pro 13″ and Mac mini remain available on sale on Apple.com, but I would advise staying away from these.


What’s next for Apple?

The next Macs to include Apple Silicon over the next year or two should be (in predicted chronological order): iMac 21-inch, MacBook Pro 16-inch, iMac 27-inch, iMac Pro (if it’s not killed off) and Mac Pro.

Within the next year, we are hoping to see a number of new and updated products: