This contemporary home in San Francisco features a sculptural cast-glass staircase

Geddes Ulinskas Architects recently finished a stunning home in Cow Hollow, San Franciso, marked by an exquisite cast glass staircase. Occupying 12,000 square feet on a 0.26-acre lot, the home features abundant indoor-outdoor spaces and intricate stone detailing. And not to mention it looks out to the Golden Gate Bridge!

Designer: Geddes Ulinskas Architects

“We were deeply inspired by the natural environment for the design of this home and sought to bring the outdoors in as much as possible,” said Geddes Ulinskas. The three-story home has been equipped with six bedrooms and is basically multiple envelopes stacked on top of each other, that can be continually glazed. The roof emits a floating effect, since the structure is pulled back from the exterior walls, and columns have been set in glass. This also allows for a linear ribbon of bronze windows throughout the home.

A wooden 20 feet tall door leads you into the home, while the smooth exterior walls have wood-wrapped roof eaves dangling over them. These beautifully contrast the split-faced limestone entry. As you enter the home, you are welcomed by a seating area, and a dining room adjacent to it. The dining room opens up to the garden, via floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors. These transparent glass doors create an intimate indoor-outdoor connection. Materials such as wood and hand-textured stone were used to accentuate the interiors, and they pair excellently with the custom paneling and blackened steel finishes.

“We utilized nature-inspired colors such as charcoal and dark green with fixtures inspired by water ripples, lightning, and other fractal forms,” Ulinskas said.

The entire home is defined by impressive sliding glass doors, providing beautiful views of San Francisco, and integrating indoor-outdoor living. Fabric was stretched over the ceiling to hide some of the technical equipment – creating clean lines and smooth surfaces. Although, the star of the home is a magnificent steel and glass staircase that”reads more like a two-story piece of art than the product of construction,” in the words of the studio. The sculptural staircase was brought to life by pouring molten glass into a thick four-inch form and then allowing the glass treads to cool for almost three months.

The home has also been equipped with a private movie theatre, wine room, gym, 72-foot lap pool, built-in stainless steel spa, and a wellness spa with a glass-enclosed sauna and steam shower. A massive rooftop deck on top of the house provides views of the San Francisco Bay and also features a stone fire table.

The post This contemporary home in San Francisco features a sculptural cast-glass staircase first appeared on Yanko Design.

Inspired by and built for twin sisters, this all-black home has a tree running through its center

Iranian architect, Milad Eshtiyaghi is known for his eccentric, yet awe-inspiring structures. His designs are far from ordinary, and will leave you wondering how he even came up with such an idea! One such mesmerizing structure I recently came across was the ‘Twin Sisters’. Located in Mārupe, Latvia, the house was inspired by twin sisters, quite literally living up to its name.

Designer: Milad Eshtiyaghi

The clients were twin sisters, who approached Eshtiyaghi to create a home amped with two units for them. They wanted one unit to be positioned upstairs, while the lower unit would be placed downstairs. Eshtiyaghi decided to meet the client’s requirements in his own unique and interesting manner! He wanted to build a home that while meeting their needs, also represents the fact, that twin sisters reside within it. He says that although the twins are separate individuals, the similarities between them are so large, that it’s often difficult to distinguish between them. They have completely separate personalities, but together they complete one another. This was his inspiration for the Twin Sisters house.

Instead of placing the two units one above the other, Eshtiyaghi decided to place them next to each other! By positioning them side by side, it almost looks as if two sisters are standing together. The two units are adjacent to one another, functioning as super close neighbors, and mimicking each other’s exteriors. The structures are separated right in the middle by a courtyard, with a tree placed in the center. The tree adds a beautiful element of green to the home, creating a serene connection to nature.

The two units have an intriguing curved form. Their form is inspired by the image of the sisters’ hair blowing in the wind! The climatic conditions of Latvia also influenced the sloped form. The interiors of both buildings are pretty similar. The ground floor functions as a public space, whereas the upper storey is the more private section of the home. An impressive staircase connects both the storeys, which also provides stunning views of the surrounding landscape.

The post Inspired by and built for twin sisters, this all-black home has a tree running through its center first appeared on Yanko Design.

This all-black dwelling in Melbourne is a regenerative design that produces more energy than it uses

Melbourne Design Studios redesigned an almost forgotten piece of residence in the middle of Melbourne and named it The Hütt 01 Passive House. The home was created to be a regenerative design and is a certified Passivhouse ‘Premium’, which is the highest category of Passivhaus, and basically produces more energy than it uses. It also rates A++ (the highest category) in its Life Cycle Assessment.

Designer: Melbourne Design Studios

Also called “TMRW by Hütt: A Beacon of Hope for the Future” by the architects, the home is meant to be a peaceful oasis in the otherwise hectic urban jungle that is called Melbourne. It is situated on a 250 square meter site, which is quite interestingly shaped like a wedge. It possesses an extremely industrial feel and can be entered through a bluestone back lane. The home itself occupies a compact space of 78 square meters but is spread over two and a half levels. It features four bedrooms, two living spaces, three bathrooms, and a roof garden. The presence of a garden adds a natural touch to the home, providing it with a deeper sense of peace and zen.

Recycled bricks, charred timber, and black metal cladding were used to construct the home. In fact, all the bricks were sourced and saved from demolition sites throughout Melbourne. By employing cross-laminated timber (CLT) prefab methodology and material for the construction, the architects were able to reduce the carbon footprint, and the time required for the construction process. It also enabled them to use lesser finishing materials and plastering.

The home was created to demonstrate how better homes can be built in Australia, and how a sustainable design approach and Passivhaus can create a stunning residence. Its biophilic design, brilliant utilization of scarce inner-city land, and small footprint make it a modern and sustainable oasis in a major urban city. It is a prime specimen of how you can do more with less, while still utilizing high-performance technologies.

The post This all-black dwelling in Melbourne is a regenerative design that produces more energy than it uses first appeared on Yanko Design.

This beautiful Japanese timber home is split in two with a peaceful central courtyard

Architectural firm KKAA YTAA recently completed the ‘House in Front of a School’ or ‘House in Gakuenmae’ in Nara, Japan. The beautiful dwelling features a central courtyard, which is the star attraction of the home! What makes the interesting courtyard even more interesting, though, is the timber bridge that runs through it, connecting the two split portions of the home.

Designer: KKAA YTAA

The client was a young couple who worked from home and was looking for a home that reflects and accommodates their unique lifestyle. They wanted a home that was compact and space-efficient while providing adequate space for two remote workers. An inherent connection to nature was also important for them. However, the most unique factor of the home is the fact that it is split into two portions, with the majority of the rooms overlooking the courtyard.

“It is a quiet place with few pedestrians and cars, but it is an environment that feels a little lacking in a sense of life,” said the studio. “We decided to divide the building into two to create a blank space. No matter where you are in the house, you can feel the light, wind, and greenery close to you by opening up to this margin.” the studio concluded.

One portion of the home is elevated on timber stilts and features an open-plan concept with a living area and a kitchen. The stilts were added in an attempt to protect the home from floods. The area beneath the raised section functions as a handy garage. The timber bridge connects the elevated wing to the other half of the home. The bridge has been amped with adjustable walls, which can transform the bridge into an enclosed walkway or a deck when required.

“We aimed for a presence that can be said to be both the outside and the inside,” said the studio. “By opening and closing the walls, the bridge can adopt different forms, such as an external space where the sky and wind can escape, an internal space as a connecting corridor, and a semi-outdoor space like a porch that is connected to nature.”

“By inserting a blank space between these two buildings, we hope that nature and the city will be indirectly connected and that it will lead to an increase in the open scenery in this quiet residential area,” said the studio.

The House in Gakuenmae is a stunning open space with exposed interiors and can be considered the epitome of indoor-outdoor living. Minimal wooden furniture and Japanese aesthetics further create a peaceful and zen living space.

The post This beautiful Japanese timber home is split in two with a peaceful central courtyard first appeared on Yanko Design.

This beautiful brutalist home in Miami is elevated on stilts to fight against rising sea levels

Designed by Rene Gonzalez, this extraordinary brutalist home was designed as a vacation home for a client living in a colder climate for the majority of the year. Deemed, the Prairie Residence, the home was created to tackle the serious issue of rising sea levels in Miami. The threat of sea-level rise has grown considerably in Miami in recent years, hence the city is immensely focusing on elevating streets and imposing rules that require private properties to be placed at a higher ground. This home was elevated on stilts and is inspired by the mangrove forests whose roots allow the easy flow of water. These measures are intended to protect the house from flooding.

Designer: Rene Gonzalez

By adding gardens, parking spaces, and storage at the ground level, the architect has ensured that the living areas are on a higher level, hence providing protection to the residents during floods and hurricanes, while also offering some privacy from the usual hustle and bustle of the city. In fact, in the early 1800s, The Florida Seminole Indians used similar techniques to elevate their Chickee huts, to withstand wet ground, and vermins. Almost a century later, in the 1930s and ’40s, a community of elevated homes called Stiltsville was built over the water in Miami’s Biscayne Bay. These were all used as sources of inspiration for the Prairie Residence, and it’s really interesting to see how Gonzalez merged traditional techniques with modern-day living.

The interiors of the home are raw, brutalist, and stunning. It’s a sprawling and impressive space featuring polished concrete floors. The raised living space floats over a sculptural garden of tropical vegetation, which not only provides drainage but functions as a natural element that is ever-changing depending on the level of water. Floor-to-ceiling windows are further utilized to create a mesmerizing indoor-outdoor connection.

The kitchen has a rather minimal and clean aesthetic, as it’s been completely clad in reflective metal panels. This creates an interesting contrast against the rather concrete vibe of the rest of the home. The main bedroom is double-height and boasts built-in concrete furniture and intricate recessed wall detailing.

A long lap pool surrounded by lush greenery forms a charming backyard space. It’s a private section. You can access the inside of the home through a grated metal catwalk, which serves as a subtle connection between the indoors and the outdoors.

The home is a one-of-a-kind specimen with its tilted concrete walls, hovering aura, and abundance of organic vegetation. Light filters into the home generously at all times of the day, and the elevated living area functions as a rather private oasis in the city of Miami.

The post This beautiful brutalist home in Miami is elevated on stilts to fight against rising sea levels first appeared on Yanko Design.

This rustic home near Lake Tahoe was built to withstand wildfires

In recent years, Californian wildfires have become more frequent and dangerous, hence when it comes to building homes and cabins in the Californian forests, it’s imperative to construct structures that are as non-combustible as possible. Architects have to be more mindful, and aware while building these lodgings, especially when it comes to the ones in the Lake Tahoe region, where the Caldor Fire burned 221,000 acres, and destroyed over 1000 structures, last year itself! A house near Lake Tahoe, that was built consciously using non-combustible materials, in an attempt to withstand forest fires is the CAMPout House. It was built for the CEO of Five9, a publicly traded cloud-software company in San Francisco, and his family.

Designer: Faulkner Architects

Designed by Faulkner Architects, the 3800-square foot home is situated on a smooth slope in Tuckee, a quaint mountain town. The home has been placed cozily in the midst of a pine forest, not too far away from an 8000-foot extinct volcano. The house’s exterior was deeply influenced by its location, and the threat of a wildfire occurring.

“As climate change increases the magnitude of wildfire events, we must enhance the construction systems and materials to withstand these disasters,” said the architects.”The form can take on a protective posture. Materials can be non-combustible.”

The exterior has been constructed from concrete and 16-gauge weathering steel – which could help the home in surviving a wildfire. The structural frame was built using engineered wood and steel. Impressive windows were placed around the home, to provide surreal views of the surrounding forests, instead of the neighboring homes. The windows were provided with a perimeter seal to do so.

The home completely incorporates indoor-outdoor living, since the family loves the outdoors! A strong connection to the outdoors was thoroughly maintained. “The house was inspired by the lifestyle of the client, who cross-country skis from their backyard up the mountain and skis down,” said the studio. “The home is simultaneously a base camp for adventure and a serene escape from the urban sprawl.”

The home basically features irregular volumes centered around a courtyard with a fire pit, which provides privacy, and also allows a generous amount of light to enter the house, via glazed walls and sliding doors. The front section of the home is sheltered by a thin shed roof that lifts up, making way for more light to enter the living space. The southern section of the home which functions as a pavilion, hosts an open-concept kitchen, a living room, and a dining area. While the northern end houses the media room, guest room, and office. The master bedroom is located in the west.

The home is a rustic and charming entity, that provides a soothing connection to the outdoors, while also proving to be safe haven, quite literally.

The post This rustic home near Lake Tahoe was built to withstand wildfires first appeared on Yanko Design.

The best smart speakers you can buy

When Amazon first introduced Alexa and the Echo speaker years ago, the idea of talking to a digital assistant wasn't totally novel. Both the iPhone and Android phones had semi-intelligent voice controls — but with the Echo, Amazon took its first step toward making something like Alexa a constant presence in your home. Since then, Apple and Google have followed suit, and now there's a huge variety of smart speakers available at various price points.

As the market exploded, the downsides of having a device that's always listening for a wake word have become increasingly apparent. They can get activated unintentionally, sending private recordings back to monolithic companies to analyze. And even at the best of times, giving more personal information to Amazon, Apple and Google can be a questionable decision. That said, all these companies have made it easier to manage how your data is used — you can opt out of humans reviewing some of your voice queries, and it's also less complicated to manage and erase your history with various digital assistants, too.

The good news is that there's never been a better time to get a smart speaker, particularly if you're a music fan. For all their benefits, the original Amazon Echo and Google Home devices did not sound good. Sonos, on the other hand, made great sounding WiFi-connected speakers, but they lacked any voice-controlled smarts.

That's all changed now. Sonos is including both Alexa and Google Assistant support in its latest speakers. Google and Amazon, meanwhile, made massive improvements in sound quality with recent speakers. Even lower-end models like the Echo Dot and Nest Mini sound much better than earlier iterations. With the growing popularity of these speakers, there are now more options than ever. Let’s walk through the best choices at different price points and for different uses.

Picking an assistant

The first thing most people should do is decide what voice assistant they want to use. Google Assistant and Amazon's Alexa are both well-supported options that are continually evolving, with new features added at a steady clip. A few years ago, Alexa worked with more smart home devices, but at this point, basically any smart device worth buying works with both.

It's mostly a matter of personal preference. If you already use Google Assistant on your Android phone, it makes sense to stick with that. But while Alexa isn’t quite as good at answering general knowledge questions, it syncs just fine with things like calendars from your Google account. And it works with perhaps the widest variety of smart home devices, as well. If you’ve never used Alexa or Google Assistant, you can download their apps to your smart phone and spend some time testing them out before buying a speaker.

As for Apple, you won’t be surprised to learn its HomePod mini is the only Siri-compatible speaker on the market, now that Apple has discontinued the larger HomePod. Siri has a reputation for not being as smart as Alexa or Google Assistant, but it’s totally capable of handling common voice queries like answering questions, controlling smart home devices, sending messages, making calls and playing music. Technically, Siri and Apple’s HomeKit technology doesn’t work with as many smart home devices as the competition, but it’s not hard to find compatible gear. And since the HomePod mini arrived last fall, Apple has added some handy features like a new Intercom tool. Apple is also starting to support music services besides Apple Music. Currently, Pandora is the only other option, but Apple has confirmed that Amazon Music will eventually work natively on the HomePod mini as well.

Best smart speaker under $50: Amazon Echo Dot

Amazon Echo Dot 2020
Engadget

Most people's entry point into the smart speaker world will not be an expensive device. Amazon's fourth-generation Echo Dot and Google's Nest Mini are the most obvious places to start for two important reasons. One, they're cheap: Both the Nest Mini and Echo Dost cost $50. Two, they're capable. Despite the low price, these speakers can do virtually the same things as larger and more expensive devices.

Buy Echo Dot at Amazon - $50Buy Nest Mini at Walmart - $50

The Nest Mini was released in late 2019, but Amazon just refreshed the Echo Dot in 2020. After testing both devices, I think the Echo Dot is the best small smart speaker for most people. Amazon keeps improving the audio quality across its Echo line, and the Echo Dot is no exception. It produces much louder and clearer audio than I’d expect from a $50 speaker. The Nest Mini doesn’t sound bad, and it’s perfectly fine for listening in the bedroom while getting ready for the day, but the Echo Dot is a better all-purpose music listening device.

From a design perspective, Amazon broke the mold with the latest Echo Dot. Instead of a small puck like the Nest Mini, the new Dot is shaped like a little globe. It’s much bigger than the Nest Mini, but that size gives it room for higher-end audio components. The Dot keeps the handy physical volume buttons and mute switch on top, along with a button to activate Alexa. While the Dot doesn’t look as sleek as the Nest Mini, having physical buttons makes it easier to adjust volume and mute the mic. I do wish the Dot had a way to physically pause music; on the Nest Mini, if you tap the middle of the device, the music stops.

Another benefit the Echo Dot has over the Nest Mini is its 3.5mm audio out jack, which means you can plug it into other speakers and instantly upgrade the audio quality. When you do that, you can ask Alexa to stream music, and it'll output to whatever speaker you have connected. That'll help you get more mileage out of the Dot in the long run. The Nest Mini answers with a handy wall mount, for people who want to keep their counter or shelf clear. The Echo Dot’s new bulbous form is definitely not suited to this, so if you want a speaker you can really hide, the Nest Mini is probably the better choice.

Overall, the Dot is the best choice for most people, but I wouldn't hesitate to recommend the Nest Mini, either. I generally prefer using Google Assistant over Alexa, and anyone who feels the same should go ahead and get the Nest Mini. The Dot does sound notably better, so if you plan to listen to audio on a regular basis, that’s probably the way to go. But if you only plan to use it for a quick song or podcast when you’re getting ready in the morning, just pick your favorite assistant and go from there.

Best smart speaker under $100: Amazon Echo

Amazon Echo
Amazon

Amazon, Apple and Google all have $100 smart speakers: the fourth-generation Echo, the HomePod mini and the Nest Audio, respectively. All three companies claim superior audio quality, so for lots of people these speakers will be the sweet spot between small speakers like the Echo Dot and Nest Mini and bigger, more expensive models like the Sonos One.

Buy Echo at Amazon - $100Buy HomePod mini at B&H - $100Buy Nest Audio at Walmart - $100

Once again, Amazon punches above its weight. Like the Dot, the new Echo is totally redesigned and the new internals were made with music in mind. It combines a three-inch woofer with two 0.8-inch tweeters — a more advanced setup than either the Nest Audio or HomePod mini. (The Nest Audio uses a three-inch woofer but only a single 0.75-inch tweeter, while the HomePod mini makes do with a single “full range” driver and two passive radiators.)

In practice, this means the Echo is noticeably louder than either the Nest Audio or HomePod mini and much better suited to filling a large room than the competition. It also delivers an impressive bass thump and powerful mid-range frequencies. In fact, my main complaint with the speaker is that highs aren’t quite crisp enough. Compare the Echo to a Sonos One and the One sounds much more lively, while the Echo comes off a bit muddy. Then again, the Sonos One costs twice as much as the Echo.

While the Echo may beat the Nest Audio and HomePod mini on volume and bass, Google and Apple’s speakers are not bad options. The HomePod mini is the quietest of the three speakers, but it still sounds balanced across the entire audio spectrum. The bass isn’t too assertive, but there’s more presence than I would have expected given its tiny size (it’s by far the smallest of these three speakers).

And it has a few nice perks if you’re using an iPhone 11 or newer. Thanks to the U1 “ultra-wideband” chip in recent iPhones, the HomePod mini can tell when there’s a phone near it, which makes handing off music from your phone to the speaker (or vice versa) quite simple. Playback controls for the HomePod mini will automatically pop up as well, and your phone’s lock screen will display music suggestions if the speaker isn’t currently playing. Setup is also dead-simple — just bring an iPhone or iPad near the speaker and it’ll automatically start the process.

Google’s Nest Audio is also quite pleasant to listen to. It’s a little louder than the HomePod mini, and has stronger bass, to boot. It doesn’t have the same overall power and presence that the Echo does, but for $100 it’s a well-balanced speaker that should serve most people’s needs.

All three of these speakers support stereo pairing as well, if you want more volume or crave a more immersive experience. For $200, two Echoes will fill a large room with high-quality sound and enough bass to power a party. A pair of HomePod mini or Nest Audio speakers aren’t quite as powerful, but it makes for a great upgrade if you’re a more avid listener. A pair of Nest Audio or HomePod mini speakers sounded great on my desk during the workday. I don’t need overwhelming volume but can appreciate the stereo separation. And two of those speakers together can easily power a larger living space, although the Echo is the better choice if volume is a priority.

Here too, I think that picking the assistant that works best in your house and with your other gadgets is probably the most important factor — but given Alexa’s ubiquity and the new Echo’s superior sound quality, I think it’s the best smart speaker at this price point.

Best midrange smart speakers: Sonos One, Amazon Echo Studio

If you have more than a passing interest in music, the Echo Dot and Nest Mini aren't really going to cut it. Spending more money to upgrade to a speaker designed with audio in mind is one of the best decisions I've made. For years, I didn't have a proper home music solution, but in the end the modest investment has made my life much more pleasant.

For a long time, my default recommendation was the $219 Sonos One. It hits a sweet spot of size and convenience, and it's a huge upgrade in sound quality over the Nest Mini or Echo Dot, not to mention the larger Echo and Nest Audio. You can use either Alexa or the Google Assistant with it, and Sonos supports a huge variety of music services. But most importantly, it simply sounds great, especially if you tune the speaker to your room using the Sonos iOS app. It takes just a few minutes and makes the One sound lively, with punchy bass and clear highs.

Buy Sonos One at Sonos - $219Buy Echo Studio at Amazon - $200

But Amazon flipped the script in 2019 with the Echo Studio, a $200 Alexa-powered smart speaker that can stand up against the Sonos One. Yes, it's larger than nearly every other speaker in this guide, but the bang-for-the-buck factor is extremely high with the Echo Studio. Naturally, it's a full-fledged member of the Alexa ecosystem, which means you can do multi-room playback with other Echo speakers or set up two Studios in a stereo pair. All of Alexa's features are on board here, and it has a built-in Zigbee smart home hub, if you happen to need that.

The Echo Studio has a few other unique features for music lovers. If you sign up for Amazon's hi-def music service, you can play a (very limited) selection of songs in Sony's 360 Reality Audio format; Amazon refers to this as "3D music." It may sound great, but the selection is so sparse that we can't recommend it as a reason to buy into the Echo Studio — but it will be nice as Amazon expands its catalog over time. That said, the Echo Studio’s five-speaker, 360-degree design naturally provides a more 3D effect than a speaker like the Sonos One, which has a more traditional forward-firing design.

The Studio also supports Dolby Atmos, making it a candidate for a home theater setup — but it only works with Amazon's own Fire TV devices. And using a single speaker for watching movies is odd; it may sound great, but it's not the immersive experience you'll get with a dedicated soundbar and surround speakers. A stereo pair plus Amazon's Echo Sub should sound notably better, but we haven't been able to get that setup yet.

Given the quality of the Studio, the speaker shines when used with a high-def streaming service, like Amazon Music HD or Tidal's HiFi tier. The downside is that you'll pay for those — but if you want to stick with standard Spotify or Apple Music, the Studio still sounds great.

While the Studio is comparable to the Sonos One in terms of pure audio quality, the Sonos ecosystem does have a few advantages over Amazon. Sonos speakers that support voice commands, like the One, work with either Alexa or Google Assistant. So if you prefer Google, Sonos is probably the way to go. And Sonos speakers work with a much broader set of music services. I’ve spent a lot of time recently comparing the One to the Echo Studio, and I go back and forth on which is superior in terms of music quality. They definitely have different profiles, and while I have come to prefer Sonos over Amazon, I know plenty of people (including my colleague Billy Steele) who find the opposite to be true.

If you have a smaller home and aren't concerned with multi-room playback, the Echo Studio should be your pick. But if you're interested in building out a multi-room setup over time, Sonos currently provides a greater variety of speakers for that mission. But either way, you'll end up with a setup that puts something like the Echo Dot or Nest Mini to shame.

Best smart speaker for music lovers: Sonos Five

Sonos Play 5

As nice as the Echo Studio and Sonos One are, there's only so much you can get out of them. If you crave more bass, clarity and stereo separation, the Sonos Five is one of our favorite pure music speakers. It has all the conveniences of the One (except for one, which we'll get to) and sounds significantly better than any other Sonos speaker. It also sounds much better than the Echo Studio and anything Google is currently selling.

Buy Sonos Five at Sonos - $549

That said, the Five stretches our definition of a smart speaker here because it doesn't have a built-in voice assistant. But it's so good at music playback that it's worth recommending you pick one up along with an Echo Dot or Nest Mini. Both of those speakers work with Sonos, so you can use voice commands to control the Five just as you would a dedicated Alexa or Google Assistant device. It’s also easier to recommend than it was a year ago, because Sonos refreshed the speaker last spring with a new wireless radio as well as more memory and a faster processor. This means it should stay current and work with future Sonos software updates for years to come.

Since we're talking "best" here, I'm going to go ahead and recommend that true music junkies splash out on two Five speakers and pair them in stereo. Put simply, it's the most enjoyable experience I've had listening to music in years; I found myself picking up new details while listening to albums I've heard over and over again. It's a wonderful experience and worth saving for if you're a music lover. Put simply, I didn't know what I was missing until I tried the Five.

Best portable smart speaker: Sonos Roam

Sonos Roam portable speaker outside, standing vertically on a wooden railing.
Engadget

While many people will be happy with a few speakers strategically placed throughout their home, you might want something that works outside as well as inside. Fortunately, you can find speakers that pair voice controls and strong music playback performance with portable, weatherproof form factors. For my money, it's hard to beat the Sonos Roam for sheer versatility, not to mention audio quality.

Buy Sonos Roam at Sonos - $179

When used inside the home, the Roam works like any other Sonos speaker. It fits in with an existing multi-room Sonos setup, or you can get a pair for stereo playback. Like most other Sonos speakers, it works with either the Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa, and it supports essentially every major music service available. It sounds very good given its tiny size; it’s quieter and not quite as clear as the Sonos One, but it still packs a surprising bass thump and distinct highs.

Since it was designed with on-the-go usage in mind, the Roam has a battery and Bluetooth so you can take it anywhere and use it far away from your WiFi network. And its diminutive size makes it easy to take it everywhere, both around the house and out and about. It’s also the first Sonos speaker that is fully waterproof, as well as dust- and drop-resistant, so you shouldn’t worry about taking it to the pool or beach.

The Roam gets about 10 hours of battery life, whether you're on WiFI or Bluetooth. There are other portable speakers that last longer, so if you’re really going to push the battery you might be better served by another option.

Sonos also has another portable option, the Move. Like the Roam, it’s a full-fledged Sonos speaker when on WiFi and works with Bluetooth when you’re away from home. But it’s $400 and much larger than the Roam, and even bigger than the Sonos One. This means it is very loud and has better audio quality than all the other speakers I’ve mentioned, but it’s not something you can toss in a bag and bring with you anywhere. When I reviewed it, I liked having a speaker I could tote around the house with me and out to my porch, but the Roam does that all just as well in a much smaller package. The Move is a good option if you want a high-quality speaker for a living room with the option to occasionally drag it to the backyard.

While this guide is all about smart speakers, we'd be remiss if we didn't mention all of the solid portable speakers out there that either have limited smart features or none at all. We have an entire guide to the best portable Bluetooth speakers, and some of our favorites that support smart voice commands come from Bose. The $149 SoundLink Flex supports Siri and Google Assistant commands, plus it has an IP67 design that's roughly the size of a small clutch bag. It pumps out bright, dynamic sound and can pair with other speakers for stereo sound, too.

On the higher end of the spectrum, the $399 Bose Portable Smart speaker supports Alexa and Google Assistant commands, and since it can connect to WiFi, you can ask your preferred assistant to play music from Spotify, Amazon Music and other services. On top of that, it produces well-rounded sound, sports an IPX4 design with a convenient carry handle and will last up to 12 hours on a single charge.

The best smart speakers you can buy

When Amazon first introduced Alexa and the Echo speaker years ago, the idea of talking to a digital assistant wasn't totally novel. Both the iPhone and Android phones had semi-intelligent voice controls — but with the Echo, Amazon took its first step toward making something like Alexa a constant presence in your home. Since then, Apple and Google have followed suit, and now there's a huge variety of smart speakers available at various price points.

As the market exploded, the downsides of having a device that's always listening for a wake word have become increasingly apparent. They can get activated unintentionally, sending private recordings back to monolithic companies to analyze. And even at the best of times, giving more personal information to Amazon, Apple and Google can be a questionable decision. That said, all these companies have made it easier to manage how your data is used — you can opt out of humans reviewing some of your voice queries, and it's also less complicated to manage and erase your history with various digital assistants, too.

The good news is that there's never been a better time to get a smart speaker, particularly if you're a music fan. For all their benefits, the original Amazon Echo and Google Home devices did not sound good. Sonos, on the other hand, made great sounding WiFi-connected speakers, but they lacked any voice-controlled smarts.

That's all changed now. Sonos is including both Alexa and Google Assistant support in its latest speakers. Google and Amazon, meanwhile, made massive improvements in sound quality with recent speakers. Even lower-end models like the Echo Dot and Nest Mini sound much better than earlier iterations. With the growing popularity of these speakers, there are now more options than ever. Let’s walk through the best choices at different price points and for different uses.

Picking an assistant

The first thing most people should do is decide what voice assistant they want to use. Google Assistant and Amazon's Alexa are both well-supported options that are continually evolving, with new features added at a steady clip. A few years ago, Alexa worked with more smart home devices, but at this point, basically any smart device worth buying works with both.

It's mostly a matter of personal preference. If you already use Google Assistant on your Android phone, it makes sense to stick with that. But while Alexa isn’t quite as good at answering general knowledge questions, it syncs just fine with things like calendars from your Google account. And it works with perhaps the widest variety of smart home devices, as well. If you’ve never used Alexa or Google Assistant, you can download their apps to your smart phone and spend some time testing them out before buying a speaker.

As for Apple, you won’t be surprised to learn its HomePod mini is the only Siri-compatible speaker on the market, now that Apple has discontinued the larger HomePod. Siri has a reputation for not being as smart as Alexa or Google Assistant, but it’s totally capable of handling common voice queries like answering questions, controlling smart home devices, sending messages, making calls and playing music. Technically, Siri and Apple’s HomeKit technology doesn’t work with as many smart home devices as the competition, but it’s not hard to find compatible gear. And since the HomePod mini arrived last fall, Apple has added some handy features like a new Intercom tool. Apple is also starting to support music services besides Apple Music. Currently, Pandora is the only other option, but Apple has confirmed that Amazon Music will eventually work natively on the HomePod mini as well.

Best smart speaker under $50: Amazon Echo Dot

Amazon Echo Dot 2020
Engadget

Most people's entry point into the smart speaker world will not be an expensive device. Amazon's fourth-generation Echo Dot and Google's Nest Mini are the most obvious places to start for two important reasons. One, they're cheap: Both the Nest Mini and Echo Dost cost $50. Two, they're capable. Despite the low price, these speakers can do virtually the same things as larger and more expensive devices.

Buy Echo Dot at Amazon - $50Buy Nest Mini at Walmart - $50

The Nest Mini was released in late 2019, but Amazon just refreshed the Echo Dot in 2020. After testing both devices, I think the Echo Dot is the best small smart speaker for most people. Amazon keeps improving the audio quality across its Echo line, and the Echo Dot is no exception. It produces much louder and clearer audio than I’d expect from a $50 speaker. The Nest Mini doesn’t sound bad, and it’s perfectly fine for listening in the bedroom while getting ready for the day, but the Echo Dot is a better all-purpose music listening device.

From a design perspective, Amazon broke the mold with the latest Echo Dot. Instead of a small puck like the Nest Mini, the new Dot is shaped like a little globe. It’s much bigger than the Nest Mini, but that size gives it room for higher-end audio components. The Dot keeps the handy physical volume buttons and mute switch on top, along with a button to activate Alexa. While the Dot doesn’t look as sleek as the Nest Mini, having physical buttons makes it easier to adjust volume and mute the mic. I do wish the Dot had a way to physically pause music; on the Nest Mini, if you tap the middle of the device, the music stops.

Another benefit the Echo Dot has over the Nest Mini is its 3.5mm audio out jack, which means you can plug it into other speakers and instantly upgrade the audio quality. When you do that, you can ask Alexa to stream music, and it'll output to whatever speaker you have connected. That'll help you get more mileage out of the Dot in the long run. The Nest Mini answers with a handy wall mount, for people who want to keep their counter or shelf clear. The Echo Dot’s new bulbous form is definitely not suited to this, so if you want a speaker you can really hide, the Nest Mini is probably the better choice.

Overall, the Dot is the best choice for most people, but I wouldn't hesitate to recommend the Nest Mini, either. I generally prefer using Google Assistant over Alexa, and anyone who feels the same should go ahead and get the Nest Mini. The Dot does sound notably better, so if you plan to listen to audio on a regular basis, that’s probably the way to go. But if you only plan to use it for a quick song or podcast when you’re getting ready in the morning, just pick your favorite assistant and go from there.

Best smart speaker under $100: Amazon Echo

Amazon Echo
Amazon

Amazon, Apple and Google all have $100 smart speakers: the fourth-generation Echo, the HomePod mini and the Nest Audio, respectively. All three companies claim superior audio quality, so for lots of people these speakers will be the sweet spot between small speakers like the Echo Dot and Nest Mini and bigger, more expensive models like the Sonos One.

Buy Echo at Amazon - $100Buy HomePod mini at B&H - $100Buy Nest Audio at Walmart - $100

Once again, Amazon punches above its weight. Like the Dot, the new Echo is totally redesigned and the new internals were made with music in mind. It combines a three-inch woofer with two 0.8-inch tweeters — a more advanced setup than either the Nest Audio or HomePod mini. (The Nest Audio uses a three-inch woofer but only a single 0.75-inch tweeter, while the HomePod mini makes do with a single “full range” driver and two passive radiators.)

In practice, this means the Echo is noticeably louder than either the Nest Audio or HomePod mini and much better suited to filling a large room than the competition. It also delivers an impressive bass thump and powerful mid-range frequencies. In fact, my main complaint with the speaker is that highs aren’t quite crisp enough. Compare the Echo to a Sonos One and the One sounds much more lively, while the Echo comes off a bit muddy. Then again, the Sonos One costs twice as much as the Echo.

While the Echo may beat the Nest Audio and HomePod mini on volume and bass, Google and Apple’s speakers are not bad options. The HomePod mini is the quietest of the three speakers, but it still sounds balanced across the entire audio spectrum. The bass isn’t too assertive, but there’s more presence than I would have expected given its tiny size (it’s by far the smallest of these three speakers).

And it has a few nice perks if you’re using an iPhone 11 or newer. Thanks to the U1 “ultra-wideband” chip in recent iPhones, the HomePod mini can tell when there’s a phone near it, which makes handing off music from your phone to the speaker (or vice versa) quite simple. Playback controls for the HomePod mini will automatically pop up as well, and your phone’s lock screen will display music suggestions if the speaker isn’t currently playing. Setup is also dead-simple — just bring an iPhone or iPad near the speaker and it’ll automatically start the process.

Google’s Nest Audio is also quite pleasant to listen to. It’s a little louder than the HomePod mini, and has stronger bass, to boot. It doesn’t have the same overall power and presence that the Echo does, but for $100 it’s a well-balanced speaker that should serve most people’s needs.

All three of these speakers support stereo pairing as well, if you want more volume or crave a more immersive experience. For $200, two Echoes will fill a large room with high-quality sound and enough bass to power a party. A pair of HomePod mini or Nest Audio speakers aren’t quite as powerful, but it makes for a great upgrade if you’re a more avid listener. A pair of Nest Audio or HomePod mini speakers sounded great on my desk during the workday. I don’t need overwhelming volume but can appreciate the stereo separation. And two of those speakers together can easily power a larger living space, although the Echo is the better choice if volume is a priority.

Here too, I think that picking the assistant that works best in your house and with your other gadgets is probably the most important factor — but given Alexa’s ubiquity and the new Echo’s superior sound quality, I think it’s the best smart speaker at this price point.

Best midrange smart speakers: Sonos One, Amazon Echo Studio

If you have more than a passing interest in music, the Echo Dot and Nest Mini aren't really going to cut it. Spending more money to upgrade to a speaker designed with audio in mind is one of the best decisions I've made. For years, I didn't have a proper home music solution, but in the end the modest investment has made my life much more pleasant.

For a long time, my default recommendation was the $219 Sonos One. It hits a sweet spot of size and convenience, and it's a huge upgrade in sound quality over the Nest Mini or Echo Dot, not to mention the larger Echo and Nest Audio. You can use either Alexa or the Google Assistant with it, and Sonos supports a huge variety of music services. But most importantly, it simply sounds great, especially if you tune the speaker to your room using the Sonos iOS app. It takes just a few minutes and makes the One sound lively, with punchy bass and clear highs.

Buy Sonos One at Sonos - $219Buy Echo Studio at Amazon - $200

But Amazon flipped the script in 2019 with the Echo Studio, a $200 Alexa-powered smart speaker that can stand up against the Sonos One. Yes, it's larger than nearly every other speaker in this guide, but the bang-for-the-buck factor is extremely high with the Echo Studio. Naturally, it's a full-fledged member of the Alexa ecosystem, which means you can do multi-room playback with other Echo speakers or set up two Studios in a stereo pair. All of Alexa's features are on board here, and it has a built-in Zigbee smart home hub, if you happen to need that.

The Echo Studio has a few other unique features for music lovers. If you sign up for Amazon's hi-def music service, you can play a (very limited) selection of songs in Sony's 360 Reality Audio format; Amazon refers to this as "3D music." It may sound great, but the selection is so sparse that we can't recommend it as a reason to buy into the Echo Studio — but it will be nice as Amazon expands its catalog over time. That said, the Echo Studio’s five-speaker, 360-degree design naturally provides a more 3D effect than a speaker like the Sonos One, which has a more traditional forward-firing design.

The Studio also supports Dolby Atmos, making it a candidate for a home theater setup — but it only works with Amazon's own Fire TV devices. And using a single speaker for watching movies is odd; it may sound great, but it's not the immersive experience you'll get with a dedicated soundbar and surround speakers. A stereo pair plus Amazon's Echo Sub should sound notably better, but we haven't been able to get that setup yet.

Given the quality of the Studio, the speaker shines when used with a high-def streaming service, like Amazon Music HD or Tidal's HiFi tier. The downside is that you'll pay for those — but if you want to stick with standard Spotify or Apple Music, the Studio still sounds great.

While the Studio is comparable to the Sonos One in terms of pure audio quality, the Sonos ecosystem does have a few advantages over Amazon. Sonos speakers that support voice commands, like the One, work with either Alexa or Google Assistant. So if you prefer Google, Sonos is probably the way to go. And Sonos speakers work with a much broader set of music services. I’ve spent a lot of time recently comparing the One to the Echo Studio, and I go back and forth on which is superior in terms of music quality. They definitely have different profiles, and while I have come to prefer Sonos over Amazon, I know plenty of people (including my colleague Billy Steele) who find the opposite to be true.

If you have a smaller home and aren't concerned with multi-room playback, the Echo Studio should be your pick. But if you're interested in building out a multi-room setup over time, Sonos currently provides a greater variety of speakers for that mission. But either way, you'll end up with a setup that puts something like the Echo Dot or Nest Mini to shame.

Best smart speaker for music lovers: Sonos Five

Sonos Play 5

As nice as the Echo Studio and Sonos One are, there's only so much you can get out of them. If you crave more bass, clarity and stereo separation, the Sonos Five is one of our favorite pure music speakers. It has all the conveniences of the One (except for one, which we'll get to) and sounds significantly better than any other Sonos speaker. It also sounds much better than the Echo Studio and anything Google is currently selling.

Buy Sonos Five at Sonos - $549

That said, the Five stretches our definition of a smart speaker here because it doesn't have a built-in voice assistant. But it's so good at music playback that it's worth recommending you pick one up along with an Echo Dot or Nest Mini. Both of those speakers work with Sonos, so you can use voice commands to control the Five just as you would a dedicated Alexa or Google Assistant device. It’s also easier to recommend than it was a year ago, because Sonos refreshed the speaker last spring with a new wireless radio as well as more memory and a faster processor. This means it should stay current and work with future Sonos software updates for years to come.

Since we're talking "best" here, I'm going to go ahead and recommend that true music junkies splash out on two Five speakers and pair them in stereo. Put simply, it's the most enjoyable experience I've had listening to music in years; I found myself picking up new details while listening to albums I've heard over and over again. It's a wonderful experience and worth saving for if you're a music lover. Put simply, I didn't know what I was missing until I tried the Five.

Best portable smart speaker: Sonos Roam

Sonos Roam portable speaker outside, standing vertically on a wooden railing.
Engadget

While many people will be happy with a few speakers strategically placed throughout their home, you might want something that works outside as well as inside. Fortunately, you can find speakers that pair voice controls and strong music playback performance with portable, weatherproof form factors. For my money, it's hard to beat the Sonos Roam for sheer versatility, not to mention audio quality.

Buy Sonos Roam at Sonos - $179

When used inside the home, the Roam works like any other Sonos speaker. It fits in with an existing multi-room Sonos setup, or you can get a pair for stereo playback. Like most other Sonos speakers, it works with either the Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa, and it supports essentially every major music service available. It sounds very good given its tiny size; it’s quieter and not quite as clear as the Sonos One, but it still packs a surprising bass thump and distinct highs.

Since it was designed with on-the-go usage in mind, the Roam has a battery and Bluetooth so you can take it anywhere and use it far away from your WiFi network. And its diminutive size makes it easy to take it everywhere, both around the house and out and about. It’s also the first Sonos speaker that is fully waterproof, as well as dust- and drop-resistant, so you shouldn’t worry about taking it to the pool or beach.

The Roam gets about 10 hours of battery life, whether you're on WiFI or Bluetooth. There are other portable speakers that last longer, so if you’re really going to push the battery you might be better served by another option.

Sonos also has another portable option, the Move. Like the Roam, it’s a full-fledged Sonos speaker when on WiFi and works with Bluetooth when you’re away from home. But it’s $400 and much larger than the Roam, and even bigger than the Sonos One. This means it is very loud and has better audio quality than all the other speakers I’ve mentioned, but it’s not something you can toss in a bag and bring with you anywhere. When I reviewed it, I liked having a speaker I could tote around the house with me and out to my porch, but the Roam does that all just as well in a much smaller package. The Move is a good option if you want a high-quality speaker for a living room with the option to occasionally drag it to the backyard.

While this guide is all about smart speakers, we'd be remiss if we didn't mention all of the solid portable speakers out there that either have limited smart features or none at all. We have an entire guide to the best portable Bluetooth speakers, and some of our favorites that support smart voice commands come from Bose. The $149 SoundLink Flex supports Siri and Google Assistant commands, plus it has an IP67 design that's roughly the size of a small clutch bag. It pumps out bright, dynamic sound and can pair with other speakers for stereo sound, too.

On the higher end of the spectrum, the $399 Bose Portable Smart speaker supports Alexa and Google Assistant commands, and since it can connect to WiFi, you can ask your preferred assistant to play music from Spotify, Amazon Music and other services. On top of that, it produces well-rounded sound, sports an IPX4 design with a convenient carry handle and will last up to 12 hours on a single charge.

The best smart displays you can buy

Smart displays have evolved quite a bit since the initial debut of Amazon’s first Echo Show back in 2017. In fact, the category didn’t really come into its own until Google joined the fray with its own line of hardware about a year later. Now, both of these companies are essentially dominating the smart display landscape, with each offering their own take on a smart assistant with a screen.

It’s that screen that makes smart displays so much more useful than smart speakers. Rather than just having a voice recite the current weather report, for example, you can see a five-day forecast as well. The same goes for when you ask about your shopping list or calendar; it's simply easier to see the whole list or your day's appointments at a glance.

Plus, displays offer other benefits that speakers can't, like watching videos or checking your webcam to see who's at your front door. They're especially handy in the kitchen, where you can use them for step-by-step cooking instructions. And, thanks to touchscreens, you can often navigate through functions and settings a lot faster than using your voice.

Amazon vs. Google

The first question you should ask is whether you'd rather be in Amazon's ecosystem or Google's. If you have a lot of Google products in your home, like Nest thermostats or Nest cams, then a Google-powered model makes more sense. If you have Amazon products, like a Fire TV Stick or a Ring cam, Amazon would obviously be a better choice. Of course, it's perfectly acceptable to have products from competing companies in the same home, but just realize they might not work seamlessly with each other.

Aside from that, the two systems also offer some unique features. Google, for example, works best if you have an existing Google account and use services like Calendar and Photos. In fact, we especially love Google smart displays because they work well as digital photo frames. You can set it up to automatically pull in pictures of friends and family from your Google Photos library, and the algorithm is smart enough to use what it thinks are the best shots — so less chance of blurry photos or images of your eyes half-closed showing up, for example.

It might seem like a minor point, but seeing as the display is on standby 90 percent of the time, its secondary function as a digital photo frame is very welcome. All Google smart displays also support YouTube and YouTube TV, step-by-step cooking instructions and all of the usual benefits of Google Assistant, like weather reports. As with Assistant on the phone, it also has voice recognition, so only you can see your calendar appointments and not others.

Amazon's smart displays, on the other hand, are slightly different. Instead of YouTube, they offer some alternative video streaming options, including Amazon Prime, NBC and Hulu. They also come with two browsers (Silk and Firefox), which you can use to search the web or watch YouTube videos – a handy enough workaround given the lack of a dedicated app.

Amazon devices offer step-by-step cooking instructions as well, thanks to collaborations with sources like SideChef and AllRecipes. In fact, the cooking instructions sometimes include short video clips. But although you can use Amazon's displays as digital photo frames, the process is not quite as intuitive as Google’s, and Amazon doesn’t have anything comparable to Google’s photo-sorting algorithm.

The best smart displays

Smart displays come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, and some are better suited to certain rooms in the home than others. So while we do have some favorite all-around picks, we've also compiled a list of smart displays that would suit specific use cases as well.

The best Google smart display: Google Nest Hub

Google Nest Hub

We at Engadget tend to prefer Google smart displays because most people are likely already entrenched in the Google ecosystem due to the ubiquity of Google services like Gmail, Calendar and so forth. We also tend to find Google Assistant to be a little smarter than Alexa, especially when bringing up answers from the web. As mentioned earlier, we also really like the tie-in with Google Photos and the smart photo-sorting algorithm.

Our favorite smart display overall is Google's latest Nest Hub. Its 7-inch size is a better fit in more rooms, and its unobtrusive design combined with its soft fabric exterior blends nicely into your existing home decor. It does everything we think most people would want in a smart display, like YouTube videos, step-by-step cooking instructions, smart home controls and the ability to check in on your Nest cams if you have any.

In fact, the Nest Hub is especially useful if you have a Nest video doorbell, as the camera view of who’s at the front door will show up on the screen. An ambient light sensor helps to detect the light and color temperature of the environment and adjusts the screen to match. Plus, if you choose, it can help track your sleep patterns if placed next to your bed.

Another feature of the Nest Hub is actually a lack of one: It doesn't have a camera. That gives it that additional layer of privacy that many people covet, and it's also a lot more suitable for personal spaces like the bedroom. Sure, you could also cover up a camera with a shutter, but with the Nest Hub you don't have to remember to do that.

Buy Nest Hub at Walmart - $100

Runner up: Google Nest Hub Max

Google Nest Hub Max

If you like Google but you miss having a camera for video calls, or you just prefer a bigger screen, consider the Google Nest Hub Max. At 10 inches instead of seven, it works a lot better for watching videos from YouTube and YouTube TV. It's especially useful in the kitchen, where it functions as a kind of portable television, and you can see more of those step-by-step cooking instructions at a glance. The bigger display also means a larger photo frame, which you may prefer.

As mentioned, the Nest Hub Max adds a camera to the mix. It doesn't have a physical shutter, which is a concern, but you can shut it off with an electronic switch. You can use the camera for video calls with Google's Duo service as well as Zoom, and it can also function as a Nest Cam to help you keep an eye on your house when you're away. Another benefit of the camera is the addition of Face Match facial recognition for authentication purposes, which we found to be a little more accurate than just using Voice Match.

Last but not least, the Nest Hub Max's camera adds a unique gestures feature that lets you play and pause media simply by holding up your hand to the screen. It's not entirely necessary, but it's potentially useful if you're in a noisy environment and just want the music to stop without having to shout over everyone. Or perhaps you have messy hands while cooking and don’t want to dirty up the display.

Buy Nest Hub Max at Walmart - $170

The best Amazon smart display: Amazon Echo Show 8

Amazon Echo Show 8
Amazon

Our favorite Amazon smart display is the second-gen Echo Show 8. Its 8-inch screen is just right; it doesn’t take up as much space as the Echo Show 10, but it’s also more suitable for watching videos than the tiny Echo Show 5. Like other Amazon smart displays, it has a built-in camera, but there is a physical camera cover to help alleviate privacy concerns.

As such, the Echo Show 8 is a compelling choice if you want the option of using your smart display for video calls. Not only is the camera quality fantastic, but the Show 8 has a feature that automatically frames your face and follows your movements during video calls. It’s useful if you want to move around as you’re chatting, or if you have rambunctious children and pets running around the house and you want to involve them in the conversation. You can use the Echo Show 8 to make calls between other Echo Show displays, or through Skype or Zoom.

As with the other smart displays, the Echo Show 8 also works as a digital photo frame and can be used to keep up with the news, check the weather and control smart home devices. If you want to use your smart display to play music, we also really like the Echo Show 8’s audio quality on account of its deep bass and rich tone.

Buy Echo Show 8 at Amazon - $130

Runner up: Amazon Echo Show 5

Amazon Echo Show 5 smart speaker
Nicole Lee / Engadget

At only 5.5 inches wide, the Echo Show 5 is one of the smallest smart displays on the market, and as a result, will work nicely on a desk or a nightstand. In fact, one of the reasons we like the Echo Show 5 so much is that it doubles as a stellar smart alarm clock. It has an ambient light sensor that adjusts the screen's brightness automatically; a tap-to-snooze function so you can whack the top of it for a few extra minutes of shut-eye; plus a sunrise alarm that slowly brightens the screen to wake you up gently.

The Echo Show 5 does have a camera, which might make you a touch queasy if you are privacy conscious – especially if this is supposed to sit by your bedside. Still, it does have a physical camera cover, which can help ease any fears.

Buy Echo Show 5 at Amazon - $85

The best smart clocks

Lenovo Smart Clock

Perhaps a smart display doesn't appeal to you because you don't care about watching videos on it. But maybe the idea of a smarter alarm clock like the Echo Show 5 intrigues you. In that case, I’d recommend the 4-inch Lenovo Smart Clock 2, which isn't a full-fledged smart display because you can't play any videos on it, but it does use Google's smart display tech, so you can use it for controlling your smart home as well as checking out your Nest Cams.

We also like it because it lacks a camera, which makes it perfect for your nightstand. It has all of the features we want in a smart alarm clock, like an ambient light sensor, that tap-to-snooze function and a sunrise alarm. Plus, the latest version can double as a night light – you can swipe down the display to enable it – and you can get an optional wireless charging base to go with it.

If the Smart Clock 2 is too advanced for you, Lenovo does offer an even simpler version called the Smart Clock Essential. It really isn’t a smart display at all – it’s really more of a smart speaker with a clock – but it does perform many of the same functions as the Smart Clock 2.

Lenovo sells the Smart Clock Essential in two different versions: One has Google Assistant, while the other is powered by Alexa. The one with Google Assistant has a built-in night light, an extra USB port for charging devices and a mic-mute button. The one with Alexa, on the other hand, is compatible with an optional docking station that can be used with accessories such as a wireless charging pad or an ambient light dock (it comes in either a sea lion or a squid shape) that can act as a night light.

Buy Lenovo Smart Clock 2 at Walmart - $70Buy Lenovo Smart Clock Essential at Walmart - $33

Top 10 furniture trends of 2022

What truly makes or breaks a home at the end of the day is the furniture that’s placed in it. The right kind of furniture design can create the essence and soul of a home. And I do feel it’s essential that the soul of our home is a reflection of our own soul. Hence picking furniture pieces that bring out the best in our homes, while authentically representing our personality is a must. There are certain types of furniture that have gained enough popularity to be deemed as trends! These furniture trends are fun, sophisticated, and functional. They add an extra spark to your home, without compromising on utility in the least. From furniture designs that transform and save space to sustainable furniture created from cardboard – these intriguing furniture trends are definitely here to stay.

1. Transforming Furniture

Finding a spacious apartment in our urban cities is a rarity! And if you’ve managed to scrounge one up, then you’re an exception and a very lucky one that is! Because let’s be honest, our modern apartments can be pretty cramped. Space constraint is a major issue, and we often find ourselves squeezing through our own belongings. It’s the ultimate test of our maneuvering skills. However, transforming furniture designs are an ingenious solution to this issue of space restraints.

Sustainable furniture design studio Ori adds a WFH apparatus called the Cloud Bed to the mix, merging an office and desk setup with a cantilevered lofted bed that descends to the floor to really hone in the mutability of working from home. In its initial form, the Cloud Bed features a working desk and table beneath a lofted bed. Built for hospitality interiors and personal spaces, this space-saving work from home solution was designed to cover a small footprint inside the home. UL certified to ensure the bed remains lofted and close to the ceiling during working hours, the desk area folds into itself, merging with the floor as the bed descends from its raised position. While it might be tempting to hop up to the top of the bunk bed and sleep from such a high height, the Cloud Bed, Table Edition comes equipped with an internal mechanism that lowers the bed to the floor once the workday is done. With the push of a button, the mattress and wooden bed frame lower down from its elevated post in time with the desk folding inwards toward the floor.

2. Multifunctional Furniture

There’s just something about a multifunctional piece of furniture that ticks all the checkboxes for me! Imagine a product that’s been designed to work as a clothing rack and a treadmill?! Or a side table that transforms into a chair! Space-saving goals much? That’s the magic of a multifunctional furniture design. It looks like a single product, but functions as more than one! They’re a smart option for our modern urban homes, which tend to be pretty cramped, hence adding multiple bulky and cumbersome furniture designs to them isn’t really an option. But multifunctional pieces that serve a variety of purposes, and solve a bunch of unique problems can be a lifesaver in such situations.

Inspired by the blurring of work and play in WFH spaces, Juwon Kim, Jiwon Song, and Eunsang Lee framed Layout with a translucent, corrugated exterior finish that immediately catches the eye. Wrapped in sea green, the Layout desk is modular by design to incorporate a plethora of different work and entertainment features. The Layout desk is topped off with an upper cover that’s designed to conceal the workspace after the workday’s done.

3. Sustainable Furniture

In 2022, we cannot ignore the needs of our planet anymore, we need to take the environment into consideration, and what better way to start doing that than from our own homes? Sustainable furniture is taking the design industry by storm, they’re a step towards making our homes and our daily lives more eco-friendly and sustainable. They’re an attempt to cast aside toxic materials, and instead, add furniture designs to our home that won’t rot away on Earth for years once we’re done with them.

Rattan is an eco-friendly natural material that is usually used in the creation of baskets or furniture, especially chairs. It is sustainable and resilient which makes it an exceptional wood that renews in just 5-7 years. Designers love rattan for creating furniture because the manufacturing is low-tech and the production process usually involves crafting by hand or using facilities that do not negatively impact the environment. Rattan is also an easy material to mold physically and creatively to fit your idea, it accepts paints and it can be worked into many styles. Moreover, the inner core can be separated and worked into wicker – talk about reducing waste! This stool explores the malleability of rattan as a material in furniture design.

4. Smart Furniture

As pleasing as aesthetic and visually intriguing furniture designs can be, people are now shifting towards furniture designs that are more focused on function and utility (that simply put make our lives a whole lot easier) and one such interesting genre is Smart Furniture! Tech-enhanced furniture is a whole new ballgame, catering to our multiple needs, and making our daily lives more comfortable.

The Hariana Tech Smart Ultimate Bed is one such example. It was designed to have everything you will need to relax within your bed frame. It has an integrated reclining massage chair with a remote, a built-in Bluetooth speaker, a bookshelf, a reading lamp, an air cleaning system, an area to plug in and charges your devices, a foot-stool that opens up for extra storage, and a pop-up desk for the ultimate WFH setup, Netflix marathon or cozy reading hours. The sound system also features an SD card slot, an auxiliary port, and a USB port.

5. Pet-friendly Furniture

Ensuring your pet feels safe, secure, and comfortable at home is every pet owner’s priority. We want to make sure they always feel loved and truly at home! It’s important to create an environment where they feel completely safe to let their guard down, while also managing to stay active and playful. And, pet-friendly furniture designs are one way to help your pet feel completely at home! It allows them to truly integrate and feel at one with your living space.

The Playground is a doghouse that also alternates as a modular sofa! The various modules of the sofa can be arranged creating not only different sofa designs but also fun spaces wherein your doggo can hop, bounce, and play about! The wooden doghouse on one side of the furniture piece seems super comfy and adorable! A little hole on its roof, allows your dog to pop his head out of the doghouse, and connect/interact with you while you lounge about on the sofa. It’s the perfect way to spend quality time! Xiao designed Playground, especially for millennial pet owners. The designer kept in mind that the homes of millennials often have space constraints, and nor do they have much free time on their hand. Hence, Playground is extremely easy to put together, and will not occupy much space in our modern-day cramped apartments. Since Playground was created for young target customers, Xiao tried to give it a trendy and cool appearance! Bright colors, minimal woodwork, and a little plant give the furniture design a modern appeal.

6. Floating Beds

The most important and sacred space in our home is our bedroom! It’s our happy place, a space where we can simply sprawl on our bed and de-stress after a long day of adulting. I believe doing up your bedroom in the right manner is extremely essential to a peaceful mindset, and of course, the core focus on any bedroom is its bed. Floating beds have somehow crept into a lot of bedrooms these days. These beds quite literally float above the floor of the room, creating an open and airy effect, and making the bedroom seem much more spacious than it actually is.

Designed by Anna Kireeva, this bedroom in a house called ‘In The Woods’, is truly placed right in the middle of a forest! A floating bed is surrounded by floor-to-ceiling windows, that provide access to the woods around it, creating a space that feels large and open.

7. Flat-packed Furniture

Flat-packed designs are really quite intriguing! They’re portable, easy to put together and occupy minimum space. And, this innovative technology is now being introduced to almost all kinds of product designs…including furniture! From foldable chairs to pet houses, there’s nothing that cannot be flat-packed. These designs, not only rate high on space efficiency, but also eliminate the usage of heavier space-consuming designs. They are definitely functionally and ergonomically beneficial, but they also possess minimal and clean aesthetics, that allow them to harmoniously blend with any living space. Flat-packed furniture is also a major boon when you’re moving houses. You can easily ship all your furniture from one home to another, without having to do any heavy lifting and carrying. Flat-packed furniture designs are truly the future!

In the unfolded position, FLUP works like a conventional mat or rug on which we can sit or step without interrupting the movement of people through the space. It transforms from plane to volume, from floor to space while changing the function with its shape. In the folded position, it works as a piece of minimal furniture – it can be used as a pouf, an auxiliary seat, a footrest, a nightstand, etc. It is a perfect example of space-saving furniture. What makes it better is that there is no assembly required, it is a singular element that transforms with folds into another object like origami.

8. Minimal Furniture

I absolutely love minimal furniture designs! A subtle and simple piece of furniture can truly complete a room. It can be the final piece that makes a space come full circle, building a comfortable and cohesive haven, rather than a random area. Furniture pieces make or break a home, they add to the essence or soul of a home, hence one needs to be extremely picky while choosing a furniture design. The design should be a reflection of you, and what you want your home to be. When you place a piece of furniture in a room, it should instantly integrate with the space, creating a wholesome and organic environment. And I believe minimal furniture designs do exactly that!

The Piano desk gives that traditional piano design a nod by incorporating it into your familiar wooden desk with some additional inspiration from the Standard chair by Jean Prouvé that elevates the minimal piece. The Piano desk created so the designer could experiment with a hybrid material selection and play with interesting visual contrasts. On the one hand, we have metal which is a cold material that is beautifully balanced by the warmer wood. On the other hand, the same metal which allows for a slimmer silhouette is given the sturdiness with the addition of wood. The key factor in the briefing was to design a product with a democratic approach. That is how the minimal desk without any complex production processes was born while still featuring a small design element that other minimal desks didn’t have – the dipped shelf!

9. Furniture with Hidden Details

Designed with extreme attention to detail, overflowing with love and care, and not only aesthetically but functionally pleasing, furniture designs with hidden details are an invaluable addition to your living space, making you feel truly at home. These furniture designs not only feel like pieces of art but also touch your heart. Once you settle on to them, or place your favorite book upon them, or simply brush past them, you instantly feel “Ah, I’m home!”

Designed by Casey Johnson Studio, the Billow Desk is a majestic wooden desk. Its most intriguing detail would be the shelving space, below the tabletop, which is billowed out from the front. It’s a storage unit that instantly calls for attention, and is at a distinction from the usual storage designs.

10. Cardboard Furniture

We always associate furniture with being built from traditional materials such as metal, wood, or plastic. And, although these materials create fantastic products, I do wonder if they are the most sustainable and efficient option out there. A material that furniture designers have been recently venturing into is…cardboard. Cardboard is great for building sustainable furniture, as these designs tend to leave a minimal carbon footprint, and are recyclable and biodegradable as well! Not to mention product designs crafted from cardboard tend to be light, portable, and also easy to assemble.

Every piece of furniture that Kibardin makes is one of a kind, there is no mold and he shapes them all himself. We are now moving towards a sustainable lifestyle but Kibardin has been doing this for over 25 years – he has successfully recycled 2000 pounds of cardboard which is equivalent to saving 17 trees into sustainable furniture. To put it into perspective, 17 trees absorb 250 pounds of carbon dioxide each year and we need to ramp up the materials we use in design so that they serve a functional purpose while also contributing to slowing down the climate crisis. Using sustainable construction materials like paper and turning it into furniture that is stylish, modern, and eco-conscious is the future of long-lasting interior design.

The post Top 10 furniture trends of 2022 first appeared on Yanko Design.