/ Technology

Do we need smart hubs that play music?

Amazon Echo and Google Home

We’d all like a washing machine that did the ironing or a vacuum cleaner that walked the dog. But do we really a need a music-playing smart hub, particularly when it adds so much to the price?

Have you ever looked at your kettle and thought, ‘I wish you played music while you boiled!’ No, neither have I. And, as far as I’m aware, no company has been mad enough to try to make one.

Mrs Potts Beauty And The Beast

(What about a singing teapot Martin? – Dean)

For the most part we’re content to let our devices specialise in one thing. The oven cooks, the washing machine cleans clothes – they don’t need to do anything else.

But, there is some appeal in the tech all-rounder. Look at the smartphone: it’s a TV, MP3 player, laptop, not forgetting phone and more, but it isn’t always the best way to do those things. You could watch Netflix on your phone, but it’s better on a TV.

Smart hubs that do it all

What about the latest generation of voice-controlled smart hubs? The Amazon Echo and Google Home control the smart tech you’ve got in the house, they’re personal assistants letting you know what the traffic is like on your way to work and what’s in your diary, and they’re wireless speakers.

All this for around £150 sounds too good to be true. So are these hubs jacks of all trades and masters of none? Looking at the list of features, it’s the wireless speaker that seems to be the odd one out. Both hubs can talk to you, so they need some kind of speaker, but how much extra are you paying to have one that is, supposedly, good enough to play music on?

Well, Amazon has made it easy for us to work out by having two versions of the Echo. The Echo Dot is the smaller of the two with a speaker that’s not good enough for music but is perfectly adequate for hearing Alexa’s (the name of Amazon’s assistant) dulcet tones. It’s identical in every other way, but costs £100 less.

A significant part of the cost of these hubs is for the speaker, but do we want or need one? It is neat to be able to ask them to play whatever song you want, but given that both the Google Home and Amazon Echo can be connected to existing speakers, is it worth paying more for a speaker you won’t use?

What would or do you use a smart hub for (multiple choice)?

Light control (18%, 50 Votes)

Music (18%, 50 Votes)

Thermostat control (17%, 47 Votes)

News (15%, 41 Votes)

Calendar (12%, 33 Votes)

Shopping (8%, 22 Votes)

Video streaming (8%, 21 Votes)

Planning a trip (5%, 14 Votes)

Total Voters: 91

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Is a smart hub with a speaker tempting or a turn off?

Amazon recognised that not everyone needs a speaker and a smart hub, which is why they released the Echo Dot. I have two connected to my speakers and I would be very reluctant to buy a Google Home because I would have no use for its most expensive feature and there’s no option for a cheaper version with a smaller speaker.

I could be in the minority. Perhaps people are buying these because they are speakers, too. If you’re shopping for a new speaker and you see one that can also tell you what the weather’s going to be like then it’s likely to be tempting, but would you be better off buying a separate speaker and smart hub or is the lure of a tech all-rounder too strong to resist?

Would you, or did you, buy an Amazon Echo or Google Home for their music-playing abilities? Or is this just an extra feature you’re happy to pay for to get a voice-controlled smart hub?


The thing with tech innovation is that you may not realise you want it until you have it. Remember the iPad, the iPod, the laptop, the mobile ‘phone, movement activation, the wheel…


I can remember a few more things too:

The Sinclair C5, bead car seat covers, domestic air ionisers, electric carving knives, radioactive toothpaste, amphibious cars, New Coke, Microsoft’s Clippy (the annoying paper clip), subprime mortgages, domestic 3D TV, Google Glass, etc.

Just because innovations get through dragons dens and into shops, that doesn’t mean that they will be needed or adopted.


Electric bikes are increasingly popular and I would not dismiss the possibility that successors of the Sinclair C5 might yet have a place in city centres. Why should personal electric vehicles be the preserve of golfers and the disabled?


Clippy might have been annoying but Rocky the dog was cute.


Sometimes I think that the Lobby could have been named the Ramblers’ Association. 🙂

Edit: Oops. We are not in The Lobby. Our ramblers do get out and about.


Yes, I liked that little dog 🙂


Given the connection of the US dominated corporations to the NSA I am completely convinced I will not be having one of those items. In the event a less “connected” company produced something similar I doubt I would feel it necessary to have either a music playing or non-music playing in any event.

If I become bed-ridden I may change my mind but exercise and thinking prevent premature decay of the faculties. Lord knows what happens if you commence on these labour-saving devices at an early age.


I’m not an early adopter so I will wait and see if these gadgets prove worthwhile. Nephews, nieces, and friends’ children can provide a guided tour – and hopefully let me have a play.

One question we need to ask nowadays is whether gadgets pose security threats.