/ 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.


If I want to listen to music I’ll use the radio or put a CD on my hi-fi. £150 is, to many, not an insignificant sum. These are the latest toys to tempt people to part with cash unnecessarily, or to solve a birthday present problem. Need them – no! Might find them nice to have? Maybe, I’ve seen the indispensable argument before. Once we had basic cars with 3 gears, vacuum wipers, window winders. Now we “need” a host of gizmos, from aircon to satnav to automatic parking. Needed? No – we still got around in the old ones. Nice to have? Of course.

bishbut says:
12 August 2017

Smart hubs like many other things are not necessary at all .Lazy people abound People who expect others to do everything for them and machines to do everything else Some say it saves time but what do with the time saved? Just play with all the smart things they have wasted money on


I believe the Amazon Echo was inadvertently hijacked by someone outside the house, recently. More seriously, I do suspect this is an innovation seeking a function.

There’s a growing divide between the retired, elderly people who simply can’t conceive of any use for such a device and the younger, professional workers who might well find them invaluable. I was struck by the tone of Martin’s topic header. It conveyed an inbuilt assumption that the home hub is an accepted and even necessary item of technology and the thrust was merely about whether a Hi-Fi speaker inside it would be advantageous. The responses from all of us revealed two quite opposing fields of view.

I enjoy using technology and I use it a great deal, and it sometimes amazes me when I think back to my childhood just how far we have come in terms of convenience, speed and sheer performance.

I have always loved music and from a very early age was repeatedly playing the only two 78s we had in the house on a motor-driven record deck, which I worked out (at the age of 7) how to wire through the valve amp in our LW radio. I was besotted with Journey into Space and have enjoyed a life-long affiliation with Science Fiction ever since. Similarly I always loved film, drama and literature.

That we can, now, carry around the equivalent of 38 days-worth of music in the back pocket, or that the media server I built can produce any Sci-fi film or TV show instantly, without having to extract the DVD, CD or Blu Ray from their hideously contrived boxes that defy common-sense or without having to sit through the seemingly interminable warnings about copyright theft or ‘coming soon’ or, at the most basic level, irritating ads makes my life and that of my family so much better.

What it does for me is make life far less stressful (except if the media server goes down…) and saves a lot of time which I have no difficulty putting to good use on the piano. And that’s another interesting aspect: for daily use I have a Yamaha electronic piano. It never needs tuning, replicates the touch of a Bechstein to perfection and the actual sound is as close to a Steinway grand as I suspect it will be possible to get. It is, admittedly, the top of the range model but I’ve used Steinways a great deal and the Yamaha is almost perfect through headphones and extremely good through the inbuilt (and colossal) speakers.

So – no; I don’t know yet whether home hubs as, as Malcolm suggests, are ” the latest toys to tempt people to part with cash unnecessarily” and, like Wave, will wait and see. But we’ve already given media servers to our children and could follow that if the Home Hubs turn out to have a function.

The young professionals don’t always get it right, of course: ours both use Facebook, so no-one’s perfect.


The trouble with technology is that it goes out of date far too quickly and if you don’t buy into every new bit of tech that comes along, you do become part of the negative side of the divide.

I have never owned a tablet because I really don’t have a use for it. I would rather sit at a desktop and if I am out can use my smartphone if I really have to which is not often.

I also have plenty of ways of playing music so I really don’t need a smart hub.

I have a smart washing machine that I will never know if it works or not as I am not likely to do the washing when not at home.

My electronic piano has a floppy disc drive in it.

Which makes me……….. 😥😥😥