Amazon Echo vs Sonos One: Battle of the smart speakers

The Amazon Echo was the original smart speaker. There have been countless rivals and imitators, but it remains one of the most popular options for anyone wanting an AI assistant in a box. Its focus has always been on the assistant side of things, however – with sound coming second. That leaves room for improvement from such competitors as the Sonos One, which prioritises audio performance. But which is right for you?

Related: Sonos One review

Amazon Echo vs Sonos One: Which has a better design?

The original Amazon Echo is no longer being sold, so I’m writing about the upcoming 2nd generation Amazon Echo instead. That actually makes my job here a little easier, because it’s a more interesting design.

What you get is a cylindrical device with a speaker grille running all around. The top plate has a few buttons and microphones, plus Amazon’s signature ring of light that goes blue when the device is in action, or red when it’s disabled.

Amazon makes a stab at interior design by offering several finish and fabric options, so you can try to match your surroundings. You only get the basic black or white finishes with the Echo Dot and Echo Plus, but they look very much the same, only varying in height. The Echo Look’s design has with nothing in common with the others – it’s wedge shape is angular and awkward, but it has a screen.

Echo 2

The Sonos One is a much more simple affair, perhaps because it has to match the existing, non-AI Sonos speakers. It’s essentially a Sonos Play:1 speaker with tweaks – a stout, four sided speaker with rounded edges and a speaker grill that goes all around. Its top plate has touch-sensitive controls, and instead of a light ring you get a single LED. It’s available in a standard matte black or white.

Sonos says that it’s supposed to blend in with your surroundings, rather than make a statement. If you want a faux wood or metallic finish, the Amazon Echo is your only option.

Related: Amazon Echo 2 vs Echo

Sonos One

Amazon Echo vs Sonos One: Which has better features?

On a basic level, Amazon Echo and Sonos One can do the same things. They are armed with Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant, which means both are capable of home automation, plus basic tasks such as setting alarm clocks and telling bed-time stories. And they are speakers.

The Sonos One takes this to another level with its audio pedigree and flexibility. You can pair two units together to play in stereo configuration. Or you can use Sonos One as a surround speaker in a home cinema set up with a Sonos Playbase.

Sonos also has an existing multi-room ecosystem, which makes it really easy to send music throughout your house. Now that Alexa has been integrated, you can use your voice to get music playing in the kitchen.

The Sonos One has Google Assistant compatibility, which means it can double up as a Google Home. It can also handle AirPlay 2, which means you can easily stream audio from Apple devices.

The Amazon Echo is resolutely an Alexa-driven device, and it has some neat tricks to counter Sonos’ fancy audio features. For starters, it offers Bluetooth and 3.5mm output, and there is theoretically no limit to how big a speaker you can connect it to. If you have an existing hi-fi set up, the Amazon Echo (and the Echo Dot and Echo Plus) can play through it.

The Echo Plus is a little more focused on the smart home element, as it contains a smart hub for easier connection to devices such as Philips Hue or Samsung SmartThings. The Echo Look has a screen and camera, and is designed for video calls.

Related: The ultimate multi-room audio guide: Sonos vs the rivals

Sonos One

Amazon Echo vs Sonos One: Which is better value?

Here’s where things get a bit tricky. The number of Amazon Echo devices out there means the value for money proposition isn’t nearly as clear cut as you’d hope.

The standard 2nd generation Amazon Echo is £89.99, which is just less than half the £199 asking price of the Sonos One.

It’s hard to say which offers better value, because the Sonos One offers a lot more for the money. It is a lot more audio-driven, with an emphasis on high performance, set-up flexibility and multi-room skills. Then there’s the fact that it can double as a Google Home. If your priority is music and you already have a Sonos setup, the Sonos One is a no-brainer.

The best-value Amazon Echo is probably the Echo Dot. Its low price of £50 means you don’t need to break the bank to have an assistant in every room. It doesn’t have the audio sophistication of the Sonos One, but if audio is your thing then maybe you can use it with existing speakers.

The Echo Plus seems to be geared for people with more of an interest in home automation, as it tries to replace the hubs typically required for Philips Hue and Samsung Smart things. As the Sonos One is primarily an audio device, it doesn’t bother with these smart elements.

Then there’s the Echo Look. If you want a screen for football scores and video calls, that is your only option.

Which smart speaker speaks to you? Give us a shout on Twitter @trustedreviews