Smart Speakers vs. Bluetooth Speakers: What’s the Difference and Which Should You Buy?

A photo of a Google Nest Mini on a countertop.
Vantage_DS/Shutterstock

There’s only so much you can learn from a name. Bluetooth speakers and smart speakers may look similar, but they’re significantly different from one another in terms of portability, convenience, and function. But what are the differences between Bluetooth speakers and smart speakers, and which should you buy?

We’re going to take an in-depth look at Bluetooth speakers and smart speakers. But before we get into it, I want to give you a general summary of how they’re different. Bluetooth speakers are battery-powered, portable, and wireless. But smart speakers connect to your home internet and listen for voice commands to play music or control your home—they’re the Alexa and Google Assistant products that you see on TV.

Now that you know the general difference between Bluetooth and smart speakers, lets get into the nitty-gritty.

Bluetooth Speakers: Portable, Affordable, and Loud

A photo of the JBL Charge 2 smart speaker on some concrete.
Roman Arbuzov/Shutterstock

A Bluetooth speaker is just a wireless speaker. It plays whatever sound is coming from your phone, tablet, computer, or TV (including calls and ringtones). You don’t need to download a special app to use a Bluetooth speaker, but you do have to pair your device to the speaker before you start using it.

Most Bluetooth speakers are battery-powered and portable. Even small Bluetooth speakers like the JBL Charge or the Bose SoundLink can get loud as all hell, which makes them perfect for parties, travel, or wandering around the house. Also, anyone with a phone or computer can connect to a Bluetooth speaker, so your friends and family won’t feel left out.

Of course, Bluetooth speakers aren’t just for parties. Some high-end Bluetooth speakers, like Bluetooth soundbars or bookshelf speakers, stay plugged into the wall and free up the clutter around your TV or audio equipment. Items like the JBL CLIP are perfect for singing in the shower, and Bluetooth speakers with built-in mics (which is most of them at this point) can stand in for your phone’s terrible loudspeaker.

But the biggest selling point for Bluetooth speakers, aside from portability, volume level, and low price tag, may be the fact that they aren’t connected to the internet. Wi-Fi smart speakers present some obvious privacy concerns that don’t exist in the world of “dumb” Bluetooth speakers. Also, you never know how long a smart “connected” device will work before its manufacturer deems it obsolete. Bluetooth speakers, on the other hand, will exist as long as Bluetooth exists.

Rugged Body, Killer Sound

JBL FLIP 5 - Waterproof Portable Bluetooth Speaker - Black (New Model)

The JBL FLIP 5 is a durable, water-resistant Bluetooth speaker with a 12-hour battery and a lightweight form-factor. It's loud, it sounds amazing, and it's perfect for trips to the beach or amplified phone calls.

Smart Speakers: Wi-Fi Connected, Smart Home Ready

A photo of the Amazon Echo smart speaker on a table.
r.classen/Shutterstock

Internet-connected smart speakers, like the Amazon Echo, Google Nest Mini, or Apple HomePod, listen for voice commands and automatically retrieve whatever you want to listen to. They make it easy to pull up podcasts, radio stations, songs, playlists, and more without any help from your phone or computer.

If you’re looking for an easy, awesome speaker for your home, then a smart speaker might be a better option than a typical Bluetooth speaker. Smart speakers stream high-quality audio straight from the internet, so your music isn’t interrupted every time you get a phone call or text message. You can arrange smart speakers for cheap and easy whole-home audio, and anyone on your Wi-Fi network can control you smart speaker from a phone or laptop if they don’t feel comfortable using voice commands.

Am I missing something here? Oh, right. Smart speakers also make for fantastic personal assistants. You can ask a smart speaker to call a friend, answer a math problem, or set an event on your calendar. Smart speakers can control smart home devices, like dimmable smart bulbs or plugs, or even change the channel on your TV. Of course, not everyone is interested in smart home features. If you want a smart speaker that focuses on high-quality audio and has the option for voice controls, then the Sonos One might be your best bet.

Smart speakers come in all shapes and sizes. There’s the small Google Nest Mini and Echo Dot, the medium-sized Google Home and Amazon Echo, and the large Google Home Max and Echo Studio. Google and Amazon also sell smart displays like the Google Nest Hub and the Echo Show, which are basically smart speakers with touchscreens.

But smart speakers aren’t portable. They’re useless without a Wi-Fi connection and they rarely have a built-in battery. If you need something to take to the beach, then this isn’t the way to go. Also, internet-connected smart speakers are loaded with privacy concerns and won’t last as long as Bluetooth speakers, which is worth considering if you plan to spend a lot of cash.

Great Sound at a Smart Price

Echo (3rd Gen)- Smart speaker with Alexa- Charcoal

The Amazon Echo smart speaker offers fantastic sound quality (and volume) at a reasonable price. It's easy to set up and easy to use.

The In-Between: Portable Smart Speakers

A photo of the Sonos Move at a pool.
Sonos

The difference between Bluetooth speakers and smart speakers is pretty clear-cut. Bluetooth speakers are portable and pair with your phone, while smart speakers stay at home, connect to your Wi-Fi network, and operate through voice commands.

But what if you want something in-between those two options? Well, you could always buy a portable smart speaker.

Portable smart speakers like the Sonos Move, Bose Portable Home Speaker, or JBL Link Portable have rechargeable batteries and work over Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. They’re perfect for roaming around the house or chilling outside where Wi-Fi isn’t available. Both speakers are weatherproof, have a 10+ hour battery life, and recharge on magnetic stands. They aren’t the most affordable speakers, but they’re the only option for people who want the best of both worlds.

The Best of Both Worlds

Sonos Move - Battery-powered Smart Speaker, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth with Alexa built-in - Black???????

The Sonos Move is a battery-powered smart speaker. It works with Alexa or Google Assistant when you're at home and Bluetooth when you're on the go. It's weatherproof, durable, and it sounds fantastic.

Andrew Heinzman Andrew Heinzman
Andrew is a writer for Review Geek and its sister site, How-To Geek. Like a jack-of-all-trades, he handles the writing and image editing for a mess of tech news articles, daily deals, product reviews, and complicated explainers. Read Full Bio »

The above article may contain affiliate links, which help support Review Geek.