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Smart Speakers: An Affordable Way to Stay Connected

Here’s everything you need to know about the cost of owning one

Ownership of smart speakers by people over 50 has more than doubled in the past two years, according to AARP research. Not only do these devices  — powered by digital assistants like Alexa, Google or Siri — make finding information more convenient, but they can also help older adults stay connected to the world around them.

How? When you ask your smart speaker to share the day’s news, call an old friend or tell you a joke, you are having regular conversations. Of course, you aren’t speaking with a real person, but talking to your device can sharpen your social skills and keep your mind engaged. That’s especially important when you live alone. Many older adults, in fact, say their smart speakers are more like companions — companions that help them stay healthy and connected.

If you’re thinking about buying a smart speaker, there are plenty of affordable options available, and you don’t need the most expensive model to reap the benefits.

Below, we break down what you can expect to pay for a smart speaker that does what you need it to do, plus how to use it to hear free music, audiobooks and more without breaking your budget. (If you’re not familiar with how smart speakers work and what they can do, read up on voice-activated devices.)

Affordable speaker options

To pick the right smart speaker for you, start by considering the different digital assistants that run on them. For instance, if you already have an iPhone, you can ask Siri — Apple’s digital assistant — to answer questions or perform tasks for you without having to buy a separate smart speaker. Or, if you have an Android Smartphone, you can ask Google Assistant to perform tasks and answer questions also.

If you don’t have an iPhone, you should be able to find basic smart speakers for under $50 that use digital assistants like Alexa or Google Assistant. Because multiple retailers sell these popular smart speakers, you can usually pick one up on sale, especially around national holidays. What’s more, you may be able to find new in-the-box speakers for less from people selling them through online marketplaces.

No additional subscriptions necessary

Once you buy the speaker, you won’t need to pay for additional subscriptions to begin using it. An Alexa smart speaker from Amazon may require you to open a free Amazon account to make your smart speaker work, but you won’t need to pay for a Prime membership. The same is true for Google-enabled devices; you’ll need a Google account, but not a subscription to any of Google’s services. As we mentioned above, Siri is built into your iPhone and doesn’t require any additional subscription or membership fees.

You can set up the speaker without a smartphone

Setting up and managing the settings of most smart speakers requires using an app on a smartphone or tablet. If you don’t have one, you have two options: You may be able to set it up and manage the settings through the website on your computer, or you can ask a friend, relative or caregiver to use the app on their smartphone to set up the smart speaker for you. (Setting up the speaker is the trickiest part, so it may not be a bad idea to have someone help you with it.)

How to play music for free

Both Amazon and Google offer paid subscriptions for streaming music, but there are plenty of other options. You can listen to music for free on Spotify or Pandora — you’ll just hear the same kinds of advertisements you hear on the radio.

Listen to free audiobooks

With the Libby app, you can stream audiobooks you take out from the library to your smart speaker or smartphone. Amazon also offers free audiobooks to Audible members, and Google Home provides access to free public domain audiobooks as well. All three digital assistants — Alexa, Google and Siri — can read the books to you.

Subscribe to free podcasts

Whatever you’re into, chances are there’s a podcast — a radio program streamed over the internet — for you. There are millions of podcasts available, all at no cost. You can ask your digital assistant to play one of AARP’s weekly podcast series, for example, Take on Today or The Perfect Scam.

Assistance paying for Wi-Fi

Your smart speaker needs an internet connection to function. If you’re having trouble paying for this utility every month, you may be eligible for reduced-cost internet services if you participate in a federal assistance program. Learn more about the Federal Communication Commission’s Lifeline program.

In Summary

Compared to other technology devices, the $50 you’ll pay for a smart speaker is pretty affordable. Plus, it comes with the added benefit of helping you practice your conversation and active listening skills so you’ll have an easier time making and rekindling the connections we all need to thrive.

How Connected Are You?

It has never been more important to know the signs of social isolation. All it takes to get started is your voice. Just say “Alexa, launch Social Check-In” or “Hey Google, talk to Social Check-In” to find out your risk level find support for building connections.


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