Josh Rogosin: My take? The Google Home Max and Amazon Echo Studio make valiant attempts at stereo in one package, [b]but I'd personally rather have a Sonos speaker that just does mono well. When I can afford it, I can always add a matching paired speaker for an authentic stereo experience.[/b]
Sound quality aside, the most important factor in buying or gifting one of these products is the ecosystem you're joining, or forcing someone else to join. Choose the speaker that works with the services that you use. If you don't have a preference and are entering the market for the first time, then consider budget and, if you can afford to, set up two speakers as a stereo pair. Willing to ditch the mics and voice assistants? A pair of Sonos/Ikea bookshelf speakers only costs about $200. (But at half the price, they won't sound quite as full-bodied.)
Smart speakers have made big strides in sound quality with this current crop of offerings. While there are certainly cheaper options available, I would encourage anyone to spend the extra money on one of the better-sounding devices. And there's certainly no shortage of quality audio content available, much of it offered for free and/or ad-supported, from great organizations. Like NPR.