There's no time like the present to try out a smart speaker. Amazon was the first to successfully launch with the Echo, which was such a hit that the smaller Echo Dot soon joined the family. But now Google Home is on the market and getting stronger by the day, the decision for your smart home assistant has never been tougher.
Granted, neither are perfect devices, but they're both good for listening to music, controlling a limited range of smart home tech, and performing a few party tricks. So which should you get, Amazon Echo or Google Home? Read on to find out.
Amazon Echo v Google Home: Design
Echo's seven directional far field microphones live inside a tall, cylindrical speaker. There are just two buttons on the Echo itself, an action button and a mute button, and you can also turn the top of the device to control the volume. But other than that, all interaction is going to be done with your voice. If you opt for the Echo Dot, you have an additional two volume buttons, but no rotational input.
The Dot is also a fraction of the size, and as a result has less punch in the sound department. You get the same blue ring of light around the top, but remember that it's designed to be paired with a separate speaker.
Google Home's design is also sparse with only one mute button that sits on the back. However, Home is white with interchangeable bases that bring a much needed spark of colour, and overall has the better look, we think. It's also smaller than Echo and pear-shaped with a slight slant on top that's touch capacitative for volume control.
While some may like the larger look of the taller Amazon Echo, Google Home wins the most style points here. It can blend in a little better with the rest of your living room, kitchen or bedroom better, thanks to its squat frame and colourful customisation.
Amazon Echo v Google Home: Performance
Since launch, both Google Home and the Echo have got better at picking up our voice. This was a bit of a problem when the Echo launched in the UK, but it's improved in its ability to detect non-American accents.
While Google Home is available in the UK, we haven't been able to try it there, but it hasn't had many issues understanding us Stateside. There are fewer far field microphones in Home - only two to be exact - but we reckon we've had a similar hit rate on both.
In terms of speaker performance for music, both Echo and Home are able to blast a hearty dose of sound to fill the room. You'll get decent range with the speakers and little to no distortion on the highest volume, but neither are capable of replacing expensive sound systems. Thankfully, the Echo can now pair with any Bluetooth speaker, after Amazon rolled out a quiet little update.
If you opt for the Echo Dot, you'll definitely want to pair it with another speaker when it comes to playing music, as it's not designed to be a standalone music player (you can use it as one, but it doesn't sound great when you crank up the volume). Also worth noting that Home offers multi-room playback if you have multiple speakers around the house, while Echo does not.
Alexa and Google Assistant are always listening out, but they require trigger words to activate, whether that's "Hey Alexa" or "Ok, Google". The difference is that Assistant is capable of more contextual conversations, where you can ask follow-up questions without repeating certain words - as you would if speaking to another person.
This is a bit hit-and-miss right now, and usually where Home's voice interactions fall down. For example, on one occasion we tried asking "What will the weather be like tomorrow?" to which Google gave us a satisfying answer, but when we followed up with "And what about the day after tomorrow?", Assistant proceeded to describe the plot to the 2004 Roland Emmerich movie. Not helpful.
Alexa can handle a bit of contextual understanding, but not as much as Home - although there definitely needs to be improvement here. We expect this is something that will develop on both platform over time, but Google is making more of a point of it right now.
Amazon Echo v Google Home: Features
Probably the most-used feature of both is for playing music; they're really good at being your personal DJ, and you can connect them up to your music streaming services. Google Play Music will only work on Home, while Amazon Music is exclusive to the Echo. Spotify works across both, but it's the access to YouTube Music (if you're a subscriber) that gives Home a bit of a secret weapon here. Overall, we reckon Home is the best for music at the moment.
Beyond that, both smart home devices have a range of talents. These come in the form of 'Skills' for the Echo and 'Actions' for Home. All of them allow your assistant to perform tasks like reading out the day's news; controlling smart home devices like Nest thermostats and August smart locks; launching trivia games; and even ordering you an Uber. Google Home learned these skills automatically when developers push them live. Alexa, however, has a bit of a hybrid approach. While you can still can enable skills manually via the companion app, a recent update also allows the skill to install themselves after you ask Alexa about 'em.
Echo had the head start here, and now boasts over available 10,000 skills. Home has closed the gap a fair amount since launch with its broadening range of abilities and third-party integrations, but Alexa still holds the higher ground with a wider range of smart home integrations and skills. The ability to choose which skills your Echo learns has its advantages too.
For the most part, the general features like music playback/control, news, weather, party tricks and calendar syncing are available on both devices. Home can also use Chromecast Audio-connected speakers, or you can use several Home units to play music simultaneously. While Echo will currently let you hook up to speakers via Bluetooth, there is an update coming to Google Home that'll enable the same functionality. Even better, you can also voice-cast content to any TV that has Chromecast plugged or built in, and this also now works with Netflix, so you can say "Hey Google, play House of Cards on [Chromecast name]" as long as your Netflix account is linked in the Home app beforehand.
Both devices will be getting notifications in the near future. When you have a notification for a news brief or a flight update, your smart speaker will light up and you just have to ask either Google Assistant or Alexa what's up and they'll tell you. The feature parity continues, too. Amazon currently has free voice calling, though you'll need the Alexa app and an Amazon account. But Google Home is also getting free voice calling, though it's a little more appealing: you'll be able to call a landline or cellphone, which Echo cannot do.
The one major advantage that Google Home has over Amazon Echo is multi-user support for up to six people. So now when someone asks Google Home something, it'll recognize their voice and shift to give them their calendar, their email, their music library, their commute time and more. You can set all this up in the Google Home app, and each person will have to say "Ok Google" a couple times for the voice analyzation to dial into your voice.
Home has another advantage in that it has access to Google's entire neural network, which gives it the edge in relaying certain information, and we feel like this has the potential to give it more advantage in the long run if/when Google starts integrating more of its services with Home. These added smarts already show up when searching for music tracks: you can give Home some example lyrics, and it can sometimes seek out the song you're looking for.
Amazon Echo v Google Home: Price
At $179.99 Amazon Echo is pricier than Google Home's $129. The Echo is larger and packs a few more mics inside, however you can also opt for the Echo Dot which is much cheaper at $50 and can do basically everything the larger smart speaker can, save for the better speaker.
That's important, because you can have multiple Echo Dots around the house for less than the price of a Home, and if you already have speakers you can use, this might make more economic sense.
Amazon Echo v Google Home: Final verdict
Google Home has come on leaps and bounds since launch, and choosing a victor isn't easy. Right now the crown goes to Alexa simply because it still has a broader skill set. That said, Home is quickly closing the gap, and has the potential to leapfrog Alexa before long.
All it needs to do is improve the contextual voice recognition and start integrating with more services, which shouldn't be hard - this is Google. The little air freshener-like device also has more in the looks department, we reckon, and the Echo shouldn't rest on its laurels. The battle for the smart home is really just beginning.