Earlier this year, Apple finally launched its highly anticipated smart connected speaker, the HomePod. The device is entering a field that’s already crowded with many connected speakers including the one that started it all, the Amazon Echo (now in its second generation). Let’s also not forget about Google Home.
Okay, there are certainly many other options out there, but the rest essentially run on either Amazon’s Alexa or Google’s Assistant platform or have such small marketshare no one cares about them — we’re talking about you Cortana.
So in the battle between Apple HomePod, Google Home, and Amazon Echo – who wins? Good question. All three can help you keep track of your day by waking you up, giving you reminders about what’s coming up, and so on. In addition, each can serve as an internet-based source for streaming music and podcasts. Finally, with the help of their digital assistants, the speakers can answer your questions about pretty much anything.
The differences come down to how they do these things, how fast, and what apps and services they support. In order to help showcase which speaker truly is the best, we decided to put them through six rounds of competition to crown the winner.
Round One — Speed
The first thing we tested was just how fast each speaker responded to the same set of questions. After all, if it takes longer than a few seconds for one of them to come up with an answer, it can be pretty frustrating. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case here, as the Apple HomePod, the Google Home and the Amazon Echo all managed to achieve that minimal milestone.
So which speaker was faster? As it turned out, the Apple HomePod, working with its Siri digital assistant, was the winner. Our tests showed that its average time to respond to a question was around 1.6 seconds. The Google Home, using Google Assistant, was slightly slower, as its average response time to questions was about 1.9 seconds. Finally, the second generation Amazon Echo, with its Alexa support, took an average of slightly over 2.3 seconds to respond to questions.
Okay, the speed is pretty much matched here, but Apple does have a slight advantage.
Winner (barely): Apple HomePod
Round Two — Listening
A connected speaker is also pretty useless if it can’t hear your commands or questions. In this case, the Apple HomePod, the Google Home and the Amazon Echo all have several embedded microphones designed to pick up your voice, even if if you are facing the wrong direction. They can even hear you if you take your voice down to a whisper, or if you are in another room. Finally, the speakers can hear your voice even if it is playing a loud song at the same time (well, most of the time).
In our tests of these three speakers, we noticed that the Apple HomePod seemed to respond a little quicker compared the other two in terms of picking up its trigger word. However, that’s not the end of the story, as the Google Home and the Amazon Echo can both recognize different voices, which is something the Home cannot currently do. That feature can be helpful if you own a smart speaker in a home with a large family. Both the Home and Echo can also be set up so that your kid’s voices cannot be used to order things off the internet, which is a comforting security feature.
One more thing to note is that the HomePod doesn’t respond to curse words, which can be annoying. If you try to use them as part of your requests, Siri will actually scold you for using such language and won’t do as told. The Home and Echo speakers don’t have those issues, and so if you want to tell your speaker to shut the &*$# up, go right ahead. Apple? Nope, access denied.
While the HomePod may be slightly faster to hear its trigger word, it has limitations that the Home and Echo speakers don’t have.
Round Three — Controls
All three of these speakers are designed to be controlled by your voice but they also all have physical control features. For example, touching the top of the Apple HomePod and the Google Home starts up both speakers, while the Echo has a specific button on top that needs to be pressed to do the same thing. You can control the volume on these speakers buttons as well. The HomePod and Echo both have the standard “+” and “-” buttons, but with the Home you can adjust the sound by touching an embedded scroll wheel.
One odd thing the HomePod doesn’t have is an indicator to show how loud the volume is, as the Home and Echo have. The HomePod also doesn’t have a mute button, which again is available on the Home or Echo. The HomePod and Home both allow you to stop what they are saying just by tapping on their tops, but the Echo has to be told in a voice command to shut up.
Winner: Google Home
Round Four — Sound
Obviously, you want to have the best sound coming out of your connected speaker. In this case, there was no contest between these three devices. In terms of just pure sound, the HomePod was slightly higher than the Home or Echo, but it’s the rich base sound that comes from the HomePod that blew us away in our tests. It makes listening to music a much better experience.
One other way the HomePod wins in the sound category is that it has technology that will automatically sense the sound in the room where it is sitting and adjust the sound accordingly. It’s a hardware feature that the Home and Echo just don’t have. The Echo does have an “aux out” port, which means you can connect it physically to your expensive Hi-Fi stereo system (if you have one). However, in terms of standalone sound, the HomePod is the clear winner in this round.
That said, if you really want great sound, there’s the Google Home Max, which offers everything the Home does but at a price that’s actually closer to the HomePod (and with speaker quality that’s quite comparable).
Winner: Apple HomePod
Round Five — Apps
Both the Amazon Echo and Google Home are well served by the third-party app community, which can develop special features through the use of the Alexa and Google Assistant platforms, respectively. For the Echo, it supports Alexa’s many “skills” which let developers put in features such as a way for owners to play games, order items, or just do goofy stuff like ask the speaker to give you applause.
The Google Home’s apps are called Actions, and they don’t need to be enabled like the skills on the Echo. All you have to do is say, “Talk to” and then the Actions command and it will do what you ask. As you might have guessed, the Apple HomePod doesn’t have the app library that the Home and Echo have. If you own an Android phone, Google Assistant will log into your Google account, which means Home will be able to access your custom music and playlists.
All three speakers can also allow you to control smart home devices with your voice, such as turning on a security camera, turning off lights in a room and so on. However, the HomePod currently doesn’t have the same amount of smart home support compared to the Home and Echo speakers. For example, if you have Google’s Nest devices, they can’t be controlled with the HomePod. Apple’s speaker also can’t currently control Samsung’s SmartThings products.
The HomePod is lacking when it comes to controlling streaming music features with your voice. The Home and Echo both let you access several of these services, like Spotify, but the HomePod only lets you control Apple Music with its voice. Both Home and Echo can also make phone calls, which HomePod can’t do either.
Perhaps the biggest issue with the HomePod is that you absolutely have to own an Apple iPhone or iPad just to set it up. You cannot use an Android phone or tablet, as you can with the Home and Echo. All of that means the HomePod received a knock-out blow in our fifth round.
Winner: Google Home and Amazon Echo
Round Six — Price
The Google Home is currently priced at $129, although Google does hold sales on the speaker that have taken the price down to as low as $79. The Amazon Echo normally costs $99, while the Apple HomePod is very expensive at $349.
Based on that, and the other tests we conducted, we have named the Google Home the best overall connected speaker. It may not have the sound quality of the HomePod, but it can do a lot more than Apple’s debut speaker, and it just edges out the Echo with its better physical controls.
What did you think of our battle of the connected speakers? Do you agree or disagree with our ulimate winner.