The battle for the best smart speaker is one that will never officially reach a conclusion. First, we had Amazon Echo. Then, we had Google Home. Not long after, they each spawned off sibling speakers in various shapes and sizes. And, of course, Apple released the HomePod. Though the HomePod is certainly a contender in its own right, it’s also trying to compete in its own category, so today we’re going to take a look at the two most similar smart speakers and try to determine which one takes the cake.
So, here it is – Google Home vs. Amazon Echo.
Google Assistant vs. Amazon Alexa
The most logical first step in differentiating the two smart speakers is to look at the smart assistants that are powering them. After all, the voice inside the cylinder is what you’re going to be interacting with the most when either speaker adorns your kitchen countertop.
While both assistants can accomplish a very similar set of requests and can return results for most queries, there are certain differences between the two. For starters, Google Assistant lends itself to a more conversational style of interaction and has since made additional strides toward that. For instance, the Assistant now allows users to string queries back to back in one breath instead of having to wait for a response to the first command.
On the flip side, Alexa might require that you know the right questions to ask at specific times to get the response you are looking for. For example, to make use of some of the skills that work with Alexa, you’ll have to use very specific language to trigger the command. However, those third-party skills are what make Alexa most powerful and provide the ability to control a wide array of services.
Obviously, if you are vested in Google’s ecosystem, Google Assistant is going to be useful for you when it comes to checking your schedules for the day. However, Alexa is more useful if you plan on managing your shopping cart using only your voice. In all reality, it’s nearly impossible to pick a winner here for the fact that they can both do so much and it really comes down to preference.
Aesthetics & Design
Design and aesthetics are, of course, subjective topics, but there are certainly distinct characteristics between the two devices. The original Amazon Echo recently received a redesign, significantly reducing the height of the device, now standing at only 5.8″ which is slightly taller than the Google Home at 5.6″. The sloping lid of the Google Home reveals a ring of individual LEDs that serves as an indicator for when the device is listening to you, when the volume is adjusted, or when you have a reminder.
This is contrasted by the Echo’s blue LED light ring that runs the circumference of the top lip of the device. This light ring is how the Echo communicates visually, indicating when it is listening, when it is connecting to WiFi, when you are receiving a call, etc.
When it comes to the speaker enclosures, both of the devices can be customized to blend well with the aesthetics of your home. The full-size Google Home only comes in the white color for the top-half of the device at this time. However, the base of the device is interchangeable, and there are a handful of first-party bases that you can choose from. Alexa is similar, but offers a step up in customization since the entire shell of the device can be swapped – again, with a handful of first-party and third-party shell options.
One big factor to take into consideration is the footprint of the device since it will be taking up valuable real estate on your counter, bookshelf, nightstand, etc. The second generation Echo is very similar to its predecessor, with a diameter measuring in at 3.4″. Compare this to Google Home’s diameter of 3.8″.
Which device takes the cake in the design category? It’s hard to pick a clear winner, but given the fact that Amazon’s smart speaker is a bit more customizable with the number of shells for sale, and the fact that it takes up slightly more space, we’ll have to raise the Echo’s glove.
Outside of having access to a voice assistant at any time, the other benefit to picking up either the Echo or the Google Home is to make use of the actual speakers they house inside. If you plan on using the device for listening to music, the obvious question becomes “Which of these sounds better?”
Hidden inside the Echo’s shell, you’ll find two speakers – a 2.5″ woofer for the lows to mid-range tones, and a 0.6″ tweeter for the higher notes. Opening up the Google Home, you’ll find a three-speaker made up of a 2″ driver, and dual 2″ passive radiators. Specs aside, both companies claim that they provide “room-filling” sound, but don’t get too excited about the actual audio quality.
In our use, the Google Home seems to provide a richer, fuller listening experience, that, in comparison, provides a solid amount of bass in addition to the mids and highs. The bass can also be manipulated by placing the speaker against a wall. Unfortunately, as the volume increases on the Google Home, the sound quality seems to decrease. While we would say that Google Home has marginally better sound, the Echo shines at higher volumes. As you crank up your music, the lows and highs don’t break apart as much. So, if you plan on using this for the main speaker for a party or something, you might lean towards the Echo.
As we mentioned, neither speaker is excellent as a speaker alone. If music is what you’re most concerned about, you might want to look into one of the many Alexa-enabled Bluetooth speakers. You could also pair the Google Home with a Chromecast Audio, which connects to any other audio device and allows you to pipe through music with voice-controlled activation.
Back when the idea of a smart home began to gain traction, you would have to have a pretty complex Zigbee or Z-Wave system in place in order to control multiple smart devices such as locks, lights, thermostats, outlets, etc. However, that’s quickly becoming old logic, as the new smart speakers such as the Google Home and Amazon Echo are taking rise.
Both of these devices can serve as a centralized hub which is used to control your smart home, and the parity between what they can and can’t control is continuously growing. For that reason, I’d caution you to make your purchase decision on this alone. If you want to control the lighting in your home with your voice, both the Echo and Home can do so using integrations with Phillips Hue, LiFX, and more. August smart locks can keep your home secure using your voice from either device. The same goes for thermostats such as Nest, and smart outlets such as WeMo.
There are some specific devices that might work with only one of the two assistants, but chances are, the other smart devices you own, or will own, are going to work with both so it’s hard to determine a clear winner here.
We wouldn’t be doing this article justice if we didn’t touch on some of the additional capabilities/considerations for why you might choose one device over the other.
For starters, the Amazon Echo has Skills (mentioned earlier) that are at your disposal and greatly increase the usability of the device. Amazon has opened up its APIs to allow third-party developers to create their own Skills, and for this reason, there are thousands of them that can be added to your personal Alexa account.
Services such as Uber can be connected to Alexa so you can say “Alexa, ask Uber to request a ride.” or “Alexa, ask Uber to call an Uber X from work.” Even companies like Hellmann’s offer Alexa Skills, allowing you to find the best recipes that use mayonnaise (delicious, huh?)
Google Assistant is a literally a squeeze, button press, or hot word away at all times.
On the flip side, Google might not have such a vast array of integrations, but the clear advantage here is that Google Assistant is everywhere. If you are an Android user, Google Assistant is a literally a squeeze, button press, or hot word away at all times. And, continuity efforts are being deployed in things like Google’s new Podcasts app which allows you to start an episode on your phone, and pick up where you left off on your Google Home.
Additionally, at the time of this writing, Google Home is still the only one of the two to allow you to string commands together by saying something like “Hey, Google. What’s the weather today and what’s on my agenda?”. You can also ask follow-up questions without using the hot word a second time within in the few seconds following the Home’s response. That prevents you from saying the complete phrase “Hey, Google. Turn up the volume.” three times in a row – and, that’s something Echo isn’t yet capable of.
With either device – the Google Home or Amazon Echo – chances are you aren’t are just purchasing one product. In the long-run, you’re likely buying into an ecosystem of other products to extend your usability. These devices are the core offering of their respective companies when it comes to smart speakers, but they branch out beyond just that.
On Google’s side of the house, you can purchase a Google Home Mini which performs all of the same functions as the normal Home, but in a smaller form factor. You won’t get nearly the sound quality out of this little guy, but it’s nice to have one in your bedroom, office, or maybe even bathroom (no judgments here.) There’s also the Google Home Max which was specifically developed for the audio junkies of the world that still want access to Google Assistant. Here you will find a much larger device with bigger speakers and machine learning capabilities that allow it to adjust the equalizer to automatically produce the best sound in any given room. Finally, you could also consider Google Chromecast and Chromecast Audio as part of the first-party ecosystem.
Amazon offers an even larger ecosystem of Echo devices. For starters, there is the Echo Dot, which is a miniaturized version of the Echo, just like Google’s Mini. Then, for those of you who like a side of visuals with your smart assistant, you have the Echo Show. This device has larger speakers and a 7″ screen which can be used for watching recipe tutorials, reading, or video calling with other Echo Show users. You also have the Echo Spot which combines the best of both worlds from the Show and the Dot with it’s small, circular screen. There’s also the Echo Plus which has the same form-factor as the original Echo but now includes a built-in Zigbee smart hub to control even more devices in your home. Finally, there is the Echo Look, a very odd-but-interesting device that has a camera and aims to “provide a second opinion on your outfit”.
As I mentioned, once you buy one of these devices, chances are you are also buying into a much larger ecosystem, so consider the direction in which you want your smart home to head.
When it comes down to making a recommendation on which of these devices to buy, it really comes down to where your needs lay most. If you’re the type of person that just wants to get your hands on the best out-of-the-box solution that you can get, the Google Home might be for you. However, if you’re the type that likes to customize your setup, try out new integrations, and maybe buy stuff with your voice, the Amazon Echo is for you.
Do you own either of these devices? If so, what led you to pick up the one that you do? Let us know about it in the comments below!