Stuck on whether to bring home an Amazon Echo, Google Home, or Apple HomePod? This guide is for you.
A few years ago, smart speakers like the Amazon Echo were just starting to become a device category. These days they’ve quickly become the ubiquitous utility for every household. There are now more variations than ever before, not to mention that Google Assistant has entered the fold. This can make it hard to choose if you’re new to these family of gadgets.
Not all virtual assistants baked into the smart speakers are created equal, either. While Amazon Prime users might find that the Echo satiates their need for on-demand shopping and entertainment, those who heavily invested in Google’s Android ecosystem, for instance, might see that Google Assistant is more in line with their needs.
For this reason, we’ve put together a helpful primer on how to choose between the two more dominant smart speaker ecosystems, as well as some info on the third choice – the Apple HomePod. So what’s right for you? Amazon’s Echo, Google’s Home, or maybe even the Apple HomePod? That’s what we’re here to help with.
What if I already know I want to stick with Amazon? Amazon and its third-party partners use a virtual assistant platform called Amazon Alexa for its smart speakers. If you regularly find yourself using Amazon’s services, or you have a Fire TV stick somewhere in your house, consider the second-generation Echo or the Echo Dot. The former is great is you want a higher quality speaker for music, while the latter is perfect if you just want something to ask questions, order from Amazon, and don’t need ‘big sound’.
What if I already know I want to stick with Google? Google and its third-party partners use a virtual assistant platform aptly called Google Assistant. If you are a Google fan, or a diehard Android user, buy the Google Home. Alternatively, the Google Home Mini is also a great deal for anyone who just wants to jump in and try it for themselves. The Mini has impressive sound for its size (way louder than the Echo Dot) and is perfect for those who want to get their feet wet with smart speakers without spending as much.
Not sure if you want to go down the Google Home or Amazon Echo route, or maybe you’re curious about HomePod? Both Amazon and Google’s solutions are very similar in many ways. That makes picking a little confusing. If you still aren’t sure which is right for you.. keep reading! We’ll also talk a bit about the elephant in the room, Apple’s HomePod.
What is a Smart Speaker and why should I care?
Smart speakers aren’t just for playing music
A smart speaker is, essentially, a speaker with added internet connectivity and “smart assistant” voice-control functionality. The smart assistant is typically Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant, both of which are independently managed by their parent companies and have been opened up for other third-parties to implement into their hardware. The idea is that the more people that bring these into their homes, the more Amazon and Google have a “space” in every abode where they’re always accessible.
Smart speakers aren’t just for playing music. They can answer questions, broadcast the weather report, set a timer for the kitchen, make phone calls, and execute simple commands—provided you’ve programmed them to do so, that is. (You don’t need to worry about that last part if you’re not particularly interested in investing heavily in the great “Internet of Things.”)
Here are a few other things that smart speakers equipped with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant can do:
- Turn off the lights, and then turn them on again.
- Stream radio stations from around the world with apps like TuneIn Radio.
- Order Domino’s pizza.
- Stock up on toilet paper—with just your voice!
- Set reminders for things like taking your medication every day.
- Turn on the living room TV, and then start a movie.
- Tell you what traffic is light on your way to work.
So, what exactly makes Alexa and Assistant different? Here’s the TL;DR.
TL;DR: Amazon Alexa vs. Google Assistant
So when picking from the best smart speakers, you first need to understand which is better tailored to your needs.
Why choose an Amazon Alexa powered speaker?
- It hooks into Amazon’s ecosystem of content and streaming devices.
- It boasts more than 15,000 different skills, which is what Alexa uses to integrate with other third-party devices and services.
- There are a wide variety of first and third-party speakers already available.
- Amazon Alexa currently supports a larger number of smart devices than Google Home, though Google is catching up fast.
Why choose a Google Assistant powered speaker?
- It hooks into Google’s search engine, ecosystem of content, and streaming devices, not to mention it’s baked into every Android smartphone.
- It offers contextual answers based on the data you feed it. In many ways the answers you get from Google are smarter.
- It works with a number of popular third-party connected home gadgets, even if Amazon currently has the edge here.
- Google’s first party options – Google Home, Google Home Mini – have sound quality that is a step above their most direct Echo competition, the Amazon Echo and Echo Dot.
Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant are both available on other devices besides smart speakers, including smartphones and, in some cases, thermostats. In this guide, we’ll be focusing directly on smart speakers. Stay tuned for a future guide that breaks down the very best Alexa and Google Assistant gadgets outside of the smart speaker space.
Amazon Echo and the Alexa platform: What you need to know
Want to learn even more? Be sure to check out the following guides:
Google Home and the Assistant platform: What you need to know
Want to learn even more? Be sure to check out the following guides:
What about the Apple HomePod?
You’ll notice we’ve focused a lot on Amazon and Google so far in this guide. There’s a reason for that. The Apple HomePod is a great sounding speaker. Unfortunately, it’s not so great as a smart speaker. While Apple fans might be tempted to go with it, if you are looking to do more than play music and other basic uses, we’d wait off. Unfortunately it just doesn’t have anywhere near the same level of device compatibility at this point. There’s also a lot of missing features like no support for calling, intercom, or any other the many features that you can find with either Echo, Home, or both.
For more information, be sure to check out our Apple HomePod vs competition guide.
Amazon Echo – what should I buy?
The second-generation Amazon Echo is basically the starting point for those who are new to the world of smart speakers. It offers it all in one package: quality sound, voice-control capabilities, and an auxiliary line out so that you can hook it up to other speakers and utilize it as a living room command center.
The Amazon Echo does not require a button-press to work. Rather, most everything is voice controlled. Simply say the trigger word (“Alexa,” “Echo,” “Amazon,” or, if you’re a sci-fi fan, “Computer.”) and then state your command or query. Your voice assistant will help you in the best way it knows how, as long as you’ve properly set things up in the companion smartphone app. If you’ve never interfaced with this type of device before, there is a bit of a learning curve. But over time, you’ll undoubtedly find that you’re using your smartphone less frequently when you’re at home because you’re deferring the work to a smart speaker instead. It really is quite freeing.
Great balance of features and value. At just $99, the Amazon Echo has everything you could possibly need from a smart speaker. It answers questions and responds to commands, and you have the option to hook it up to an external audio system to use as a music controller.
- If you’re looking for a portable experience, the Amazon Tap provides up to 9 hours of music playback with its built-in battery
- If you’re looking for a smart speaker with a smart home hub built into it, the Echo Plus offers ZigBee integration
- If you like the idea of a screen, check out the large Echo Show and smaller Echo Spot
- If you’re a fashionista and love to scour Amazon for deals, request an invitation to try out the Echo Look
The Echo Dot does everything the standard Echo can do
Of course, if you’re new to the world of smart speakers, jumping in head-first with the defacto standard might end up feeling overwhelming. The second-generation Echo Dot is perfect for those of you who are new to the idea of a voice-controlled assistant in your house, or for those who simply have no need for the speaker portion of the Amazon Echo.
The Echo Dot does everything the standard Echo can do. It can stream podcasts, make phone calls, control your lights, and broadcast the weather. It can also play music like the Echo, though it’s not exactly outfitted with the proper hardware to keep your dance parties thriving.
Save some cash, get a Dot. The scaled-down Echo Dot is the choice for those of you who’d rather play tunes through an existing stereo system, or for those who are simply new to the world of voice-controller gadgetry. The Echo Dot smart speaker is also affordable enough for those looking to expand an existing Echo’s listening capabilities within their household.
- If you like the idea of a small Echo in your home, but want slightly better sound, check out the Eufy Genie with Amazon Alexa baked in
Like we’ve said before, for most users, we recommend you pick either the Echo or the Echo Dot. But what if you are still looking for more options? Be sure to check out our guide that breaks down all the best Alexa equipped speakers, including the Amazon Echo series as well as 3rd-party speakers that run on Amazon’s platform.
Google Home- what should I buy?
A while after Amazon began storming the market with its lineup of Alexa smart speakers, Google introduced its own smart speaker, the Google Home. It’s not just for fans of Google and its Android platform, but anyone else who wouldn’t mind having the power of the Google search engine a mere command away.
The Google Home can answer queries, order food, start a timer, fetch real-time traffic information, and set reminders. It can also act as your smart home controller, with the help of the companion Google Home app and a few connected gadgets, and it can play over 50 different voice-command games with the kids. And like the Amazon Echo, the Google Home can make phone calls, offer up a brief of the day’s events, and serve as the main media controller for your home. However, the Google Home is not the best option if you’re looking for a central command for an entertainment system, as it doesn’t offer a line-out for hooking up an external set of speakers.
A good idea, and not just for Google users. Whether you’ve got an entire array of Chromecasts at the helm that you want to control hands-free, or you’re simply looking for a smart speaker to help with every day’s little queries, the first-generation Google Home is both a great music player and a helpful aid. It’s also customizable with a variety of sold-separately bases.
- If water resistance and portability are of interest to you, the third-party JBL Link 20 is capable of both of those things.
- If you’re looking for something a little cooler looking, check out the Sony LF-S50G—and try not to mind the uninspired product name
- If louder music is what you’re after and you don’t mind a third-party device, check out Onkyo’s smart speaker powered by Google Assistant
You don't need the full-size Google Home to bring Google Assistant
That said, you don’t need the full-size Google Home to bring Google Assistant into your household. All you need is this entry-level Google Home Mini, which the company recently introduced into the market in an effort to help its virtual assistant flourish as much as Amazon Alexa.
The tradeoff of sticking with this particular product is that it does most everything that Google Home does, though it’s not the most powerful speaker for playing bass-heavy tunes. However, if you’re looking for a music controller, the Google Home Mini can certainly function as one. And we have to say the sound is actually pretty loud, much better than what you’ll find with the comparably sized and priced Amazon Echo Dot.
An entry-level Assistant. The Google Home mini is the perfect product for those who either want to try life with an always-on, always-listening speaker, or require a hands-free controller for a beefed-up entertainment system. Whatever the reason, its small size means it fits anywhere.
- If you like the idea of Google Assistant in a smart speaker but aren’t too keen on the Mini’s kitschy design, try on the TicHome Mini for size.
For most users interested in Assistant, we recommend you pick either the Home or Google Home. But what if you are still looking for more options? Be sure to check out our guide that breaks down all the best Assistant equipped speakers, including the Google Home series as well as 3rd-party speakers that run on Google’s platform.