Smart speaker showdown: Google Home vs. Amazon Echo

Welcome Summer

Smart speakers sit in our homes, quietly listening to everything we say and feeding what they learn back to the corporations that spawned them, like sinister Elves on Shelves. Still, some of us can’t resist the shiny allure of being able to yell random questions into the void like a medieval despot and get an answer back.

This raises the difficult question of exactly which servant/spy to employ in your smart home. The Google Home and the Amazon Echo are two of the most prolific smart speakers on the market, but at first glance there’s little separating them. Both allow you to control your smart home, play music, and set timers by speaking. Both will answer simple questions when asked. They’re even priced almost exactly the same, with the Google Home costing $99 and the Amazon Echo at $99.99.

Either is a solid choice. Yet there are some subtle differences between the two smart speakers that may help nudge you toward one more than the other.

So here we go: Amazon Echo vs. Google Home

#Aesthetic

The Amazon Echo and Google Home are approximately the same size, standing 5.8 and 5.62 inches tall, respectively. Both have fabric covers, though this only applies to the lower half of the Home. As a simple cylindrical shape in a single color, the Echo draws less attention to itself. The Home appears more squat than sleek in comparison, its white upper half declaring its presence.

The Amazon Echo offers a range of five colors, from neutral options like Charcoal, Heather Gray, and Sandstone to the bolder Twilight Blue and Limited Edition (RED). Unlike with the second generation Echo, the third generation’s covering can’t be changed. You’d better be happy with whatever color you chose, because you’re stuck with it. 

In contrast, while the Google Home ships in Slate, users can spend $20 to buy swappable bases in Coral, Metal/Carbon, and Copper. This makes it a bit more flexible if you’re doing some interior redesign or you prefer a metal base to the fabric default. Its slanted top also gives easier access to its controls.

Any questions?

If you primarily want a smart speaker to help manage your insatiable curiosity, the Google Home is the most obvious choice. With the power of Google and anime on its side, Google Assistant is a bit smarter than Amazon Echo’s Alexa and capable of providing more comprehensive answers.

Google Assistant can understand follow-up questions and respond to more conversational speaking patterns, making it easier to talk to. Google’s virtual assistant is also superior when it comes to languages other than English, which is something to keep in mind if you have a multilingual household.

In contrast, asking Alexa questions means sticking to specific sentence structures. The Amazon smart home device is a bit of a stickler, like that teacher who insisted you ask, “May I go to the restroom?” rather than “can I.”

Also, Alexa’s default search engine is Bing, which, no.

I’ll have my virtual assistant contact you

Both Amazon Echo’s Alexa and Google Home’s Assistant can provide news updates; give the weather forecast; create to-do lists; make and receive calls; and set timers, alarms, and reminders. Neither is likely to disappoint when it comes to organising your day. Which to choose partially depends on how much you want to get out of your speaker, and how much you’re willing to put in.

Google Home is easier to use straight out of the box. If you’re going to be a casual smart speaker user, Home will get you going without too much fuss. Plus, as previously mentioned, it’s the easier device to talk to.

However, though Amazon Echo is more limited at the outset, it makes up for this with a large library of specific third-party apps. Echo users can install skills to help it perform whatever tasks are required, which is useful if, for example, you Uber a lot. Customising your Echo to your lifestyle may seem a hassle, but once beefed up, the device is capable of outshining Google Home.

Amazon Echo also has the edge when it comes to shopping, its integration with Amazon making it very easy to order whatever you need. Further, if you have more than one Echo, Alexa’s Drop In feature allows you to use them as intercoms to call the family down for dinner. 

Google Home’s broadcast feature is much clunkier in comparison, blasting your recorded message to all connected devices. Great if you live for being a nuisance; not so great if you just want to have a normal one-on-one conversation.

Organising your smart home

Google Home connects to over 30,000 smart devices, which sounds impressive until you hear Amazon Echo is compatible with over 100,000. However, there’s really no benefit in being able to connect to an extra 70,000 devices if you only ever use five. The more pressing issue in this respect would be checking whether Home or Echo supports whatever smart devices you actually have.

If both of them do, or you’re building your smart home from scratch, that makes the choice tricker. Both Echo and Home support routines, allowing you to string together commands in sequences, and there is little separating them in terms of capabilities. In the end, the decision may simply come down to whether you think “Alexa, turn on the light” or “OK Google, turn on the light” rolls off the tongue more easily.

Play that funky music

A dedicated audiophile would balk at playing music through either of these smart speakers, but the average person just wanting to pump their tunes will find both do the job just fine. 

Which speaker you prefer will depend on how you prefer to enjoy your music. The Google Home speaker has a richer sound with more bass, but is less clear in comparison to the Echo’s more balanced sound. The Amazon Echo speaker is also louder, though you’re unlikely to be dissatisfied with the Home’s volume range.

What might better help you choose between the two smart speakers is the music services each supports. Each device supports Spotify, Pandora, iHeartRadio, and TuneIn, so they’re more or less equal on the music service front. However, Echo pairs with Amazon Music, while Home plays tunes from YouTube Music. Home also allows users to upload their own music libraries to the cloud, a function Amazon doesn’t offer.

If you tend to listen to music via Amazon Music, the Echo would suit you well. Otherwise, the Home seems to provide a bit more flexibility.

Growing your smart speaker family

We should note that the Amazon Echo and Google Home are both part of larger smart speaker families. You may find a smaller model — or even one with a camera — more suited to your needs than the standard Echo or Home. You should also consider them if you’re hoping to build a network of smart speakers throughout your home.

Debuting in March 2014, the Amazon Echo has since been joined by devices such as the puck-sized Echo Dot, the camera-equipped Echo Look, the screen-enabled Echo Show and Echo Spot, and smart home hub Echo Plus. 

The Google Home was released two years later in November 2016, and was also followed by a series of sibling devices, such as Echo Dot competitor Home Mini, the larger Home Max, Echo Show competitor Nest Hub, and the camera-equipped Nest Hub Max.

So, which device should you choose?

It’s all about you, in the end. If you’re interested in a smart speaker for its function as a personal assistant, Google Home might be your preferred gadget. But if you want to shop, the Amazon Echo pulls ahead. Figure out what you’ll use your smart speaker for the most, and take it from there.