Voice assistants have hit our smartphones like wildfire, and they're coming for our homes next. In fact, they're already partly there. There's a boomlet of smart speaker adoption of late, and it's easy to see why — they're useful, simple to use, and make homes seem that much more advanced.
But just like smartphones, you need to pick a smart speaker that fits your needs. Granted, the array of available smart speakers isn't as diverse and varied as smartphones, but there are two formidable companies directly atop the smart speaker pile you should be looking at right now.
Google's voice-enabled Assistant on phones has existed for a long time — even before it was named Assistant. All Android phones support this feature, and because Android phones capture a much higher stake in the global smartphone market, it's safe to say that a lot of people already know what it can do or how to use it by now. But phones are one thing. A voice assistant meant for the home is another different discussion.
Amazon, by contrast, has become the de facto pioneer for smart speakers, with its Echo range of devices proving pretty popular among household owners. The company decidedly has a head start in the game, but even so, Google shouldn't be overlooked. Though its Home device is a little late in the game, it's rapidly catching up to the Echo.
So which smart speaker should you buy? Google's Assistant-powered Home or Amazon's Alexa-powered Echo range of devices? Read on.
Hardware And Design
Amazon has a number of Echo devices, all of which vary in terms of design. For the sake of consistency, we'll compare the standard Amazon Echo with the Google Home. Both devices are semi-tall cylinders, although Home's design tapers a bit as it reaches the top. Echo, on the other hand, features a uniform cylinder shape, with a flat bottom and a flat top.
In some countries, the Echo ships with a remote control. Home, on the other hand, shuns this physical mode of input and instead features a touch interface, which lets users change the volume, pause or play music, and more.
Both are sleek, well-designed, and will probably adapt to any decor. They're also likely not to cause anyone eyesores, so there's your assurance. But plus points are due for the Home for its slightly more interesting aesthetic presentation. Plus, Google has even released different "skins" for it, which is a definite step up on the customization front.
Features And Capabilities
In terms of features and capabilities, Google has a wellspring of existing services the Home can take advantage of, although it appears it's not nearly using everything at its disposal yet. By contrast, how is Amazon in the usability department? Well, pretty great, actually.
• Music, Video, and Entertainment - Both companies have their proprietary music services: Amazon with its Prime Music and Google with its Google Play Music. Both can be accessed via their respective smart home speakers, but Google has a leg up in this front, thanks to its Google Cast integration.
For those who have Chromecast audio, you may simply ask Home to start playing music through speakers its connected to. But Home's Google casting integrations isn't as feature-rich as it looks on paper. In practice, it's pretty limited. For example, users must still command Home to cast the next song via the connected speakers, or it won't do it on its own.
Again, Google has the opportunity here, but it's soured by the lack of complex implementation. That said, Google is still working on Home, and obvious features such as the one mentioned above will likely arrive moving forward. But it's best to rely on Echo right now, it appears. The Echo, though limited to playing music via its owns speakers, can act as a Bluetooth speaker for any audio source, which is an excellent feature.
Both devices also support third-party music services, such as Spotify, Pandora, and others, so you won't be limited to their proprietary music streaming, if you're not into either one.
• Smart Home Integrations - Home is called Home because of a vision that the device itself will work and integrate with many smart devices around the house. Yet when Google released it, the device could only work and integrate with a few devices, including Nest, SmartThings, and Phillips. But It's now expanding and reaching other devices, which is promising.
Echo, on the other hand, supports a wide range of smart home devices, such as SmartThings, TP-Link, Honeywell, Phillips, and much more. For now, Echo wins in the smart home integration department, seeing as Home can't fulfill its own vision yet, while Amazon is breezing through it gracefully.
• Digital Assistant - A cleverly named Home has to have a cleverly named assistant, and it does. It's called Assistant. Echo, on the other hand, also has a similar marquee feature. Her name is Alexa, and she's incredibly powerful, smart, and capable of many things.
No one can beat Google in its own search game, that's a fact. Assistant has the entire power of Google's search knowhow at its fingertips, so naturally, it's a better choice than Alexa in terms of search functionality. But where the two largely differ is in their library of skills.
Home just recently supported things called Actions, which allow users to use third-party functionalities on Home. This works much like Alexa, but the difference is Alexa has more of them. A lot more — like 10,000 more. They're called Skills, and while not all of them are useful, users would most likely find what they need.
Hail an Uber ride. Order Pizza. Find inspirational quotes. Learn something about history. These examples are barely representative of the wide array of things you can do with skills because there's so much you can do with them. Needless to say that Echo wins in terms of functionality alone.
• Voice Commands - As you can already tell by now, both devices support voice control-based commands, which means using Home or Echo is as easy as talking to either one. Both also support far-field microphone technology, meaning you don't have to speak close to home for it to hear you. You can do it from anywhere in the house, but not too far, of course.
Until recently, there wasn't anything that stood out from both devices. Both of their voice commands are pretty standard sets. Search for stuff, plan your day, play music, convert currencies, and ask it to tell jokes. There's a laundry list of voice commands available, to be sure, but none ultimately outshine the other.
Not until Google released multi-user support for Home, which sets up an entirely different conversation. Not only will it give Home the ability to respond to six different paired accounts, it can also tell different voices apart, something the Echo simply cannot do. With this, Home simply stands above the Echo, and it could really get a speed bump in the smart speaker race as Google adds more support for Actions on Home. Echo's lead might be in danger.
The Echo costs $180, while the Home costs $130. Amazon, however, offers a budget-friendly Echo device in the form of Echo Dot, a puck-shaped Alexa-powered device you can get for $50. The Home is cheaper than the standard Echo, that's for sure, but Google doesn't have a budget version of its smart speaker.
To reiterate the smartphone analogy used in the beginning of this article, there are features on a phone you'd look for, and there are some you won't care about entirely. If your vision of a smart home/home control panel is one that can integrate with a lot of smart devices littered around the house, then you should get Amazon's offering. It's wide range of Alexa skills and smart home integrations ensure that Echo won't fail you.
If, however, you want a slightly cheaper alternative meant to be used by a number of people living under one roof, one which can do a number of basic tasks the Echo can already do, then Home is the better choice. After all, Google is just getting started. More Actions and more integrations are sure to come, which means only good things for its plight in the smart speaker race.