Google Home vs Amazon Echo
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Google Home and Amazon Echo are – on the surface – pretty similar gadgets. They both sit there listening for your command and can give you a news and weather briefing, manage your to-do list, turn your lights on and off, and play music, radio and podcasts. But how do they differ, and which is best?
Based on what we know about the Google Home and our testing of the Amazon Echo, here’s our assessment of the two devices. Read New Amazon Alexa devices for 2017.
Google Home vs Amazon Echo: Price
In the US, the Echo costs $179.99, and the Home (which goes on sale on 4 November) costs $129.
In the UK, you can buy the Echo for £149.99 from Amazon, but we don’t yet have a confirmed price for the Home. We’d be surprised, given the current trend for new products to cost the same in $ and £, if Google doesn’t sell the Home for £129 inc VAT (don’t forget those US prices don’t include tax).
Amazon, though, offers other options, such as the Echo Dot. This is £49.99 from Amazon ($49.99 in the US) and does everything the Echo does but requires a Bluetooth (or wired) speaker if you want anything other than voice feedback.
Not sold (yet) in the UK, there’s also the Echo Tap ($129.99) which is a portable, battery-powered Bluetooth speaker with Alexa built-in. You tap the microphone button to speak your requests.
Google Home vs Amazon Echo: Design
Google might not offer any other devices with the Google Assistant yet, but the Home is at least customisable. The bottom section, which acts as both the base and speaker grille, is interchangeable and Google will offer several colour options, plus the choice of fabric or metal designs. If we know one thing, it’s that people love to customise products to match their décor.
The Echo (and Dot), on the other hand, only come in black or white. However, neither is offensive and the dot is so tiny, it’s unobtrusive.
Since both gadgets are predominantly controlled by voice, you’ll rarely need to touch them, but they both have microphone mute buttons if you need to have a particularly private conversation. Not that we have any issues with privacy. Amazon, for example, says that the Echo will only send recordings to its severs for processing when you say the wake word Alexa.
If you really have an issue with privacy, you’ll have to wait for a device which can process your commands locally.
Google Home vs Amazon Echo: Features
Here’s a brief summary of how the assistants stack up against each other:
|Google Home||Amazon Alexa|
|Music streaming services||Google Play Music, Spotify, YouTube Music, TuneIn, plus more||Amazon Prime Music, Amazon Music Unlimited, Spotify, Tunein, plus more|
|Sync music playback to multiple devices||Yes (to Google Cast speakers)||No|
|Audio output||Yes (via Chromecast)||Yes (via Echo Dot)|
|Smart Home compatibility||Philips Hue, Nest, IFTTT||Philips Hue, LIFX, Nest, IFTTT (US only), Belkin WeMo, Netatmo, plus others|
|Customisable||Yes (via speaker base)||No|
Viewed in a table like this, it’s easy to see that Google Home has some advantages over the Echo. Even if you buy multiple Echos there’s no synchronisation between them. You can’t tell the Echo in your kitchen to play soothing music on the Echo Dot in the nursery upstairs, for example. With Google Home, you can.
Another big advantage is that the new Google Assistant (first seen on the Pixel XL) is much smarter than any other digital assistant out there. Not only can it search the web and get information, but it can also follow a series of questions without you starting from scratch each time. For example, you can say “what’s on at the cinema in Bexleyheath” and then “how long will it take me to get there”. Assistant knows what you mean by “there”. This is just one example of the Assistant’s artificial intelligence at work.
Alexa isn’t nearly as smart. She’ll tell you a joke if you ask her to, but is baffled by questions such as “How many toes does a cat have?”, responding only to say she doesn’t understand the question.
Google also has the huge advantage of its existing ecosystem: Gmail, calendar, maps, Android and other services. We’re yet to see exactly how this will work, but assuming you already use these things while signed into your Google account Google Home should seamlessly be able to add doctor’s appointments to a certain calendar, and even warn you that traffic is bad so you leave earlier to avoid being late.
Ok, so this is nothing new - Siri can already do this on an iPhone – but it isn’t difficult to see how useful it would be to have the Google Assistant in an always-listening device.
Google Home can also talk to Google’s other gadgets including the Chromecast, Chromecast Audio and also any speakers which support Google Cast, such as those from Sony and LG. Using a Chromecast, you can say to Google Home “show me pictures from my holiday to Spain” and it will tap into Google Photos and display them on your TV.
This all sounds great if you own such devices, but Amazon takes the lead when it comes to integration with services and your existing smart home kit. The simple fact that the Echo has been around since 2014 means developers have had plenty of time to make their apps and hardware work with Alexa and, since the Echo didn’t have any competition to speak of, they were happy to spend the time doing it.
We’ve spoken to several manufacturers who all told us the same thing: it’s really easy to build Alexa compatibility into apps. This has meant that there was a decent catalogue of so-called Skills to choose from in the UK version of the Alexa app, even on launch day. Amazon has also shown that it’s committed to adding more skills, and there has already been an update since the Echo’s launch in September which adds the ability to order products from Amazon (Prime members only) and check the football scores.
You can also check your commute and find out if your train is late while you butter your morning toast, and give your EDF electricity and gas meter readings to Alexa.
When Google Home launches, it will be on the back foot in terms of integration. It will need more than just Google services and a few big-name gadgets like Philips Hue bulbs to get on terms with the Echo.
Obviously, the more compatible smart home kit you have, and the more compatible services you already happen to use, the more useful Alexa (and Google Home) will be. But even if you don’t there are thousands of skills you can enable and have plenty of fun with, from Cat Facts to games and even a Just Eat skill which lets you re-order meals from takeaways (though sadly not create a new order by voice).
You might like to read our full Amazon Echo review.
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