Google Home vs Amazon Echo
Amazon’s Echo has been available for a few months in the UK, and now Google Home has finally caught up - on sale as of today (6 April). We compare the two gadgets – including their capabilities - to help you decide which is best for you.
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 calendar and to-do list, turn your lights on and off, and play music, radio and podcasts. But how do they differ, and which is best?
How much do Google Home and Amazon Echo cost?
In the US, the Echo costs $179.99, and the Home costs $129.
Amazon, though, also has the Echo Dot. This is remarkably cheap at just £49.99 from Amazon ($49.99 in the US) and does everything the Echo does but really requires a Bluetooth (or wired) speaker if you want decent sound quality for 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. And because Amazon lets other companies integrate Alexa into their own devices, there are plenty of other Amazon Alexa devices coming out in 2017.
How do their designs compare?
Google might not offer a range of smart home products 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. There are 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. Google has also said that the Home was designed to maintain your privacy.
If you really have an issue with privacy, you’ll have to wait for a device which can process your commands locally rather than sending recordings to the company's servers. Also see: Amazon Echo Show
What can the Google Home and Amazon Echo do?
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|
|Web search||Yes||No - can read Wikipedia articles and get information from Bing|
|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. Also see: How to add user accounts to Google Home
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. Once signed into your Google account, you can do things such as add doctor’s appointments to a certain calendar, check traffic on your commute and find out which meetings you have that day. Also see: 100 funny things to ask Google Home
This is nothing new - Siri can already do this on an iPhone – but it isn’t difficult to see how useful it is to have the Google Assistant in an always-listening device that you can operate just by speaking to it.
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. You could also ask for a certain video from YouTube, or a show on Netflix.
As with Amazon's Fire tablets, you won't find any Google services on the Echo.
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 in April, it will be on the back foot in terms of integration. It will need more than just Google services, BBC Radio 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).
Which is best?
In the UK, we'd have to say that you're best off paying £49.99 for an Amazon Echo Dot. Partly this is because of the low price, but also because Amazon has far more compatible services and 'Skills' than Google Home. Unless you specifically want to tap into Google's services and command a certain YouTube video to play on your TV, then at the moment, Amazon's Echo is the more useful device. This could change as Google adds compatibility with more smart home kit and more UK services. Before you make your decision, we recommend you read our full Amazon Echo review and our Google Home Preview.