If you've dreamed of voice-activated devices since your childhood, these two devices will be a dream come true. Voice-controlled assistants are very popular at the moment. From iPhone's Siri, Google voice or Windows Cortana, this technology is advancing rapidly. However, two have recently come to prominence.
In the battle between Google Home versus Amazon Echo, which one wins out?
Here's our guide to these two devices.
Google Home versus Amazon Echo - Aesthetics and usability
Both Amazon Echo and Google Home are voice-controlled speakers which allow you to call orders to them without the need to use your hands. Both companies have opted for a tall, rounded design. When it comes to aesthetics, The Echo is more bolts and braces than Google Home's more shapely and curved form.
Amazon Echo is a sleek, cylindrical form with a single LED ring light at the top. This device comes in both black (the author's personal favorite) and white but no room for customization.
Google Home is somewhat fancier, however. It has a curved shape, reminiscent of a wine glass, which is apparently the inspiration. It's also smaller than Amazon Echo. The base can be swapped for 6 different shells to match your home decor, which comes in fabric or metal forms. The top is sloped with four LEDs to let you know it's working. Overall, Google Home is a pretty device with nice touches.
The Echo's controls are mechanical. It has a physical dial for volume and buttons for mute and activation. On the other hand, Google Home uses a capacitive touch control panel but does also have a physical mute button at the rear.
Both have the far-field technology, which will allow the device to detect your voice from across a room or down the hall.
Both the Echo and Home need to be plugged in to work. The obvious limitation of this being that you'll need to seriously consider their locations in your home. You won't be able to carry them around, but, Google asserts that tethering to an outlet makes Google Home a better speaker.
So, visually the better device is "in the eye of the beholder." However, the customization ability of Google Home is certainly advantageous. The same can be said for the controls with personal preference driving your decision.
Google Home versus Amazon Echo - Voice Assistant Capabilities
Amazon Echo incorporates the Alexa digital assistance. Google Home comes with the not-so-creatively named Google Assistant. Alexa is renowned for her database of poor jokes and nerdy references which are a nice touch.
Alexa can understand simple commands, even a series of them, but they are fairly basic. Echo's standard search engine is Bing.
Unsurprisingly, Google Home uses Google's mature search engine, which is a clear advantage. This integration means that Google Assistant has little need for a wealth of information as it's built straight into Google's architecture. Google Home can convert your shopping list into a digital list for your smartphone later on.
Google Assistant also benefits from Google's two-way natural language processing algorithm. This allows Assistant to be context-aware enabling a more natural and less awkward list of commands.
By way of example, Google gives the following example - "What is Adele's real name," followed by, "How many Grammy's has she won?" Assistant is able to determine the context of "she" within the list of commands.
Verdict? Google Home's integration with Google Architecture is a clear advantage over Echo. From a functional perspective Google Home is the clear winner. The ability to have a conversation with the device is, for most users, secondary to this. It is always fun to "troll" your device but this soon losses it's appeal when the "conversation" becomes stifled.
Google Home versus Amazon Echo - Ever vigilant
Both devices, perhaps quite disturbingly, are always listening due to their inbuilt microphones. Both of which can recognize voice input from a fair distance. Interestingly, this ability, as you've probably heard (no pun intended), let to a suspect's Amazon Echo being a potential witness to a crime scene.
To activate either device you need to use certain keywords. Echo is activated with the command "Alexa" or "Echo". Google Home is stirred by using either "Okay Google" or "Hey Google". Both devices do a great job of hearing you across large rooms, even down corridors to rooms and over moderate background noise. However, they will both struggle to differentiate your voice during a raucous house party, which is forgivable. Personally, it feels a little awkward to need to use "Okay Google" or "Hey Google" to activate Home compared to "Alexa", but that's just me.
It would be great if either device could add an aspect of customization to personalize activation commands. This is likely to be an added feature later on. It would also be nice to have custom affirmation messages on activation. Perhaps this will come with time as well. It would be great to give them pet names and have them respond to commands with phrases like "yes master" to satisfy my narcissistic tendencies.
Don't have reservations about getting voice-activated assistants just because they listen to you all the time. Luckily, both devices come with physical buttons to turn off the microphones. Google Home can also be told to stop listening and disable its microphone but Alexa cannot.
Google Home versus Amazon Echo - Features
Ultimately they are both speakers capable of playing music. Echo can stream from Amazon Prime Music, while Google Home uses Play Music and Google Cast. Both Echo and Home feature Spotify and TuneIn radio, but Google can also offer Pandora.
While the Echo is unlikely to win hardcore audiophile hearts, it is a full-sounded speaker with a decent amount of bass. It is loud enough to fill up a fairly large room with dulcet tones. Many reviewers believe the Echo outperforms the Home when it comes to sound. In their opinion, Amazon's Echo has large sound with good bass that doesn't go overboard. Google Home, on the other hand, over-eggs the bass and sounds like it's trying to0 hard.
Both devices are capable of connecting to your existing sound system. For instance, the baby Echo, Echo Dot, plugs straight into a speaker. Google Home, with Google Cast, allows you to connect to any speaker via Chromecast Audio streamer.
Google Home versus Amazon Echo - Multi-room capability
Sadly, Amazon Echo cannot support multi-room audio currently, but Home can. With Google Home, you can group multiple speakers and play one song simultaneously in multiple rooms of your house. Google Home also allows you to "cast" videos to any compatible TV. Command Home what you want to watch and it appears on your screen, just like from a smartphone. This functionality is limited to YouTube at present but Netflix is soon to follow. To watch Youtube by commanding Google Home, you will need to pull up specific videos by name or group such as "trending or "popular". It is rumored that Google Home will work with Netflix and Google Images soon. That'll be nice.
Google Home versus Amazon Echo - Even more features
Not to be outdone, Alexa does also have TV integration. To be able to use this feature you need to have Fire TV and press a button on the Fire TV remote. This does mean that first-hand support is still needed even if it listens to your commands. If you have Logitech Harmony setup, however, Echo far exceeds Home regarding TV integration. This includes turning your TV on and off and changing channels. Google Home's Chromecast can't do that. But be aware that Chromecast streamer costs around $35 whilst the Logitech option can cost hundreds to setup.
Both devices can play games, tell jokes (more on this later) and respond to move lines. With Alexa being more mature, the Echo has many more fun extras than Google's Home. For instance, Alexa can lead you on a choose-your-own-adventure-style Batman game. Alexa's Jeopardy game is also much better than Home's simplistic and over-the-top trivia.
Other than media, both devices work with Nest, Phillips Hue, and Samsung SmartThings. Echo can handle Hive and Google has IFTTT. So you'll be able to impress guests with your Jedi powers to simultaneously control your lights, summon music and open videos on command.
Verdict? Little difference between the two here. Taking advantage of the multi-room capability of Google Home will involve a significant cost in buying the additional devices ,so the benefits may outweigh the costs.
Regarding sound quality, Echo seems to have the edge if audio fidelity is your main concern.
[Image Source: Pixabay]
Google Home versus Amazon Echo - Life support
In our information saturated modern age, we all need help remembering simple things like our own birthday. Both devices have multiple features to assist us here. Google Home learns a lot about you through a variety of services. Google Calendar, Google Keep and Google Maps for instance. With such esteemed support, you'd expect Home to beat Echo easily. Afterall Home can tell you about the appointments on your calendar, as well as about the traffic on your way to work in the morning. But bear with me.
Home, using Google Assistant, can respond to you conversationally. On Google's new Pixel phones' debut, Google made a big show of its Assistant's ability to learn. This was showed off when Google revealed Google Home back in May 2016. As previously mentioned, Google Home's two-way natural language processing algorithm allows you to have a more natural interaction with the device. For instance, you can ask your Home "Who plays Luke Skywalker?". As you would expect you'll get the correct answer. What so great about Home is you can also add chain questions to that. Follow up the conversation by asking "What other movies is he in?" and Home will understand you mean Mark Hamill.
Google Home versus Amazon Echo - Conversational Awareness
Regarding further conversational awareness, Google Home only understands limited context for how. Alexa has kept up with Home on this front, however. Some tests have shown, not by the author, that when asked "How is the weather today?", followed by "How about Friday?" "she" understood. Alexa was able to understand the context and supply and answer without the subject "weather" mentioned - pretty neat.
Google Home can't let you change your calendar as yet or integrate with Gmail or Google Docs. It also can't give you directions or send them to your phone yet. However, you can make a shopping list on Google Keep but you can't make any other types of lists or even set reminders.
Verdict? Alexa also lets you set reminders and make to-do lists. It has large third party support with more than 3,000 skills. These are, essentially, apps for Echo. With these skills, Alexa has pretty much par on par contextual awareness with Google Home. Once the Home gets some updates with more Google Services Home integrations, it is likely to take the lead.
Google Home versus Amazon Echo - Your home is your castle
Alexa, with its 2 year head start, has a large catalog of compatible smart home devices. Google Home launched with just four. These currently being SmartThings, Nest, Phillips Hue and IFTTT. Given this, Home clearly is at a disadvantage.
The basic fact that both these devices are "always listening" makes home control very easy. Both devices are about head to head in this category. However, Home responds commands more flexibly than Alexa does. They both can pull device names from the respective first party apps. For instance, Phillips Hue app for Phillips bulbs. Alexa lets you create named groups of devices, which is handy. Home lets you give devices nicknames and group them into rooms.
For instance, if you give your desk lamp the nickname "desk lamp", imaginatively, Alexa will only respond if you tell her to turn on the "desk lamp". You can extend this to group all lights in one room and Alexa will be able to control them all at once. Alexa will only take these commands literally and so wouldn't infer "desk lamp" if you asked for "desk light" to be activated.
With Google Home you can give home devices similar nicknames as well as group them. Say with the same lamp you called it "Lampy McLampface" - and why not? You can ask Google Home to control it by commanding it to turn on "Lampy McLampface", "desk lamp", "office light" or "lights" - pretty neat. Google can't be given credit for the "office light" inference, given that it was assigned to a group. However it is akin to Alexa's capabilities. It's nice that Google Home can automatically group "Lampy McLampface" with the rest of the lights, though. It's also impressive that Home can make the connection between "light" and "lamp".
Google Home versus Amazon Echo - IFTTT
IFTTT ("If this then that"), is an online rule maker that lets you develop customizable commands given certain event sequences. Google integration with IFTTT and Philips Hue is better than Alexa's. Home can control Philips Light colours for instance. Alexa isn't able to provide this, as yet. Home and Echo has IFTTT integration which can be given different terms. For instance, to activate one with Alexa you would need to use the word "trigger" followed by the command name.
With Home, for instance, you can create a rule that allowed you to say "I'm leaving," "I'm out," or "Switch Ecobee to away mode." Home would respond to each of these and switch modes for my Ecobee3 thermostat. You can create the same rule with Alexa, but you'd have to say something like "Alexa, trigger Ecobee to away mode."
The flexibility provided by Home will likely make it better for your smart home than Alexa over time. This is because the other members of your family don't have to memorize as many exact commands to control your devices. Alexa's sheer number of skills keep it on top here, but Google Home makes the battle much closer than I thought it would be.
Verdict? Amazon Echo's greater selection of Apps currently makes it the better Smart Home device of the two, for now.
Google Home versus Amazon Echo - Speaking of Apps
Amazon Echo, as previously mentioned, has a large library of Apps to improve your experience. They vary widely, as with smartphone apps, but some are great for streamlining your life. Both Echo and Home can provide you with simple services like News, Weather, etc. but Alexa's extensive library allows for much more flexibility.
Some pretty handy apps include things like tracking your packages, ordering a lift with Uber, ordering your favorite pizza from Domino's and much more. Others give you an intense 7-minute workout, read books to you and recite Pi. Alexa's famed integral poor quality jokes can be supplemented with another app called "Yo Momma", which is very funny so I'm told.
Conveniently we've already given you a brief summary of some of the better ones, aren't we good to you?
Home, on the other hand, has a much smaller list available. As expected, it includes YouTube, Netflix etc. and do have some games - Mid Labs. Upcoming apps include Wemo, First Alert, Honeywell, LIFX, Wink and TP-Link integration.
Google Home versus Amazon Echo - Shopping experience
Amazon Echo is, as you'd expect, very much geared towards Amazon's mature retail system. However, reports from users point to it being a little disappointing. One reviewer attempted to order a new Nikon D5 Camera to upgrade from their existing Nikon D750. After asking Alexa "can you tell me more about the Nikon D5 camera?" Alexa responded - "Did you want me to order Nikon D5 camera?".
After repeated attempts, Alexa kept giving the same answer, akin to a salesman pushing the sale.
When given the same question, Google Home actually provided an overview of the new camera, pulling information from using Digital Photography review through the Knowledge Graph.
When you normally shop online through Amazon, you can check prices and read reviews. Alexa, sadly, cannot do any of that for you. No matter what you ask she just seems to only want to sell you the product in question.
Understandably, this is somewhat frustrating for users and you wouldn't buy a product without reading more about it. Google's Home definitely seems to have the edge here.
Google Home versus Amazon Echo - Google Home's advantage
Google has the best machine learning and AI capabilities in the world. Remember that Google's AI recently beat the world's Go champion, Lee Sedol. Google has invested substantial resources into its neural network. Echo, with its two-year advantage, is simply outgunned on this front. Amazon is primarily an online retailer and public cloud provider and gear its Echo to that. Google, in contrast, has a mission to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful. There should be no surprise that Google Home is better than Echo while performing these duties.
Google Home is unable to pair with speakers and headphone via Bluetooth, whereas Echo can. Therefore, Home can't be used as speakers for other devices. With Chromecast Audio, however, you can stream music to other speakers. This capability allows Google Home to shine. By setting up speakers with Chromecast Audio in each room, you can stream across multiple rooms. Now you can play music in specific rooms by telling Google Home to do so on its Chromecast device.
The lack of Bluetooth support is disappointing, it would be nice to connect to Bluetooth headphones while trying not to disturb other family members.
Google Home comes with a capacitive touch top. You can tap on it to pause and resume music. You can rotate your finger on it to increase/decrease volume. On Echo, you get 4 physical buttons and a light rim. There is no button to pause or play music.
Google Home versus Amazon Echo - The bottom line, Price
All of the above aside, the ultimate determiner for you is probably their pricing.
Amazon Echo currently costs $179.00. Google Home is slightly cheaper coming in at $129.00. Amazon does also offer the Dot - a smaller, lower quality speaker version of Echo that costs around $40. From time to time both Google and Amazon do offer discounts so keep a ready eye on the market to pick up some bargains.
Both Amazon and Google are set to dominate this market for some time until a viable competitor enters the fray. Apple is rumoured to be developing a rival. This device, no name as yet, reportedly has finished its R & D phase with a prototype in development at Apple HQ. It's expected to use Apple's Siri assistant and is likely to integrate third-party smart home gadgets.
There are other alternatives to these two devices either on the market or soon to be deployed. Whether you’re looking for a smart home controller, a voice-activated personal assistant, or just a smart wireless speaker, you can find some great options here.