There's no time like the present to get yourself a smart speaker. Amazon has been dominating the space with all manner of Amazon Echo devices in all shapes and sizes, but Google Home has been playing catch-up.
Not only has Google been launching smart speakers at a ferocious rate, but Google Assistant has also been catching up with Alexa in terms of features and usability – and that means a tough choice for those wondering which smart home ecosystem to back.
Granted, neither are perfect devices, but they're both good for listening to music, controlling a limited range of smart home tech, and performing a few party tricks. They can even now be used to call friends and family. So which should you get? Read on to find out.
Amazon Echo v Google Home: Design
Now in its second generation, the Amazon Echo has changed a fair bit. The original tall, plastic design now belongs to the super-duper Amazon Echo Plus (more on that shortly). The new 'standard' Amazon Echo is much smaller, with a fabric cover, which makes it a lot softer on display in your home – and it's been treated to a substantial price cut, too.
Essential reading: The Amazon Alexa complete guide
The Amazon Echo's seven directional far field microphones still live at the top of the speaker. There are just two buttons on the Echo itself, an action button and a mute button. But other than that, all interactions are going to be done with your voice.
Google Home's design is also sparse with only one mute button that sits on the back. However, Home is white with interchangeable bases that bring a much needed spark of colour, and looks better for it. It's also smaller than Echo and pear-shaped with a slight slant on top that's touch capacitative for volume control.
While some may like the larger look of the taller Amazon Echo, Google Home wins the most style points here. It can blend in a little better with the rest of your living room, kitchen or bedroom thanks to its squat frame and colourful customisation.
We're not going to get too drawn into which looks better – everyone's home is different. But Amazon certainly offers more variations in style than Google, if you're fussy about putting tech in your home.
Amazon Echo v Google Home: Line-up
While we've been focussing chiefly on the main two devices in the line up – the Google Home and Amazon Echo second generation – there are actually a host of smart speakers in each company's range. Here's the run down in brief:
Amazon Echo second generation – The standard speaker, as explained above. Reduced in price and recently shrunk in size.
Amazon Echo Dot – Cheap and small, the Echo Dot's tiny speaker makes it useful for placing round the home for smart home control, but useless for music or listening. Hooks up to soundsystems via 3.5mm jack.
Amazon Echo Plus – The biggest, most expensive Echo. Has a Zigbee hub to communicate with smart home devices without needing skills, and has a slightly improved speaker.
Amazon Echo Show – Features a large display for visual skills, as well as doing everything a normal Echo smart speaker will do.
Amazon Echo Spot – The tiny screen works as a bedside clock or desk smart speaker.
Google Home – The standard Google Home speaker, as outlined above.
Google Home Mini – Google's answer to the Amazon Echo Dot, it's available for just $50 and can be easily placed around the home. Useless as a speaker.
Google Home Max – The bad boy of the Google smart speaker range, the Max features a big sound, to rival the likes of Sonos for your home entertainment, while still offering voice control via Google Assistant.
Amazon Echo v Google Home: Interactions and sound performance
Since launch, both Google Home and the Echo have got better at picking up our voice. There are fewer far field microphones in Home - only two to be exact - but in accuracy we reckon we've had a similar hit rate on both. Alexa is really good at picking up commands from different rooms, and that's where the larger far-field mic array really pays off.
Complete guide: Google Assistant explained
In terms of speaker performance for music, both Echo and Home are able to blast a hearty dose of sound to fill the room. However, crank the volume up to 11 and you'll see why neither are capable of replacing a proper sound system. Neither are terrible, nor are they great. The new Amazon Echo Plus promised bigger and better sound, and while it does feature a slightly bigger speaker, the result isn't audibly much different to the standard Echo.
The Echo can now pair with any Bluetooth speaker, which is a brilliant trick up its sleeve. Similarly, you can pair Home with a Chromecast Audio, connected to a proper speaker, to get the best of both worlds – although it's not quite as flexible. What's more, if you have a Sonos system, there's a great Alexa skill which enables you to play music to your multiroom system.
Probably the most-used feature of both is for playing music; they're really good at being your personal DJ, especially when paired to your favourite streaming services. Google Play Music will only work on Home, while Amazon Music is exclusive to the Echo. Spotify works across both, but it's the access to YouTube Music (if you're a subscriber) that gives Home a bit of a secret weapon here. Again, the Sonos skill is a huge boon for Amazon Echo - and we feel that Alexa edges things if you have Spotify, Amazon Music or Sonos. If you're bereft of music services, then you might get a better experience from YouTube Music.
Beyond that, both smart home devices have a range of talents. These come in the form of 'Skills' for the Echo and 'Actions' for Home.
Amazon Echo v Google Home: Smart home
One area that Alexa and Amazon have really dominated is the smart home. The Works with Alexa certification programme, which enables makers of smart home gear to have Amazon's assistant control their stuff, has gained pace at a much faster rate than Works With Google Assistant.
A lot of the big names, such as Nest and Philips Hue, work across both – but significant names like Hive and Sonos are only now adding Google Assistant, way after Alexa. What's more, the Amazon Echo Plus has its own Zigbee hub built in, which means devices can communicate with the hub directly, without the need for Works with Alexa certification, or downloading of skills. However, while the hub supports a sizeable chunk of smart home devices out there, it's by no mean a complete selection, so there's much work still to be done.
Amazon Echo v Google Home: Skills
Both Amazon and Google enable assistants to perform tasks like reading out the day's news; controlling smart home devices like Nest thermostats and August smart locks; launching trivia games; and even ordering you an Uber.
Google Home learned these skills automatically when developers push them live. Alexa, however, has a bit of a hybrid approach. While you can still can enable skills manually via the companion app, a recent update also allows the skill to install themselves after you ask Alexa about 'em.
Echo had the head start here, and now boasts over available 10,000 skills. Home has closed the gap a fair amount since launch with its broadening range of abilities and third-party integrations, but Alexa still holds the higher ground with a wider range of smart home integrations and skills. The ability to choose which skills your Echo learns has its advantages too.
Google Home has a couple of trump cards over Alexa, however: you can also voice-cast content to any TV that has Chromecast plugged, and this also now works with Netflix, so you can say "Hey Google, play House of Cards on [Chromecast name]" as long as your Netflix account is linked in the Home app beforehand.
Both devices will be getting notifications in the near future. When you have a notification for a news brief or a flight update, your smart speaker will light up and you just have to ask either Google Assistant or Alexa what's up and they'll tell you. The feature parity continues with voice calling, although there are some differences.
Amazon's Echo currently has free voice calling, though you'll need the Alexa app and an Amazon account – and you can also "Drop In" to other Alexa devices in your home, like an intercom, and even other people's houses, if they approve it. If they don't, you can still ring their Echo with your phone or Echo speaker, they just have to answer your call like a normal telephone.
Google Home's hands-free calling lets you call any cell, home or business phone so long as you're in the US or Canada (for now), which makes it more flexible than Echo, although you won't be able to call other Google Homes.
The one major advantage that Google Home has over Amazon Echo is multi-user support for up to six people. So now when someone asks Google Home something, it'll recognize their voice and shift to give them their calendar, their email, their music library, their commute time and more. You can set all this up in the Google Home app, and each person will have to say "Ok Google" a couple times for the voice analyzation to dial into your voice.
Home has another advantage in that it has access to Google's entire neural network, which gives it the edge in relaying certain information, and we feel like this has the potential to give it more advantage in the long run if/when Google starts integrating more of its services with Home. These added smarts already show up when searching for music tracks: you can give Home some example lyrics, and it can sometimes seek out the song you're looking for.
Amazon Echo v Google Home: Price
At $99.99 Amazon Echo is cheaper than Google Home's $129. The Echo is larger and packs a few more mics inside, however you can also opt for the Echo Dot which is much cheaper at $50 and can do basically everything the larger smart speaker can, save for the better speaker.
That's important, because you can have multiple Echo Dots around the house for less than the price of a Home, and if you already have speakers you can use, this might make more economic sense.
Amazon Echo v Google Home: Final verdict
Google Home has come on leaps and bounds since launch, and choosing a victor isn't easy. Right now the crown goes to Alexa simply because it still has a broader skill set – and its Works With Alexa programme just makes it a smart home master. But Google Home is quickly closing the gap, and has the potential to leapfrog Alexa before long. Its new call feature may alone be enough to sway some in its direction.
Google needs to do is improve the contextual voice recognition and integrate more services, while more features are set to come later this year. The little air freshener-like device also has more in the looks department, we reckon, and the Echo shouldn't rest on its laurels. The battle for the smart home is really just beginning.