Amazon blew the industry wide open with its release of the Echo back in 2014, and has since become the company’s most popular hardware product. However, Google has since gotten in on the fun with the Google Home, a direct Echo competitor that aims to reign supreme. But which one should you buy if you’re in the market for a virtual home assistant? Here are some key points to know about both devices to see which one might be best suited for you.
Google Home Is Much More Knowledgeable
This should come as no surprise, but when it comes to asking random questions about all sorts of facts, Google Home comes out on top.
That’s not to say the Amazon Echo is completely stupid, but in our testing, there were a handful of questions that the Google Home was able to provide an answer, while Alexa simply just replied with “Sorry, I don’t know the answer to your question.”
For example, Alexa wasn’t able to answer questions like “What’s the average age of a human being?” (71 years, by the way), but Google Home was able to give me the answer right away.
However, Alexa was able to do a better job in some areas, like when I asked both devices “How many movies has Tom Hanks been in?” Alexa was able to come up with the answer (83 films), while Google Home simply just named off a few movies that Hanks directed.
Google Home is also able to remember the previous question, which is useful. So if you asked “Who played Woody in Toy Story?”, Google Home would say Tom Hanks, and then you could follow up with “How old is he?” and Google Home would say his age, even though you didn’t directly say “Tom Hanks”. Alexa isn’t able to do this.
Overall, Alexa knows some stuff, but Google knows more.
Amazon Echo Is Better for Smarthome Users—For Now
The Amazon Echo has been around for long enough that it has built up quite the arsenal of supported smarthome devices, including products from Nest, Philips, SmartThings, Belkin, Wink, Insteon, and many more. Google Home supports most of the big players as well, but its full list isn’t quite as extensive.
However, both devices integrate with IFTTT, which then allows them to connect to a ton of different products and services that wouldn’t be supported otherwise. It’s not quite as seamless as native integration would be, but it makes Google Home feel less crippled in the smarthome arena.
So if you’ll be using your virtual home assistant to control all of your smarthome gear (which some argue is what makes these things so great), then the Amazon Echo is probably the one you’ll want to get—at least until Google Home obtains more support for more devices. In any case, you can view Google Home’s full support list of smarthome devices, as well as the Echo’s list.
Both Have Great Tastes In Music
By default, the Echo uses Amazon’s Prime Music service and Google Home uses Google Play Music, both of which are great sources for streaming tunes. The biggest difference is how many songs each service has in their catalog. Amazon Prime Music only has around two million songs available, whereas Google Play Music has an astounding 35 million songs. You’ll find most popular songs on both services, though.
However, Amazon Music Unlimited is a newer service from the company that boasts “tens of millions of songs”. Even if you’re a Prime member, though, you still have to shell out a monthly payment for it. Furthermore, both Prime Music and Google Play Music require a monthly payment, with the smaller Prime Music library included in Amazon’s $99/year Prime service.
Besides the defaults, though, both the Echo and Home can link to your Spotify or Pandora accounts, so if you’re committed to one of those music providers instead, it’s no problem.
Google Home Has Better Physical Controls
Both the Echo and Google Home come with a small handful of controls on the device itself that allow you turn the volume up and down and mute the microphone. However, the Google Home’s control interface allows you to do slightly more.
The Echo includes a volume wheel that you spin to turn the volume up or down, and the mute button sits right on top of the device, as well as a button to activate or cancel Alexa. That’s pretty much it.
On the Google Home, the entire top surface is a touchpad and it relies on finger gestures to control everything, which are easy to grasp. With it, you can play or pause music, adjust the volume, and activate Google Home to begin listening. However, the microphone mute button sits on the back of the device, which is a slightly awkward place for it.
Google Home Lets You Beam (Limited) Content to Chromecast
One of the biggest exclusive features of Google Home is its ability to integrate with Chromecast devices, which essentially allows you to control what you want on your TV using your voice. This is possible with the Echo, but it takes a lot of time and effort to make it work (and a home theater PC of some sort).
If you have a Chromecast, you can tell Google Home to play a video or a song by saying something like “OK Google, play cat videos to the living room Chromecast” and it’ll begin shuffling cat videos from YouTube on your TV. Keep in mind that this feature only works with YouTube right now.
Amazon Echo Integrates with Way More Services
Similar to the smarthome support that each device has, the support for general services is a little lacking on Google Home, but there’s a lot you can do on the Amazon Echo.
With the Google Home, you can ask for sports scores, news, and even ask for an Uber, but the Echo can do all that and much more, including having Alexa read your Twitter feed aloud and even guide you through the 7-Minute Workout, all thanks to third-party Alexa Skills that you can download.
Of course, Google Home will likely add a lot more of these kinds of features in the future, but for now the Echo takes the cake when it comes to all the random stuff it can do.
Google Home Can Recognize Individual Voices
More than likely there are multiple people living in your house, which means multiple people using the Amazon Echo or Google Home. Both devices have multiple-account support, but only the Google Home knows who exactly it’s talking to.
This makes it way easier to get information that’s pertinent only to you. So instead of saying something like “Hey Google, what’s on Craig’s calendar for today?” (which would be weird to say my own name), you can instead just say “What’s on my calendar for today?”. The Google Home will recognize your distinct voice and name off upcoming events that are on your calendar and no one else’s.
Google Home Let’s You Create Custom Shortcut Commands
One feature that I’ve been dying to have on a virtual voice assistant is shortcuts, which are shortened voice commands that can substitute in for longer voice commands. The Google Home lets you do exactly this.
In other words, you can set it up so that instead of saying “Hey Google, dim the living room lights to 25%”, you can just say “Hey Google, dim the lights”.
The Echo doesn’t let you do this, but hopefully Amazon will kick it up a notch in the near future and add this functionality to Alexa.
Both Have Decent Speakers
The full-size Echo and the Google Home come with surprisingly robust speakers that sound pretty good—certainly not as good as a dedicated speaker system, but good enough to keep at a respectable volume while you putz around the house.
However, the speakers on the Google Home tend to go south the louder you turn them up, so I wouldn’t want to crank the volume if I want to keep the quality decent.
Of course, if you have an Echo Dot, you can connect external speakers to it as long as the stereo system you’re plugging in has an auxilary jack. The full-size Echo and the Google Home don’t have audio out ports, so you’re stuck using the built-in speakers on those.
Google Home Is Cheaper
Perhaps one of the biggest shockers about Google Home is the price. At $129, it undercuts the full-size Amazon Echo by $50, and with many consumers concerned about price first and foremost, the Google Home has the advantage.
Of course, the Echo Dot is just $50, but it’s missing the robust built-in speakers that the full-size Echo and Google Home have.
We reckon Amazon will compete with this somehow—they already dropped the price permanently from $200 to $180—but it’ll be interesting to see how cheap it gets in the future.
There are other small things, of course. For example, “OK Google” doesn’t quite roll off the tongue the way “Alexa” does, which makes a bigger difference than you’d think. Conversely, Google Home comes with a customizable base, which is nice if you want it to fit in better with your home.
In the end, both are really good options, and it depends on what you’ll be using it for as far as which one you should go with. The Echo is better for smarthome integration and has slightly better speakers, and it integrates with a lot of different services through third-party Alexa Skills, but the Google Home’s vast search knowledge is likely something that Amazon will never touch, and the Chromecast support is pretty neat if you’re invested in that area.