Like Rome and Carthage, Google and Amazon continue to try and seize footholds in each other’s territory. The drumbeats of war again resounded when Google revealed a new speaker during its Google I/O keynote in May. Google Home was seen as a direct response to the Amazon Echo, a smart speaker that can respond to users’ questions and commands. Amazon certainly had the head start in this competition, having launched the Echo in late 2014. The Echo was an impressive device at launch — as our review indicates — meaning the Home needed to make quite the splash to catch up with its worthy adversary. Now that the fateful day of digital assistant, smart-home reckoning is here, how do these two products stack up against one another in terms of design, features, and pricing?
As if to highlight the inherent differences between the Home and Echo, Google’s device features a plain white body, in contrast to the Echo’s dark chassis.
The Home features a touch-sensitive top with LED lights that indicate when the device is working. It also touts a modular base, so you can swap out the default base for one that better matches your living space. The petite, curvy device certainly seems friendlier than Amazon’s tiny monolith. Of course, the Echo is beautiful in its own way, with a sturdy build and matte black (or all-white) finish that conveys dependability. Judging purely by aesthetics, you will have to decide which device suits your decor better.
Like the Echo — but unlike the like-minded Amazon Tap speaker — the Home must be plugged in to function. This means you’ll have to consider its placement in your home — and you won’t be carrying it around — but Google promises that tethering it to an outlet makes it a better speaker. When we first reviewed the Echo, we noted that while it won’t win any audiophiles’ hearts, it’s a full-sounding speaker with a respectable amount of bass. It’s also loud enough to fill a fairly large room. Caleb Denison, Digital Trends’ senior home theater editor, thinks the Echo outperforms the Home on sound, writing in our review: “While Amazon’s full-size Echo has a very large sound with full bass that doesn’t go overboard, Google’s Home over-juices the bass, and ends up sounding like it’s trying too hard.”
With the Home, you can utilize other speakers via Wi-Fi and Google “Cast,” marking one of the biggest differences between the two smart devices. The Echo, however, can also sync with the Amazon Tap or Dot to give you great flexibility (and portability) when setting up your home audio system and smart home.
It appears that Google would prefer owners to sync their Home and Cast devices, or include several Homes, to fulfill the same role as the all-encompassing Echo, Dot, and Tap. By utilizing Google Home in unison with the supported devices, you are able to play music in various rooms across your home, while still reaping the device’s voice-controlled features.
Once the Home and all correlating devices are fully mapped, you can make very specific requests. Ask Home to “Play Santo and Johnny in the living room,” for instance, and the device will have Sleep Walk playing in no time. This makes Google Home similar to Sonos’ speaker systems, with the added benefit of voice-command technology. It shares similar functionality with Chromecast devices, too, letting you play YouTube videos on your TV by saying something like, “OK, Google, play the new Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 trailer on the living room TV.” Even in a house brimming with Google Homes, the company claims that only the closest unit will respond.
Both the Echo and the Home also utilize microphones with far-field technology. Google claims it has incorporated hundreds of thousands of various audio environments to ensure the Home can isolate speech even in an environment with added ambient sounds.
Winner: Home on adaptability, Echo on sound
Usefulness and connectivity
The Echo and the Home are more than just pretty speakers. They are meant to be proto-AIs, helping users control smart home devices and process tasks hands-free. The Echo can integrate with your Amazon Prime account, granting you access to all the music, movies, and apps you normally have access to. The Home, meanwhile, taps into Google’s suite of apps, including Google Play. Of course, the latter will also integrate with Google’s Nest appliances, allowing you to, for example, set the temperature to 70 degrees Fahrenheit in specific rooms in your home. The Echo already works with many smart-home devices, and is fairly agnostic when it comes to different brands.
Google has thus far partnered with Nest, Samsung SmartThings, IFTTT, and Philips. Here, Home has the edge, because you can get away with being a little less rigorous about how you execute commands, and it seamlessly switches the color of Hue bulbs. The Echo’s built-in AI assistant, Alexa, on the other hand, currently requires an IFTTT trigger to do so. The Home also works with Sony and LG TVs to support Chromecast Audio TV. If you have a Chromecast, you can ask the Home to bring up Netflix on your TV. Like Amazon’s Skills, Google also recently opened the Home to developers with a new service called Actions. If you open your app, after some clicking — Devices > Settings > More > Services — you’ll see Kayak, WebMD, NPR One, and a host of services that have made skills for the Home. While you have to enable skills with Alexa, they default to active with the Home. If you want the Home to hail you an Uber, however, you’ll still have to link your account.
Alexa can carry out a variety of functions, such as playing music, adjusting volume, skipping tracks, and so forth. She can also answer questions, set timers and alarms, and make shopping lists.
The Home makes use of Google Assistant, a no-nonsense helper who seems like the next evolution of personal computer assistants. Google Assistant can, like Alexa, perform a number of personal tasks, from playing music and checking for traffic, to scanning your calendar for events. Google Assistant can also answer questions, and this is where it really shines. Google has branded this new personal assistant as being “conversational.” Not only can it respond to inquiries and provide the appropriate response, but it can retain that information and respond to follow-up questions.
For example, if you were to ask, “Who is Jessica Chastain?” Google Assistant could then provide a basic summary of the actress based on her Wikipedia entry. You could then ask, “What’s her most recent movie?” and Google will supposedly relay the information. In reality, though, it just tells you some recent movies that she’s not in, such as Kong: Skull Island and Beauty and the Beast. However, when you ask, “Who wrote The Giving Tree?” Home answers with Shel Silverstein. Follow up with, “When was it written?” and the Home will say 1964. Alexa can answer your first question, but gives up when you ask for the year, even if you repeat the book’s name.
While the Echo lets you set up different household profiles so you can switch between users — which is very useful if you and your loved ones have different tastes in music — Google’s Home is still bound to a single account. If you ask how your morning commute looks, for instance, you’ll only get the traffic for your spouse’s commute.
For now, Amazon’s Echo has far more skills. And while many, like bacon facts or pickup lines, aren’t super-useful, it does have the jump on Google. Still, by opening up the Home to third-party developers, its number of capabilities is already on the rise.
Winner: Amazon Echo
Pricing and availability
The Amazon Echo is currently on sale and retails for $179. Google wanted to undercut its competitor, and as such, the device retails for $129. Google’s price point also includes six months of YouTube Red, the platform’s paid subscription service.
Winner: Google Home
Overall winner: Amazon Echo
From a purely aesthetic perspective, the Home is by far the superior device. The elegant design begs to be showcased in any room, whereas the Amazon Echo has the of overall aesthetic of an LED-equipped dumbbell. Nonetheless, the Echo is certainly one of the most intriguing devices we’ve seen in the last year or two, one that offers a lot of functionality with minimal effort.
The Home is a worthy competitor on many fronts, though. It’s a more intelligent helper, one that can respond to increasingly complex demands.
Currently, the Echo has far more skills — an almost overwhelming number. Google may lack the quantity, but the Home has been out for less than six months, and it can already order you a pizza from Domino’s. Give it another few months, and we’ll see how things have changed. If Google lands some additional smart-home partnerships and increases the number of services available through the Home, we could be crowning a new winner.
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