Google Home is the latest product off the line from Google, and it’s entry in the connected home speaker hub ecosystem. That space has been dominated the last few years by Amazon and it’s Echo line of devices. The Echo lineup is powered by Alexa, it’s cloud-based voice service which whereas Home’s claim to fame is Google Assistant, the cloud-based machine learning platform that gives Home it’s context aware smarts.
The battle between them for supremacy in my home has been interesting, and Google has come out swinging with the Home, but is it enough to dethrone Alexa from my living room?
The Amazon Echo has always reminded me of the obelisk from 2001: A Space Odyssey. A big black imposing thing always present on my desk. It isn’t the most visually appealing device, in my opinion, and is a bit tall for my taste. The light ring and physical dial controls are nice and work intuitively, but I just wish Echo launched it’s white version when I bought mine.
It just lacks personality overall in the design department. The speaker is fine for me, not the highest quality for music playback, but gets the job done for parties and personal listening. It gets plenty loud and doesn’t distort at max volume. The microphone system, however, has been inconsistent for me. Some days it hears me from rooms away, and some days it won’t hear me from right next to it after repeating myself. I’d give the Echo hardware a solid A-
The Google Home has the benefit of coming out second in this race, and has been designed to be much more attractive and visually blends into home decor much better. It’s smaller, with a pear shape and a soft look. The swappable bases are also a nice touch that can really help your Home fit into your personal style.
I love the design of the Home, and the hardware is very clean and made of a soft-touch plastic. The touch-sensitive top panel takes some getting used to, but once you learn the gestures it’s nice to have, although I prefer the more tactile feel of the Echo’s dial.
Smart Home control
I’ve been an Echo user for a few years now, having gotten in on the ground floor when it launched, and I must say I’m quite satisfied with Alexa so far. She can do almost everything I ask of her, but not quite as well as I’d like. The experience has improved as the platform has matured and hopefully, it will continue to do so for quite a while after this. The Echo controls my LIFX smart lights, as well as my Logitech Harmony Home Control system pretty much flawlessly, although the specific phrasing required for changing my lights around sometimes makes me have to repeat myself. The fact that Alexa supports my chosen smart home devices natively is handy, as I don’t have to do much to get it to work and it’s all controlled through the Alexa app on my phone. The Echo is also compatible with many more devices than Home, given its advantage of time.
Google Home has assimilated into my smart home quite easily, despite no first-party support for my devices, thanks to IFTTT. All of my devices and the Google Assistant combined on this handy app mean that I can create custom prompts to control my various systems just like Alexa can and with more personal flair thanks to my customizable commands and responses. Although the first-party support is lacking, Google Home is just as good as Echo at smart home controls if you’re willing to put a bit of time into the experience. The Chromecast integration is a very strong point for
Although the first-party support is lacking, Google Home is just as good as Echo at smart home controls if you’re willing to put a bit of time into the experience. The Chromecast integration is a very strong point for Home and something that, as the platform matures, may be a very compelling reason to pick it up over the Echo. The ability to control your Cast-enabled devices with your voice is something wonderful when you use it for the first time.
I will still give this point to Echo, purely based on the deeper control I have over my personal system, as well as the wider support of smart home devices in general without the need for external apps. I know that Home will improve on this as it matures, but for now, point to Alexa.
Both Home and Echo can act as a sort of personal assistant that you can bark orders at, and ask questions to. Both have their strengths in this department, and both have their drawbacks.
Starting with the Echo; no offense to Alexa, she can do a heck of a lot, but she knows next to nothing about general knowledge queries beyond Wikipedia. Alexa can do a lot, like set calendar events, manage your email, call an Uber, and even send text messages (If you’re an AT&T customer.) Just don’t go asking her more complex queries. Alexa
Alexa is not context-aware, so you can’t ask it follow-up questions on the same topic, you’d have to repeat yourself to get the desired information. On the whole, though, Alexa does an admirable job of getting what you want done, and there are a ton of additional functionalities to add on in the Alexa app that make the Echo even better.
Google Home is also a mixed bag of sorts in the personal assistant category. While Google may lack all the tricks that Alexa has picked up in her two years of service, Home packs the power of Google Search and the Assistant to make it a powerhouse for queries and context-aware, conversation like feedback.
Home can tell you anything that you could ever want to know, and if you have a follow-up question, for the most part, it gets you the information right away while keeping context from the previous statement. If you’re a Pixel user or you’ve dabbled with Allo, you’re familiar with it already, as it’s the same tech in both devices. Home does lack a bit in other areas, however. The inability to make a reminder is baffling, especially when you can do it on the Pixel. Small, missing features like that are (hopefully) short-lived and will be added as Home gets older.
I’d say this is the toughest category to score for me, as both devices do things well enough. If I had to pick a winner, I’d say Home, purely for the fact that it knows things, beyond a Wikipedia search.
I have Home winning in this competition of mine, but maybe I’m a bit biased. I genuinely think Google hit a homerun with its entry into the home control speaker hub market. However, I’ve been using the Echo every day for close to two years, and it has been reliable and functional for the whole time. Google’s search capability is really the difference maker for me personally, but if that’s not a factor for you then take my thoughts with a grain of salt.
Both of these products are excellent options for someone looking to start their smart home and are looking for a simple, and functional hub for controlling everything. The differences aren’t really so stark when you put the two head-to-head, and you really can’t go wrong with either. If you’re deep in the ecosystem of either product, I’d say throw your hat in that ring, but if you’re a neutral party and are just looking for the best one, then take your pick.