Both the Amazon Echo and Google Home have earned their place at the top of the smarthome hierachy, but which one should you buy?
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. Here are some differences and similarities between these two home assistants.
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 thanks to Google’s Knowledge Graph.
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 to, 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.
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. Just don’t buy the Echo Plus for its smarthome hub, because it’s not that good.
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.
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 buttons that you press to turn the volume up or down, mute the speaker, or activate and 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.
Overall, it really depends what kind of controls you like using—touchpad aficionados will like the Google Home better, while tactile-button lovers will like the Echo.
While the Google Home lacks in the smarthome category, one thing that made it stand out was its ability to beam video content to a Chromecast when you said something like, “Hey Google, play cat videos on YouTube”. However, Amazon has caught up.
The Echo can beam video content to a Fire TV device just like the Google Home can with a Chromecast. However, a big downside with the Fire TV is that YouTube isn’t supported, which is one of the biggest streaming video services on the internet.
With that said, the Google Home has the slighter edge in this specific battle, but hopefully Amazon can bump it up a notch in the near future.
Similar to the smarthome support that each device has, the support for general services is a little lacking on the Google Home, but there’s a lot you can do on the 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.
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, and they can tell 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, “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 Home and Echo will recognize your distinct voice and name off upcoming events that are on your calendar and no one else’s.
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 and add this functionality to Alexa at some point.
The full-size Echo and the Google Home come with decent 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, if you have an Echo Dot or any of the newer Echos, you can connect external speakers to them as long as the stereo system you’re plugging in has an auxiliary jack. You can also connect your Echo to a Bluetooth speaker.
The Google Home can connect to external speakers, but a separate Chromecast Audio device is required, and that’s the only way to do it, unfortunately.
Both the Echo and Google Home can do calling and messaging, but the Echo does it a bit better.
Granted, both devices can call a phone number directly from the device itself, which is pretty cool. But the Echo can also call another Echo device, whether it’d be one of your other Echos in your house (called Drop In in this case), or a friend’s Echo who lives across the country.
Furthermore, you can send voice messages to other Echo users, while the Home doesn’t support any kind of messaging at all, currently.
The Google Home does do one thing that the Echo can’t do in this case: You can broadcast a message to all of your other Home devices in your house, but it will use the Google Assistant voice rather than your own.
When the Google Home first came out, the full-size Echo was still priced at $180, which allowed Google to undercut Amazon by $50 and price the Home at $130. However, things are drastically more competitive now.
The full-size Echo is now only $100 (thanks to the 2nd-generation release), while the Google Home still remains at $130. However, both companies sell their smaller versions (the Google Home Mini and the Echo Dot) for $50.
It’ll be interesting to see if Google will lower the permanent price of the Home down to $100 to match the full-size Echo, but that’s obviously speculation for another day.
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.
In the end, though, 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.