by Jennifer Allen on
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There are two emerging smart speaker ecosystems leading the pack these days: Amazon’s and Google’s. Which one should you go with? And more importantly, does it even matter?
At present, there are only two ecosystems worth building a smart home around. If you want a speaker to play music, then the HomePod is fine, but Siri is woefully behind on almost everything else. That just leaves the Amazon Echo and Google Home ecosystems. So, the question becomes, which one should you choose?
The answer, for the most part, is that it doesn’t matter. There are a few differences, though, so let’s go over those first.
The biggest advantage the Amazon Echo system has over Google Home’s might be the simplest, yet most critical: it’s so much easier to say “Alexa” than it is to say “Ok, Google.” Even “Hey Google,” despite having the same number of syllables as “Alexa” feels just a smidge more unnatural to say. It’s not a deal breaker, but if you have both in your house (as I do, largely for testing purposes), you might find yourself preferring to speak to Alexa more often.
Alexa also has a few features that Google Home doesn’t. You can use your Amazon Echos as a makeshift intercom system, communicating from one room to another. Google Home currently has something like this, but you can only broadcast to every device in your house. That’s not quite the same, so Amazon gets a point here.
While Amazon and Google both let you make calls with your smart speaker, only Amazon can send messages with your voice. Well, officially anyway. You can use IFTTT to set up a command to send text messages from Google Home, but it’s still probably a little easier on Amazon. Plus, if the person you’re messaging uses Echos, they can get messages inside the Alexa app instead. It’s not really better, so much as different.
Perhaps most important to Amazon users is the ability to order things through Amazon. The company even occasionally offers discounts on items if you order through Alexa. While Google lets you buy things through Google Express, we all know it’s not quite the same. Of course, ordering items with your voice isn’t always the easiest way to buy online, In fact you might not want to enable purchasing with your voice at all, lest the TV start buying dollhouses for you. Still, if you like buying things with your voice and prefer Amazon’s shopping to Google’s (and who doesn’t?) the Echo might be better for you.
Google is playing catch up in the smart speaker market, no matter how you slice it. However, the company does have one big advantage over Amazon: your Google account. If you use Google to manage your calendar, you can call up your events with a voice command. If you use Google Maps to get to work, you can get information about your commute. If you have a Chromecast, you can cast videos to your TV with Home.
If you have multiple people in the house tied into the Google ecosystem, it still works. Google has voice recognition software to detect who, specifically, is talking to it. So, if you ask for your schedule for the day, you’ll get your Calendar events. If your partner asks, they’ll get their events. It’s a convenient system, especially if you live in a very Google/Android household.
Even if you’re not into the Google lifestyle, the Google Home is still smarter than the Amazon Echo. Why shouldn’t it be, Google’s been doing the search thing for years. If you ask general questions of Google Home, you’re more likely to get an answer. As an obscure example, I once asked where I could find Malachite in Skyrim. To my surprise, my smart speaker read off an answer. Google’s Knowledge Graph has a lot of useful, eclectic information in it that you can call up with a command. Alexa can answer some questions, but it will likely never match what Google can do.
If you use Android, it’s even easier. Google Assistant on your phone is (mostly) the same as what you’ll find in a Google Home device. You can control your home’s lights from your phone and even broadcast messages to your smart speakers while you’re out. Since Google can detect voice commands even when you’re not touching your phone, that’s a bit like having a spare Google Home device in your pocket. While there is an Alexa app for both Android and iPhone, it’s not quite as deeply integrated on either platform.
Do all the features I’ve mentioned so far sound pretty niche? Does it sound like I’ve said “Technically the other platform has a slightly less good version of this” a few too many times? That’s because, well, Amazon and Google’s smart speakers are pretty similar. Even when there are differences, they are mild. Broadly speaking, you can set timers, listen to music, control your smart home, and ask basic questions with both.
Even the kinds of hardware you can get is pretty similar. On both platforms, you can get a cheap version that’s frequently on sale to put in every room of the house. You can get a larger, more expensive one with better speakers for playing music. There’s even a really expensive one with a touchscreen display so you can interact with it and watch video (though Google’s will be out in a few months). There’s some variation—Google has the ultra audiophile-friendly Home Max, while Amazon has the alarm clock-style Echo Spot—but for the most part, there’s a wide selection of devices to fill your needs.
So, which should you choose? Whichever one you feel like. You can be as flippant with the decision as you want. If you want to choose Google’s ecosystem because you like that it works with Google Calendar, go for it. Want an Amazon Echo because you’d rather say “Alexa” instead of “Hey Google”? By all means! There are minor differences, but you won’t be substantially worse off no matter which one you choose.
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