I’ve been playing around with the Amazon Echo for some time now, and I’ve been quite impressed with what it can do, so when Google announced the release of its Google Home, a direct competitor to the Echo, I decided to purchase one and compare the two.
Before we get into the nuts and bolts comparison, let’s preface the conversation by stating that if you have not tried one of these devices, you probably should. If you do not currently make use of the digital assistant on your phone or computer (Siri, Cortana, etc.), your initial interaction with a device such as the Amazon Echo or Google Home might feel strange, but once you get over your initial hesitancy to converse with a digital assistant, these devices can become addicting.
Both devices share a number of similarities. For example, both are easy to set up. You download an app from the Apple App Store or from Google Play to perform the set up. You get the maximum benefit from the Amazon Echo if you are an Amazon Prime member. Google Home is at its best with those who live in a Google/Android ecosystem.
HOW DO THE SYSTEMS VARY?
In my case, when I set the Echo, I downloaded the app, which identified my Wi-Fi connection. I then logged in to the network, linked the device to my Amazon account, and I was good to go. The app then offered a brief tutorial of how to interact with the Echo and what some of the capabilities are.
The Google Home setup was, if anything, even easier. I downloaded the app, and since I have an Android phone linked to a Google account, the app asked me if I wanted to use the stored Wi-Fi credentials to log on to the network. It also identified my Google account and asked if I wanted to use that account with Google Home. The setup took no more than a minute or two. Once that was done, I had the opportunity to go through an equally brief tutorial.
Both devices are Wi-Fi connected speakers with multi-directional microphones that can listen to you and respond to your requests. Of the two, I think the Echo is the more aesthetically pleasing, but it only comes in black and white, which might not please everyone. The Home is shorter, and it resembles an oversized, old style air freshener, but it can be ordered in multiple colors.
In terms of pricing, the Google Home currently retails for $129.00 at the Google store. The Amazon Echo retails for $179.99 on Amazon, but it is periodically discounted for about $129.99 (look for Black Friday deals on the Echo soon).
Both devices did a good job of basic tasks such as recognizing my voice command, providing accurate weather reports, setting a timer, providing news and sports information, ordering an Uber, etc. Both can play music from your preferred provider. If you are a Prime member, you have free access to Amazon Prime Music. Google users get access to Google Play Music. If you subscribe to a service like Pandora or Spotify, you can use that as your default music provider. Neither device is currently compatible with Apple Music. In my tests, the sound provided by both speakers was acceptable, given their size and cost, but I’d give the edge to the Echo.
Both did a good job of answering some random questions (e.g. “When was Donald Trump born”) but Google had the edge in a few areas. For example, when I asked Google the drive time from Ft. Lauderdale to NYC, I received a detailed response with the route and traffic information. Alexa told me I had to go to my Alexa app and set up a commute.
The greatest differentiator between the Echo and Home at the moment is “Skills”. Amazon provides an API that allows third party developers to integrate their apps with Alexa, which enables extra capabilities.
For example, there is a Domino’s app for ordering pizza. There is a Tide app that will tell you how to remove stains. There is a Capital One app that allows you to request account information verbally. There is a Twitter app that will read trends, top tweets, notifications, etc. There are already a wide variety of skills available, with more being created every day.
I had high hopes that Google would leverage some of its capabilities into the app, for example integration with Gmail, or the ability to initiate a phone call through Google Voice or Hangouts, or flight information from Google Flights. None of these capabilities exist at this time, although I’m hopeful that they will be added soon.
HOW WILL YOUR DATA BE USED?
One final area of differentiation for some may be how the two firms collect and make use of your data. In the case of Google Home, any interactions between you and the device are captured in the same way your web searches are captured. Amazon also captures all of your data. To date, Amazon has used such data simply to make purchase suggestions that encourage you to buy more from them. Amazon says that non-product queries are not used to sell you product. Google has historically used user data to target ads, although there are no ads on Google Home.
I’m told that you can delete your history from both Google and Amazon servers if you wish to do so. Ultimately, your decision as to which service to use, and how much data to share with it may come down to how much you trust one of these firms, and how much additional utility you receive in return for the information you allow the firm to store about you.
For now, I’d say the best option for most people is the Echo, coupled with Amazon Prime. This allows you to do all of the things I’ve mentioned, plus it allows you to order all types of goods from Amazon. If you are a frequent Prime user, as I am, the Amazon Echo is hard to beat. Looking ahead, however, if Google adds features, and if you spend most of your time in the Google ecosystem, Google Home may eventually be the better option for you.