Designed to convert your voice commands into music, actions and information, smart home speakers use advanced voice recognition technology (AI) to listen to your commands and to execute them for you. They connect you to a wide range of services to do this, some owned by the manufacturer, and some developed by third parties.
What’s On This Page
In this Which Bot Wins? showdown, we’re gonna compare the world champion of smart speakers, the Amazon Echo, against its only real challenger, Google Home, to see which of these voice-activated personal butlers is the best to buy (for now).
Dimensions: 25″ x 3.27″ x 3.27 inches
Weight: 5 ounces
Wireless: 802.11a/b/g/n wi-fi. Bluetooth. MIMO WiFi.
Audio: 0-inch tweeter, 2.5 inch woofer.
Compatible With: iOS, Fire and Android devices. Smart home device control available through third party apps.
Dimensions: 79 x 5.62 inches
Weight: 10 ounces
Wireless: 802.11b/g/n/ac (2.4GHz/5Ghz)
Audio: 2” driver + dual 2” passive radiators
Compatible With: Android & iOS devices. Smart home devices include NEST thermostats and many others.
Amazon Echo and it’s sibling, the Echo Dot, are the world’s best-selling smart home speakers for one good reason: they offer a wide range of services and features, the best of which are its excellent voice-recognition AI (Alexa) and an ever-growing list of tasks (Alexa Skills).
If you are a big Amazon Prime user, you’ll love Echo, because it comes out of the box integrated with Amazon Prime and Amazon Music.
Prime users can buy Amazon products through Alexa and check the status of their order. Ask “Alexa, where is my stuff?” and you’ll get updated on the delivery status of your order.
So far, it’s fair to say that the Echo has exceeded everyone’s expectations. In the US last year, the Amazon Echo sold over 3 million units.
The Amazon Echo is actually a hybrid hardware + software product consisting of 3 parts, which we’ll describe in more detail, below:
- hardware: the Amazon Echo smart speaker
- a cloud-based AI assistant: Alexa
- a wide range of third-party services: Alexa Skills
Amazon Echo smart home speaker comes in two colors, black and white.
The original, taller Echo kind of looks like a modern vase with glowing lights on top.
Both Echos use a set of internal microphones to listen to you, and a set of speakers to respond to your commands and to play music.
The Echo works well as a light-duty portable music speaker.
It delivers mostly distortion free sound with plenty of volume. It’s a fine choice for listening to compressed digital music in your home. You adjust the volume by rotating the device’s top.
That said, the Echo speaker is definitely not a replacement for a high-fidelity sound system. The smaller Dot, even less so.
One of Echo’s main appeals is how easy it is to setup. All you have to do is download the Echo app to your phone and connect it to your nearest wi-fi router.
Amazon Echo does an especially good job at far-field voice recognition.
In quiet environments, both Google Home and Amazon Echo can understand your voice commands equally well. But the Echo works better in noisy environments and when you are further away from the device.
Echo can differentiate your voice from others better than Home can, too.
Inside of the Echo is a seven-microphone audio system that it uses beam forming to identify who is speaking. After identifying you, it amplifies your voice and mutes the background sounds to continue listening clearly.
Echo’s voice recognition works great. Even while music is playing, the Echo detects your voice surprisingly well.
Unlike most other voice recognition systems, Amazon Echo doesn’t need training to understand your voice.
It’ll recognize your requests with virtually no issues – as long as you remember to use the exact phrase for each skill you want it to perform.
The real secret behind Echo’s usefulness is Amazon’s refined AI assistant, Alexa.
Alexa is a cloud-based natural language interface that stands in front of and connects you to a wide range of other cloud-based services, to do your bidding.
When you ask the Echo a question, Alexa interprets your request into a text-based command and sends it to another online service (often a search engine) to initiate a process or to retrieve information.
When you ask for an order status, for example, Alexa goes to Amazon and checks that for you. Etc.
Functionally, Alexa serves as your personal assistant.
She can answer almost any fact-based question, remind you of a meeting, order a pizza for you and even tell your children a bedtime story. If you are cooking in the kitchen, you can say, “Alexa create a timer for 15 minutes,” and she’ll let you know when you’re time is up.
Asking questions and getting quick answers, naturally, is a big part of the useful appeal of Alexa and Amazon Echo.
When responding, Alexa speaks in a clear and concise manner in a smooth British accent.
Alexa is also very responsive. She feels like a real person, at times.
One huge advantage Amazon Echo has over Google Home is its ability to learn a wide range of skills.
You select the skills you want from Amazon’s Alexa Skills marketplace and install them using Amazon’s smartphone app.
Alexa Skills are like apps, for the Echo. Each one does a different task.
To add a new skill, you must find a skill on your smartphone Echo app and enable it. Then, you need to memorize the key phrase that starts that utility.
Using Echo with a lot of skills requires having a good memory for specific phrases. As your list of skills grow, remembering your key phrases becomes harder.
That said, if all you use Echo for is a handful of Alexa Skills plus the built-in features, then you will be very happy.
Concerns and Issues
While Echo can learn a wide array of skills, adding too many skills will confuse it – and you.
Also, most of the skills are not really all that good or useful.
The skills marketplace on Amazon.com is a lot like the first generation Apple iOS store in the mid-2000s, which had a LOT of crappy apps.
That said, Amazon provides reviews for each of its skills, so it’s fairly easy to find the good ones.
Avoid overly complex or magical skills, too – this system was designed for very simple, single-task skills.
Another issue is Echo’s limited music choice. Amazon Music integration comes out of the box, but music choice there is not that great. We highly recommend adding Spotify to correct this issue.
Lastly, the Echo’s speaker is not as good as Google Home’s. We recommend connecting your Echo to your existing stereo system or to better external speakers to get the best results.
Smart Home Integration
Amazon Echo can be used to control a wide range of smart home devices.
While some products work fine, Echo users do complain about reliability and bugs with smart home devices, right now.
Security and Privacy
As recent events in the news show, there are also valid privacy concerns related to using a voice-activated device that can listen-in on you.
To help, Echo comes with a mute button to prevent the device from listening – but few people will likely take advantage of this.
The Bottom Line
The most powerful thing about Amazon Echo right now is its huge market of third party Alexa Skills, which is expanding rapidly.
As far as versatility goes, the Amazon Echo handily beats Google Home.
We think the Amazon Echo is the best personal assistant / smart home speaker selling today, for most people.
Unless you are a Google services addict, Amazon Echo is the one to get. Especially for homes with multiple users.
Tip: consider purchasing the Echo Dot, instead. It’s cheaper, more compact and does pretty much everything the Echo does. Speaker quality is so-so, though.
Like the Amazon Echo, it can control your smart home, keep track of appointments and play music.
Unlike Echo, Google Home doesn’t have a lot of third-party skills to use, so it can seem a lot more limiting. But how limiting really depends on what you want your smart speaker to do for you.
Google Home does beat Amazon Echo on several fronts.
The speakers are noticeably better on Google Home, for example.
And, the Home hardware is better-looking and more customizable than the Echo. For instance, you can swap-out the base and change the color.
Google Home is cheaper than the Amazon Echo, too (but more expensive than the Echo Dot).
Design And Hardware
The Google Home comes with a white and gray base.
For an extra $20, you can buy an orange, yellow or pink fabric cover. Or, you can have a metallic base for $40.
Inside of the speaker system is two microphones.
While this is five fewer microphones than the Echo, it still does a great job of remembering your voice.
Setting up your Google Home is really easy. All you need to do is download the app to your smartphone. The app is extremely intuitive.
After establishing a wi-fi connection, it is ready to do your bidding.
Speakers and Sound Quality
One advantage that Google Home has over Amazon Echo is its sound/speaker quality and available music selections. It is slightly better.
However, Google Home uses a bit too much bass for my taste. And, like most other bluetooth speakers, on higher volumes the Google home smart speaker quickly reveals distortion caused by music compression.
Compared with the Echo, Google Home does offer a larger music choice. Home is compatible with Google Music, Spotify, and YouTube Music.
Issues When Using Google Home
When using this smart speaker, we hit a few issues and limitations.
For example, Google Home’s lack of third party skills. You can use the google speaker to call for an Uber, but that’s pretty much it.
Amazon Echo offers over 3,000 skills (although to be fair, most of them aren’t that good).
Another issue is its account limitations.
For instance, Google Home only allows for one user account to be used at a time, whereas Alexa supports multiple users each with their own accounts.
Even though the Google Home is limited, it is still an excellent product. It has excellent AI that responds well to your input. And it serves its duty as a virtual home assistant with excellence.
The Bottom Line
Google Home has a few limitations, but then again, it is a first-generation speaker.
As time progresses, we expect to Google Home catch up to the Echo – especially when it comes to third party apps, quality of AI and use of multiple accounts.
The Google Home is also cheaper than the Echo.
This smart speaker is a good choice for Google services users who own an Android phone and want a single-user virtual assistant without breaking the bank. It also has a better speaker and better music choices, for now.
Voice Recognition / AI
Both Amazon Echo and Google Home are great at understanding and answering simple questions. Both of them struggle equally with complex / long-winded queries.
Amazon Echo does a better job differentiating among different peoples’ voices and hearing your voice when the noise picks up or you are further away.
On the other hand, this can be a problem for open-floor style homes with lots of kids – Alexa is really eager to please, and she will hear all of you, all of the time. Things can get funny when that happens.
Because of this, Amazon Echo wins – by a hair.
Third Party Integration
Well, this one is easy: Google Home has almost no third-party apps, making it extremely limited in comparison to the Echo. Outside of Google Home’s excellent built-in smart home compatibility, that is.
Amazon Echo is the clear winner here.
Once again, the Echo wins when it comes to being able to use it for more tasks. It can handle multiple users. And, with over 3,000 skills, it is extremely expandable. While the Google Home can handle a few tasks, it does not compare to the versatility that the Echo offers.
One unique feature that the Google Home has is a customizable base and color options. Users can change the color and look of their base to their liking. Google Home is also extremely well-integrated with other Google services.
On the other hand, Amazon Echo comes loaded with Amazon services and really useful Skills. It can order pizza from Dominos and help track your package, right out of the box.
The Winner: Amazon Echo
Overall, we think the Amazon Echo is a better, far more flexible smart home speaker for most people than Google Home. For now.
It’s not a slam-dunk, though.
If you are a single, Google services user with an Android phone and a fine taste in music, you might be better off with a Google Home.
Just don’t expect it to do as much as an Echo can.