Google recently introduced Google Home, a smart home device and Bluetooth speaker equipped with a digital assistant. Google Home is the company’s answer to Amazon Echo, and it looks like it will be a worthy competitor to Amazon’s voice-controlled speaker. And Google Assistant, the AI software that powers Home, also looks like it’s on its way to offering Alexa some stiff competition. But for people who haven’t yet bought into the Amazon Echo system, or are still wondering exactly what Echo can do for them, comparing Google Home and Amazon Echo can get a little confusing.
Nonetheless, the two systems are more similar than they are different, despite the unique features of the hardware and software involved in each. Timothy Torres reports for PCMag that both Amazon Echo and Google Home “listen to your every demand.” You can ask either one to turn off the lights, or to summon a cab, to check the weather, or to play music. But as Torres notes, Google Home has Google’s search engine (and therefore the entire internet) at its beck and call — which can make a big difference when you’re using a voice search to look up information.
Google Home also knows everything about you thanks to Gmail, Calendar, and other Google services. “So, merely saying ‘Good morning’ to it results in a summary of your digital life.” That’s something that can’t quite be said for Amazon Echo, which has a few advantages of its own, like the countless Alexa “skills” that have been programmed by third parties.
In many ways, Google Home and Amazon Echo are quite similar. But when you start diving in to the specifics, key differences between the two voice-activated speakers emerge. Read on to learn about how Amazon Echo and Google Home compare, and figure out which one is a better choice for you.
Hardware: Amazon Echo vs. Google Home
Google Home measures 5.62 inches tall and 3.79 inches around, which makes it shorter and rounder than Amazon Echo. It weighs 1.05 pounds and is offered in white, with swappable bases that are available in a number of colors and materials. Amazon Echo, on the other hand, is available in black or white. It’s 9.3 inches tall and has a footprint of about 3.3 inches by 3.3 inches. It’s slightly tall for some shelves, but is otherwise pretty unobtrusive.
In Torres’s assessment, Google Home’s aesthetic “is inspired by candles and wine glasses, with a top half made of smooth, hard plastic that lights up with LEDs in four colors when it’s listening.” It has a touch interface that can be used to play and pause music, change the volume, or activate the Google Assistant. A Mute button is placed on the back. Google Home may be a little more attractive to look at than Amazon Echo, but neither device is one that most people would complain about having in plain sight (which can’t always be said for necessary gadgets like traditional Wi-Fi routers).
The lower half of the Amazon Echo, in comparison, is covered in small perforations for the speaker grille. The top half has a volume ring that lights up whenever Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant is activated. Echo features two buttons, one of which turns the microphone off and the other of which is a multipurpose Action button. The Echo also features a seven-microphone array, compared to Google Home’s two microphones.
Hardware features that Google Home has and Amazon Echo doesn’t
Taylor Martin reports for CNET that while Google has its work cut out for it in competing with Amazon Echo, there’s already a “healthy list of in-house features Google Home will be capable of out of the gate that Alexa could only hope to add in the future.” Among those are the superior touch controls that Google Home has for when voice input doesn’t make sense.
You can turn the ring on top of the Amazon Echo and first-generation Echo Dot to adjust the volume, or if it’s the Amazon Tap and second-generation Dot you have, the volume controls are on top of the device. The Amazon Echo also features button controls to invoke a command, or keep Alexa from listening. But on top of Google Home is a touchpad that can be used to control the volume, trigger the voice assistant, and complete other functions. The switch to turn off listening for Google is on the back of the device.
Google Home can also act as an audio receiver for Chromecast, which means that if you want to listen to a song that you have on your phone on a better speaker, you can tap the Cast logo in a supported app and select Google Home, as you could with any television or speaker that has Chromecast installed. You can also use the speaker as a controller for your other Chromecast devices, and you can voice search for content on Netflix or ask for search results from your Google Photos to be cast to the television. Martin explains, “This Chromecast integration may be the single largest leg up Google Home has over Alexa, but that could be remedied in the future with the Fire TV Stick.”
You can also create groups with Google Home and Chromecast devices. That makes it easy to sync multiple speakers and play audio around your home. Martin notes that the lack of this capability is one of the biggest complaints about Alexa, since the speakers don’t communicate well with one another. You can’t use two Amazon Echo units, for instance, to play stereo sound in a room, or to have multiple speakers play the same music around your apartment or house.
There are some software features that Google Home has and Amazon Echo doesn’t — like the ability to play songs based on context, to send information to your phone, or to have more natural conversations with the assistant. Another hardware advantage that Google Home has over Echo is the ability to customize the look of the device. Color customization is an option with Google Home, which offers seven base colors to choose among: carbon, copper, snow, mango, marine, violet, and painted steel.
Software: Amazon Alexa vs. Google Assistant
Google Home and Amazon Echo both support voice activation to control music playback, conduct web searches, and manage smart home devices. You can activate Google Home by saying “OK, Google” or “Hey, Google.” To activate Amazon Echo, just say “Hey, Alexa,” “Alexa,” or “Amazon.” Google Assistant can tap into Google’s search history, so you can ask very specific questions. Google Assistant is also more conversational and knowledgeable about your life than Amazon’s Alexa, and you can ask Assistant follow-up questions.
Google Assistant can also pull information from your Google accounts and apps. That means that it can tell you what’s on your calendar for the day and how long your commute will take (which Alexa can also do). Google Home can play information from Google Play Music, Pandora, Spotify, iHeart Radio, and YouTube Music. Google Home can also share information with other Android devices, like smartphones, and work with Google products like the Chromecast, which Amazon’s Alexa can’t do.
Meanwhile, Alexa enables you to play music playlists from your Amazon Prime account, from Amazon Music, Pandora, Spotify, and iHeart Radio. Alexa can also give you the weather forecast or set alerts and timers. You’ll manage Alexa’s settings through the companion app on your phone, where you can activate more than 3,000 skills (third-party integrations that enable you to summon a cab or order a pizza, for instance).
Both Amazon Echo and Google Home can function as a platform for controlling smart home devices with your voice. Echo can control lights from Philips Hue, door locks from Schlage, thermostats from Nest, and other products from Honeywell, WeMo, and Wink. Google Home has similar functionality, but less product integration, at least to start with. At launch, Home works with Philips Hue, Nest, SmartThings, plus IFTTT. It can also talk with Chromecast and Google-powered speakers and televisions.
Home can work with multiple speakers so that you can play the same audio in different rooms. If you have more than one Home, the closest unit will listen and respond. Torres notes that Echo can technically match that functionality, but it has trouble with it. If you have multiple Echo devices within close proximity, they’ll all respond at the same time.
Software features that Amazon Alexa has and Google Assistant doesn’t
Comparing the software that powers Google Home and Amazon Echo highlights just how similar the two devices really are. But Taylor Martin reports for CNET that even though Google Home can do a lot of things that Amazon Echo can’t, Google’s Assistant has plenty of catching-up to do with Alexa. Some of the things that Alexa can do, and Google Assistant can’t, are unlikely to matter to the average consumer. For instance, it’s nice that Amazon has released an API that makes it possible to use Alexa on other speakers. But if you’re a fairly typical consumer, you probably aren’t going to DIY your own Echo anytime soon.
But other skills that Alexa has, and Assistant doesn’t, may make a bigger difference to you. For instance, Alexa enables you to order millions of items just using voice commands — which is convenient for Amazon, but also for busy people who would rather order something when they think of it, instead of adding it to a to-do list to be accomplished later. Alexa can also tell you when a package is expected to arrive, which Google’s Assistant can’t yet do.
Alexa can also gain new functionality through Amazon’s system for skills. These features are independently developed integrations. Martin notes that “skills are to Alexa as apps are to Android and iOS devices.” These skills enable smart home devices that don’t have native Alexa support to be controlled via Alexa. They enable users to order a pizza or summon an Uber. They also help to make a credit card payment, check travel prices, or check your car’s fuel level. Alexa already has more than 1,000 skills, and more are added daily.
Significantly, Google Assistant is embodied by a single device: Google Home. But Alexa is available on other devices beyond the Echo. There’s also the Amazon Tap, which has a feature set virtually identical to that of the Echo and enables you to take Alexa just about anywhere you go as long as you have Wi-Fi or a mobile hotspot. You can also use a third-party app to tap into Alexa from your phone. Martin notes that you’ll technically be able to do the same thing with Google Assistant, but Assistant is so far only officially supported on Google’s new Pixel and Pixel XL smartphones. As Martin explains, “All other devices will continue to use Google Now until Google decides to share the Assistant love across the entire Android platform.”
Making the choice between Amazon Echo and Google Home
Google Home costs $129. Amazon Echo costs $179, though Amazon also offers the $50 Echo Dot and the portable $100 Amazon Tap. But figuring out which system is right for you is about more than comparing their respective price tags. Other factors, like the size of your home, and the areas where you want to be able to use your speaker of choice, may play a role in your decision as to which system to buy into. If you want to be able to control Echo from out of range, you’ll just need to add an Alexa Voice Remote for $29.99. But if you want to get the same functionality with Google, you’ll have to add a second Google Home for $129.
Beyond looking at the cost of each system, it’s important to decide which speaker has the features that are most important to you. Torres advises that Google Home offers some compelling features, especially the more conversational Google Assistant, plus Nest and IFTTT integration from the get-go. But the Amazon Echo is better tested since it’s been on the market for awhile, and already works with more products and services.
The Verge’s Ben Popper reports that there’s one major question about Google Home that we don’t yet have an answer to, and that’s how the device will handle multiple accounts. If you and your partner or your roommate both have personal Google accounts, Google Home will likely only be able to give one person information about their daily schedule. Will Google offer any workarounds for households with more than one Google account?
Some unknowns aside, Google Home is a strong competitor to Amazon Echo. That’s particularly true if you’re a big user of Google services, or if you already use the Chromecast ecosystem at home. Google Assistant’s ability to understand queries and to find information on the web is a major plus — one that’s worth considering if you were thinking about purchasing the Echo, but now find yourself weighing two options instead.