Though the Amazon Echo device (also known as Alexa) was certainly the trailblazer when it comes to smart speaker devices, there’s a new kid in town. Just in time for the holidays, Google released its smart speaker system known as Google Home. Both devices have their pros and cons, so you’ll have to decide which is best for you based on existing habits, subscriptions and technology preferences, but one thing seems clear: smart speakers are here to stay, and if you don’t have one, you’re missing out.
For starters, the name smart speaker doesn’t really do these devices justice, as they are so much more than what you would traditionally think of as a speaker. In reality they are some technological hybrid of personal assistant, culinary companion, home automation tool and entertainment hub. But before you decide whether to go with Alexa or the Google bot, it’s important to understand how these two devices differ in the three main performance categories: smart home integration, music and entertainment and the virtual assistant capabilities.
One of the biggest ways in which the two devices differ is that Amazon has significantly more established partnerships with an extensive catalog of compatible smart home devices. Compare this to Google Home, which at the time of release only has relationships with four such companies – Nest, SmartThings, Philips Hue and IFTTT – all of which also work seamlessly with Alexa. This is likely just because Alexa has been on the market for two years already (and Google Home is brand new), but if you’re planning to buy a smart speaker today, this could be an important factor in your decision making process.
Google Home, on the other hand, came out of the gate swinging as it relates to the entertainment aspect of these smart speakers. While both the Amazon Echo and Google Home seem to handle third party streaming services such as Spotify and Pandora well, Google Home allows you to easily stream any audio service that is supported by Chromecast. Additionally, Google Home also has an exclusive partnership with YouTube Music, so for YouTube Red subscribers this is a clear win.
When it comes to the virtual assistant, there seem to be a more even balance set of pros and cons. Many users prefer Amazon’s “wake words” which include “Alexa”, “Amazon” or “Echo” as compared to the Google Home which requires you to say “Hello, Google” or “Hey, Google” in order to begin interacting with the device. And although all virtual assistants using artificial intelligence technologies still have some challenges, Google’s assistant is seemingly “smarter” than Alexa. This really shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone – Google has spent decades perfecting its search engine technology which is the backbone of its virtual assistant. With that said, Alexa appears to have a better sense of conversational context, so you don’t necessarily need to ask her questions that sound like search queries.
At this moment, there doesn’t appear to be a clear winner when it comes to smart speaker technology, and it is almost certain that competition will make both devices better in the long term. So which smart speaker should you buy right now? It really depend on which features of the device are most important to you, but both are great products that not only perform great today, but have tremendous future potential.