Voice-controlled assistants are the next big thing in the smart home arena, and the Amazon Echo has thrown the first punch. But the Google Home may have something to say about that. It’s time for a weigh-in to see exactly what each has to offer.
Google Home vs Amazon Echo – Design
Both of these devices are voice-controlled speakers, which you can shout at without using your hands. Google and Amazon have both gone for a tall, rounded design. While the Amazon Echo looks more clinical and no-nonsense, the Google Home’s aspirations are a bit more ornamental.
The Amazon Echo is more minimalist, with a straight cylinder shape and a single ring of light at the top. It comes in black or white paintjobs, with no room for customisation.
By contrast, the Google Home is a little more fancy. It has a curvier shape, which Google says was inspired by wine glasses and candles. Its bottom casing can be swapped out for different shells to match your furnishings – there are six shells in fabric or metal. It has a sloped top, with four LEDs to provide visual feedback.
Amazon's approach is entirely mechanical, with a physical dial for volume and actual buttons for mute and activation. Google has gone for a capacitive touch panel, so you'll be swiping to control your music, but there is a physical mute button at the back.
Both units have microphones with far-field technology, which promises to pick up your voice from across the room or down the hallway.
Related: Amazon Echo review
Google Home vs Amazon Echo – Voice assistant
The Amazon Echo features the Alexa digital assistant, while the Google Home is loaded with the imaginatively named Google Assistant. At this stage, we’re not sure whether Google Assistant will match Alexa for her knowledge of nerdy references and bad jokes, but we're counting on it.
Alexa is capable of understanding simple commands, or even a series of simple commands, but they're fairly basic. And the default search engine is Bing.
By contrast, Google Assistant has the distinct advantage of, well, Google. As such, Assistant doesn't just have a wealth of information – it's built right into Google's overall architecture. Tell Google Home your shopping list and Assistant will be able to reproduce that in your Pixel phone later.
Google Assistant also boasts two-way conversation based on Google’s own natural language processing algorithm. Assistant is context-aware, so conversation should be more natural and less like a stilted list of commands.
The example Google used was: "What is Adele's real name," followed by, "How many Grammys has she won?" The Google Assistant is able to infer from context who "she" refers to.
Google Home vs Amazon Echo – Features
What can these things do? At their most basic level, the Google Home and Amazon Echo are small speakers, so they’ll play music. The Echo unsurprisingly can stream from Amazon Prime Music, while Google will play content from Play Music and Google Cast. Both feature Spotify and TuneIn radio, but Google will also offer Pandora.
While the Amazon Echo doesn’t currently support multiroom audio, Google is all over it. After all, Google wants you to have several Home units dotted around the house. You'll be able to cast your music in different rooms, and the Home is intelligent enough that only the nearest one will respond to your commands.
Speaking of casting: you'll be able to use Google Home to fling videos onto any Cast-compatible TV. Tell Home what you want to watch and a video will pop up on screen, just like when you cast from your phone. Voice casting is currently limited to YouTube, but Netflix is to follow shortly.
Besides media? Both services work with Nest, Philips Hue and Samsung SmartThings. The Echo works with Hive, but the Google has IFTTT. This is going to be a close fight, with both companies clawing at as many services as they can get hold of.
Related: Amazon Echo vs Dot vs Tap
Google Home vs Amazon Echo – Price
The Amazon Echo costs $179, or £149.99 in the UK. The Google Home will cost $129 (roughly £99) when it ships on November 4. That being said, Amazon also offers the Dot, a smaller, speaker-free version of the Echo, which costs £50. That's sure to appeal to anyone intending to build a fully voice-controlled home with a unit in every room.
Watch: Amazon Echo hands-on
Which of these assistants do you want to, er, assist you? Let us know in the comments below.