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Best Smart Speaker: Amazon Echo vs. Google Home vs. Dot
When I bought my Amazon Echo last year, I wasn’t expecting to like it.
I thought, “what’s the point of buying a standalone device for $180, when Siri can do all the same things for free on my phone?”
But I was wrong.
You don’t have to press buttons or take anything out of your pocket to turn on the standalone speakers; just use the wake command. For Echo the wake word is “Alexa,”; for Google Home, the wake word is “O.K. Google.”
If you have smart devices in your home, smart speakers are a must-have. I have Philips Hue lights. I can walk into the kitchen and say “Alexa, turn on the lights to 30%.” I also have the Logitech Harmony, so if I say “Alexa, turn on Apple TV,” it turns on my TV, Apple TV, and sets everything to its corresponding input channel.
After playing around with Amazon Echo, I bought Amazon’s smaller Alexa device, Dot, for $50.
Dot has Alexa’s brains, but it lacks speaker quality. Dot’s small speaker is the equivalent of a phone speaker and should only be used to hear Alexa talk, not to play music.
Last fall, Google came out with their smart speaker, Google Home, for $130.
I’ve come to a bunch of conclusions after months of playing with these three devices.
In this comparison post (Amazon Echo vs. Google Home vs. Echo Dot), I’ll break down the advantages of smart speakers and help you decide which one is for you.
#3 – Potential but frustrating.
Google Home (C+)
- Google’s Knowledge Graph. Google has had a search engine for 20 years and knows how to answer queries better than anyone. It’s their specialty. Going forward, this will give Google a significant advantage over Amazon. It hasn’t played out that way yet, but it will. When you ask Google something, it can’t answer it’ll say “Sorry, I don’t know how to help with that yet.” This is because Google knows they’ll be able to fulfill most requests in the future. In comparison, Alexa says, “Sorry, I don’t know the answer to that.” This suggests Amazon isn’t emphasizing the query-and-answer mechanism as much as Google. For example, anything that brings up an answer box in a Google search can be answered through Google Home. If I ask, “What stadium do the Boston Red Sox play at?” Google tells me Fenway Park, but Alexa is confused. When Alexa doesn’t know an answer, it refers to Bing. Not good.
- Echo and Home both get failing design grades (from me), but Google’s is nicer. Google Home is smaller, less intrusive, and comes in different colors. They’re both made of cheap plastic and would never get produced under Apple’s watch.
- Chromecast controls. I don’t recommend Chromecast, but if you have one, Google Home is HUGE. You can control your TV with Echo through the Logitech Harmony, but it’s still clunky.
- The Echo has a solid speaker, but Google Home speaker quality gets the edge when on low and medium volumes. (The bass sounds a little better.)
- I love the price! It’s $50 cheaper than the Echo speaker.
- Google’s voice sounds more authentic and non-robotic when compared to Siri and Alexa.
- Google’s not perfect, but compared to Alexa, it’s much better with follow-up questions and understands substituting proper nouns with pronouns. For example, if I ask, “How old is Tom Brady?” after the question is answered, you can follow up with “How tall is he?” and Google will know that “he” refers to Tom Brady.
- Google Home can identify up to six voices, and bring up information based on each person’s calendars and preferences. This is huge if you have family members or roommates with different music accounts. I expect Amazon to roll this out on their platform shortly too.
- I had issues playing Spotify. When a playlist is playing, it sometimes stops abruptly after six songs. When I ask it to play again, I get an error message. I had to reset my Google Home to try to fix it, but the same thing happened again.
- Since Spotify doesn’t work correctly, you would think Google Play Music would be the way to go, right? Well, no. That’s frustrating too. When you play a song through Google Play Music on your Home, it doesn’t show up as playing inside the app. It doesn’t work like Spotify Connect does.
- The wake command is “O.K. Google” or “Hey Google.” “O.K. Google” is too wordy and takes too long, but even “Hey Google” is longer than I’d like. Amazon’s wake word is “Alexa”. Short, sweet and a real person’s name! Sidenote: Google responds to “Hey Boo Boo.” (Probably because it sounds similar.)
- Echo integrates with more services. Amazon is building a voice platform for third parties to build on. It doesn’t feel like Google is doing that. It seems like they’re keeping things mostly closed-off so they can retain control.
- I use G Suite (previously Google Apps) and had issues connecting my account to Home. The app said I had to contact the administrator to get it configured. I logged into the administrator panel and followed the guide but still couldn’t figure out how to enable it. Google recommends you to use your personal account, but my Google Suite account is the account I use as my personal account. I assume a lot of other entrepreneurs do this too. It’s not a huge deal, but I had to create a new account to get my Google Home set up. This could’ve been an issue if I was already a Google Music member with my old account.
- Google has a great calendar, email system, and reminders, but none of these can be controlled through Google Home. This feature will be coming in the future, but it’s embarrassing for Google that it wasn’t ready to ship with the original product. Echo can set calendar events inside Google’s calendar app, but Google’s own product can’t, which is beyond frustrating.
- Because of Google Home’s design, your view of the lights is sometimes obstructed, so you’re not always sure if it heard your command. The Echo is clearly visible with its bright blue light.
- I like ordering things on Amazon through Alexa, which isn’t possible with Google.
- Google home only has two mics. Echos have seven mics, making it much easier to pick up your voice from all directions. Google Home does a surprisingly good job with just two mics, but you’ll notice it struggles when you stand behind it or your music’s playing loudly.
- This speaker sounds good when at a volume level lower than 7. But once you get to level 8, 9 and 10 it sounds muddled and crackled. If you like your music louder, go with the Echo. Even better, get yourself a Sonos.
- This can’t be used as a Bluetooth speaker. That means if you’re an Apple Music subscriber or have music downloaded on your phone, you can’t listen to it.
- The Home isn’t functional without Wifi because there’s no Bluetooth and no auxiliary port.
#2 – Alexa with solid speaker.
Amazon Echo (B+)
- Alexa’s voice recognition is unbelievable. It has an omnidirectional mic; it can pick up your voice from any direction. I keep mine in the kitchen, and it can pick up my voice from the living room or office. Even when the music is loud, it does a great job. It blows Siri out of the water. Siri can’t hear, “Hey, Siri” unless you’re talking directly into your phone.
- Connecting Echo to your phone via Bluetooth is easy. There’s no playing with menus or settings. You say, “Alexa, connect to my phone with Bluetooth,” and it takes care of the rest.
- You can train Alexa to understand your voice better with “voice training” by reading 25 different phrases. (I didn’t do this, but it seemed to understand me well.)
- There’s an Alexa app store where Alexa can learn over 3,000 new skills. Developers now build on the platform and create skills using the Alexa APIs. Alexa’s capabilities have grown and will continue. There will be thousands of startups building apps based on the Alexa platform to do more tasks.
- If you own any Alexa device, you can get Amazon Music Unlimited (equivalent to Spotify) for $4/month ($10 for non-Alexa users).
- The speaker is solid and does better with at high volumes than Google Home.
- Echo works much better with third party apps and devices than Google Home. Part of the reason is that Amazon had a two-year head start on Google. Things like Spotify work flawlessly with Amazon Echo but are sometimes glitchy with Home.
- Amazon created its own messaging platform, similar to Apple’s iMessage. After you sync your phone’s contacts with Alexa, you can talk to your contacts (who have the Alexa app) by saying, “Alexa, call Mom” or “Alexa, send Mom a message.” Basically, Amazon’s trying to make the landline cool again.
- Alexa’s getting smarter by telling you things before you ask anything. For instance, Alexa will automatically give you shipping notifacations on your Amazon packages. (You have to turn these features on.)
- Alexa doesn’t understand pronouns. For instance, when I ask “Alexa, how old is Tom Brady?” it gives his correct age, but if I come back with, “Alexa, what team does he play for?” it has no memory of what was previously talked about.
- Can Alexa play Apple Music? Nope. Echo doesn’t integrate perfectly with Apple products. If you’re an Apple Music user, you can’t ask it to play music, but you can still play using Bluetooth.
- Echo is almost useless without Wifi. You can’t ask it any questions; the only thing you can do is use it as a Bluetooth speaker for your phone. BUT, this only works if you’ve previously connected your phone to the Echo while you had Wifi. (The Dot is completely useless without Wifi.)
- Echo seems overpriced. I didn’t hate the $180 price before Dot was released for $50, and now Google Home for $130.
#1 – Alexa with bad speaker.
Amazon Echo Dot (A+)
- Dot is powered by the same Alexa brains as Echo.
- I love the price! Dot is only $50.
- The same omnidirectional mics in Echo are used in Dot.
- I was worried that having two Alexa devices close to each other would cause both devices to talk back. It turns out both devices will light up when you say “Alexa,” but whichever device hears you best will be the one to perform the command.
- With three Amazon Dots downstairs I can cover the whole floor. There’s no room I can enter where Alexa won’t hear me.
- Alexa works with Sonos speakers without needing to be plugged in.
- This is the perfect size. While it’s not the best looking, it’s not very intrusive.
- You can send and receive messages and calls, just like Echo.
- Dot is completely useless without Wifi and needs to be plugged in at all times.
- You can’t play Apple Music unless you sync your phone via Bluetooth.
- I wish the white color was completely white, without the black top. It looks ugly.
- Where do Amazon and Google fall short?
- They can’t handle multiple commands at once. You can’t say, “Hey Google, play AC/DC and set the volume to 8.” Or if I’m creating a shopping list, I can’t say “Alexa, add frozen pizza, chicken, and milk to my shopping list.” I would have to say each item individually.
- Both apps could use some work.
- You have to remember the name of the specific skill command when you want to use it, and it can be hard to recall them all. There must be a better way to do this.
- Does Amazon Echo work with Apple products?
You can set everything up with your Apple products, but neither the Amazon Echo or Google Home can play Apple Music or write in your Apple notes or calendar.
- Does Alexa need to be plugged in to work?
Echo, Dot, and Home all need to be plugged in to work. Most Bluetooth speakers have a battery, so you can move them around. I expect this to come in the future.
- Are all three of these devices compatible with the same smart products (locks, lights, TVs)?
Google was behind in their integrations, but they’ve caught up to Alexa devices. All the big name smart devices work with Home and Alexa devices (i.e. WeMo, Philips Hue, Samsung SmartThings, Wink, Nest, August, Harmony and Ecobee). For smart devices that aren’t yet compatible, you can create IFTTT recipes and hack something together.
- What are cool things you ask Alexa?
- “Alexa, Simon says…” Alexa will repeat whatever you say after “Simon Says.” It’s a cool feature, but I don’t know when this would be helpful other than just playing around with your friends.
- “Alexa, where’s my stuff?” Alexa will tell you where the latest packages you’ve ordered from Amazon are.
- “Alexa, order Domino’s.” You can pre-set orders and then tell her to order them.
- “Alexa, turn on [room name].” I use this to turn on the lights in any of the rooms in which I have the Philips Hue lights.
- “Alexa, turn on [channel name].” I can change the channel to anything I want and all the TV inputs are set up properly via my Harmony Hub.
- “Alexa, play [any song, album, or artist] on Spotify.”
- “Alexa, set a timer for [X] minutes.” This is awesome for doing any kind of cooking in the kitchen.
- “Alexa, reorder [any previous Amazon order].” I used this to reorder coffee pods for my Keurig machine.
- What is Amazon Tap?
It’s a wireless speaker with a similar sound to Echo. For $130, Tap has all Echo’s features. You have to touch it for it to learn more commands. (For the Echo, just say the keyword, “Alexa.”) The Tap doesn’t make sense to me. The whole point of Alexa is to be completely hands-free. Pulling out your phone and using Siri is just as easy as pushing the button on the Tap.
- Where do Amazon and Google fall short?
Which one is for you?
Google Home: I’ve decided that Google Home is the most frustrating device I’ve ever reviewed. It’s not a bad product. I like it. But it should be better than Amazon’s Echo and it simply isn’t. If you’re in the Google ecosystem and you want a voice-controlled speaker, go with Google Home. Google Home is comparable in integrations, speaker quality and intelligence, but $50 cheaper than Amazon Echo.
Amazon Echo: Amazon Echo is the best smart speaker on the market. I think Google will win when it comes to voice artificial intelligence; and because of their competitive advantage of a search engine, I think the company has a more promising future. But right now, Amazon’s product is decidedly better.
Amazon Dot: The sound quality for the Echo and Home is solid. It’s not Sonos level quality, but both speakers are on par with other Bluetooth devices like the Jambox Mini. Dot’s speaker is terrible and should only be used for listening to Alexa talk. So if you’re looking for premium sound quality, or if you already have a nice speaker setup, go with Dot so you can use your own speakers.
Every household should have a least one Amazon Dot (for $50 it doesn’t make sense not to). It’s one of the best values in tech and a must buy.
Amazon Echo was my first love, but now I’m hooked on Dot and love the value.
Hit me up on Twitter (@camsecore). Let’s talk!