Google Home vs Amazon Echo: Which Smart Speaker Is the Best?

Google Home Mini and Amazon Echo
Courtesy of Jake Cappuccino
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There are many smart speakers on the market today, but if you’re not trying to spend over $100, then you’ve only ever wondered about one matchup: Google Home vs Alexa.

Ever since Amazon kick-started the smart speaker race in 2015 with its release of the first-generation Amazon Echo, powered by its digital assistant Alexa, the rest of Big Tech has been trying to break its stranglehold on the US market.

Though Apple and a number of other speaker-makers have tried their best, only Google has been able to compete against Amazon’s Echo line of speakers with its roughly equivalently priced Google Nest speakers, powered by Google Assistant. (Nest speakers were previously known as Google Home speakers and Google still sells some speakers branded as Google Home.)

According to an analysis from eMarketer, about 70% of smart speaker users will use an Echo speaker in 2020 while about 30% will turn to Google smart speakers. About 18% of users will also use some other brand, such as the Apple HomePod. The analysis totals add up beyond 100% because some people purchase more than one brand and eMarketer expects this trend to continue through 2021.

So clearly consumers have picked a favorite with Amazon’s Echo line of speakers, but did they get it right or is Amazon winning just because it was first? In the Google Home vs Alexa matchup, which smart speaker is actually better?

Thankfully, we’re well-positioned to answer this question because we’ve used both Amazon Echo and Google Home speakers extensively. (Yup, we’re the people who buy more than one brand of smart speaker.)

So in the interest of planting our flag in the Google Home vs Alexa debate, we undertook a side-by-side comparison, weighing the pros and cons of speakers from both brands.

While we could dig into speaker specs, we’ve skipped that kind analysis in favor of more basic questions that more or less apply to all of Amazon’s and Google’s smart speaker options.

To help us figure out which company offers the best speakers for most people, we considered the following qualities and kinds of questions:

  • Overall sound: Does one speaker get louder? Does one have a richer, fuller sound?
  • Voice control and digital assistants: What can you ask the speaker to do? How well does it typically perform tasks? Is one digital assistant better than the other? Which is easier to use? How well does the assistant handle basic questions or commands? Does it correctly respond to your commands? How does the voice sound? What about wake words?
  • Skills: How easily can you do other things besides playing music, setting timers and asking for the weather? Is one more useful than the other because of the variety of things you can do? Does one offer more utility than the other?
  • Smart home integration: Which speaker integrates better with other smart appliances?
  • Product ecosystem: How many different products and what kinds of products work well with each speaker?
  • Aesthetics: Which speaker looks better?
  • Support and complexity: How good is the supporting smart speaker app? Is set up easier with one or the other? Will people find one easier to use overall?

After having lived with speakers from both companies for years, we know where we fall in the Google Home vs Alexa battle.

Check out our quality breakdowns below (or scroll all the way to the bottom for our final conclusion).

  

1. Overall Sound

While both the Echo speakers and the Google Nest speakers produce decent sound, we have to give the edge to Google here. When you listen to both speakers side by side, it’s no contest that Google’s smart speaker sounds richer and fuller. In terms of volume, both get fairly loud, but whichever can get louder is somewhat irrelevant because you can just hear music from Google Nest speakers better because of their fuller sound.

The high-end Google speaker, the Google Home Max, also automatically adjusts its equalizer depending on its placement and the acoustics of the room, which is just something so helpful that you might never think about.

 

Google Home Max teardown Google Home Max Courtesy of Google

One simple test we tried was to use speakers from each company playing music in the bathroom while taking a shower, with each speaker set to full volume and placed in the same spot. (What can we say, who doesn’t love music while in the shower?) For this test, we used the lowest-end speakers, the Echo Dot and the Google Home Mini. While the music from the Echo Dot was blurred and somewhat drowned out by the running water, the Google Nest Mini came through loud and clear — it was so clear and loud that we didn’t even need maximum volume.

Winner: Google

  

2. Voice Control and Digital Assistants

Speakers from both companies have pretty good fidelity when it comes to hearing your commands and taking action. If you’re sticking to limited fare, you probably won’t be able to tell the difference in effectiveness because both handle the basics perfectly well. But for more complicated commands or queries, the Google Assistant gives Google Nest speakers the edge in this matchup.

Amazon’s Alexa tends to be a bit rigid in how it accepts commands. If you don’t formulate your command or question in the prescribed ways or give the Echo speakers equally clear formulations, there’s a good chance Alexa will fail to execute. On the other hand, the Google Assistant is much better with natural language. We get the sense there’s a lot more language parsing happening with Google’s algorithm than with Amazon’s, and the result is a speaker that in so many ways sounds as though it actually understands what you’re asking, as opposed to Alexa, which feels closer to a large decision tree of “If you hear this word, consider this branch of actions.”

Unsurprisingly, in the specific area of ordering things online, the Echo speakers win out because they are intertwined with the world’s largest online marketplace.

On a smaller note, which may matter to some users, Echo speakers have multiple wake words, but only one voice, the female voice. Google Nest speakers only have one, or two-ish, wake words, “Hey, Google” and “OK, Google.” Seeing as you’re always shouting at the speakers, it does matter how you activate the speaker and for our two cents, we find saying “Hey, Google” over and over again kind of annoying when compared to just saying “Alexa.”

Overall, the Google Assistant makes talking to Google Nest speakers a bit easier and it’s better at discerning unusually formulated commands than Amazon’s Alexa. Unless you’re specifically big on vocal shopping, you’ll find Google Home speakers better overall for voice control and its “smarter” digital assistant.

Winner: Google

  

3. Skills

You can do a lot of neat things with both speakers thanks to Alexa’s Skills and Google Assistant’s Actions on Google. But on balance, we think Alexa just has more to offer, even if some of what it offers is gimmicky.

To start, all Google and Amazon speakers have Bluetooth and all connect to WiFi to perform their magic. Their reach is more or less the same, but in our personal usage, we found Echo speakers to stay connected just a bit more reliably.

All the speakers can also make outbound phone calls to phones, but all are still developing their abilities when it comes to receiving calls. Google’s speakers can only receive calls through Duo, and Echo speakers can only receive calls from other Echo speakers.

To be honest, we don’t find Amazon’s or Google’s options particularly impressive because it’s pretty unlikely you’re going to have a network of people who are prepared to communicate regularly with you through smart speakers. That being said, you can purchase extra Echo hardware to receive inbound calls on a home line. And because Google Assistant is on Android, the most installed mobile platform in the world, and Duo is an Android app, you might have a real ability to make and receive phone calls if you have a network that skews toward Google products and apps.

But the real clincher for Alexa and the Echo speakers comes through with their third-party skills. While both Google and Amazon add more skills every day, Amazon’s head start has proven difficult to overcome. While we couldn’t find a grand total of available Actions on Google, in late September 2019, Amazon revealed it had over 100,000 Skills.

For just a quick sampling, here are some of the Skills we have on our Echo speakers: Spotify (a must-have!), Reddit TIL, This Day in History, StatMuse, SleepSounds, The Bartender, Angry Bard, Jeopardy and Box of Cats, which is exactly what it sounds like. The list goes on and on and Google just hasn’t caught up with the breadth of possibilities you can get through Alexa.

If you’re a little more hands-on, you can also make your own Alexa Skills by using Skill Blueprints or your own Actions through Google’s Template Actions.

But overall, we think Amazon’s Echo speakers and Alexa win the Skills competition. Not only does Amazon have more skills, but it’s also difficult to even find an up-to-date directory or list of Actions on Google.

Winner: Amazon

  

4. Product Ecosystem

When you buy one smart speaker, you’re basically committing to that line of speakers because you need to spend some time making them useful and getting used to their quirks. So the different products you can buy to supplement or upgrade your smart speaker experience could move your needle.

On the Google speakers’ side, you’ve got the Google Home Mini (with the newest model called the Nest Mini) and Google Home Max.

On the Amazon side, you’ve got the Echo Dot, the Echo Plus and the Echo Studio, Amazon’s answer to the Google Home Max and Apple HomePod.

Amazon Echo Studio teardown Amazon Echo Studio Courtesy of Amazon

If you add in speakers with screens, you’ve also got the Nest Hub and Nest Hub Max and the Echo Spot and Echo Show. Both companies also offer TV devices such as Google Chromecast and Amazon Fire TV.

Pretty much all of the products from both companies are great and have pretty solid synergy, but if you consider all products that feature one digital assistant or another, Amazon quickly runs away with the variety of its ecosystem (we’re not counting Android phones for Google because that fact has limited applicability when determining a better product ecosystem.)

If you assume that people are going to have different smart needs, you need to meet them where they are at with smart options for basically everything, and that’s the goal Amazon has successfully pursued.

So unless you’re really into the Google Assistant, we think Amazon’s Alexa-enabled ecosystem surpasses Google’s ecosystem. To be fair, Google still has the second-best ecosystem when compared to everything else, so you’ll still manage if you go the Google route.

Winner: Amazon

  

5. Smart Home Integration

Closely related to the product ecosystem is integration, which needs to be on point if you want to make your home smart.

In terms of similarities, both Amazon and Google offer integration with a wide variety of smart appliances. To name a few offered by both companies that you can control through their digital assistants (and so also through their smart speakers): doorbells, lights, plugs, locks, alarms, cameras, thermostats, streaming equipment and some heavy-duty appliances like washers and dryers.

Both companies’ speakers can also sync with each other to play the same music across speakers in different rooms. Whichever brand you prefer, it’s a really useful feature when you want the whole house playing a song for a party or if you’re just walking back and forth among a few rooms while doing chores.

So really both companies have put intense capital into product integration and so products do integrate well with both Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant.

But in our experience, we’ve had more success with integrating Amazon’s products, and Amazon just straight-up offers more cross-product compatibility than Google on both its own branded products as well as third-party products. As one publication noted at CES 2020, “Alexa was everywhere” and appeared to lead in the raw number of available integrations.

While there is something to be said for a smaller, closed ecosystem of compatible products along the lines of what Google has, we like the variety and sheer choice that Amazon offers. Truly, you can buy an Alexa-enabled appliance for everything you’ll need in your home from obvious products like smart plugs and multiple TV manufacturers to heavy-duty appliances like ovens and fridges to things you would never consider like your toilet, your bed and your car.

With over 100,000 Alexa-compatible products across 9,500 brands to go with the more than 100,00 Alexa Skills, Amazon will help you integrate your smart home in ways you never thought possible.

Winner: Amazon

  

6. Aesthetics

This category is probably the easiest to determine though we suspect also the one most likely to cause disagreement because design is very subjective. That being said, we like the looks of Google’s speakers more than Amazon’s.

When it comes to design, less is more, and Google’s smart speakers have a unified, classy appearance with some lovely basic colors that won’t look out of place in any modern room. The combination of the acoustic-friendly fabric over the speaker housed in a sturdy, nice-looking plastic just looks simple and clean.

Google Home Mini Google Home Mini Courtesy of Google

On the other hand, Amazon’s Echo products suggest more iteration and less design coherence, so even though each individual product looks decent, they don’t necessarily all go well together. Of course, they’re not ugly, they’re just not as aesthetically pleasing as Google’s offerings.

Winner: Google

  

7. Support and Complexity

Unlike aesthetics, this category was the hardest to choose because the truth is both Amazon and Google tried very hard to make setting up and using their products as easy as possible and we’ve set up speakers from both in a matter of minutes.

But ultimately, when it comes to controlling your devices, we prefer the Amazon Alexa app to the Google Home app because it better centralizes everything you would ever need to do with a smart device in one place.

Amazon Alexa app and Google Home app The Amazon Alexa app and the Google Home app Courtesy of Jake Cappuccino

First, we have to give Google its props. The app itself looks nicer, is pretty navigable and does centralize so many features. Being able to set up Routines for devices associated with everyday situations, like returning from work or heading to bed, can be really useful in a well-integrated smart home. Google’s online supporting resources, like help articles, tend to be better written, more easily accessible and oftentimes just better overall than Amazon’s. But for us, that’s not enough to edge out the Amazon Alexa app when it offers all the same and more.

As navigable as the Google Home app is, we find the Amazon Alexa app to be more intuitive. You can find everything you need on the bottom of the App in one row with different sections. Adding new devices is as easy as adding new skills or making phone calls. And ultimately that’s where Google’s app fails. When you’re bringing so many functions together in one place, it’s better to be clear than sleek.

Winner: Amazon

  

Winner: Amazon Echo and Alexa

So, Google Home vs Alexa, which is the better smart speaker? It was a photo finish and both Amazon and Google make great smart speakers that are excellent for different reasons, but Amazon’s Echo speakers beat Google’s Nest and Home speakers by a nose.

Though the market will inevitably change as Google, Amazon and competitors try to distinguish their products, fight for niches and develop their smart home ecosystems, we believe Amazon Echo smart speakers are the best place for your money right now for their cheaper but still high-quality offerings, their wider product ecosystem, their easier-to-use app and the sheer number of Skills and home integration options you have with them.

But whichever you go with, know you’re getting the all-around first and all-around second best smart speakers on the market.

Amazon Echo Dot

Amazon Echo Dot Courtesy of Amazon

  

Amazon Echo Studio

Amazon Echo studio Amazon

  

Google Home Mini

Google Home Mini Courtesy of Google
  

Google Home Max

Google Home Max Courtesy of Google
  

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