Amazon’s Echo has pretty much been the king of the wireless voice-controlled smart speaker realm since it was made available to the general public in mid-2015. With the release of Google’s Home in November of 2016, however, there’s finally a major challenger in the market.
Google’s Home comes in at a retail price point of $50 less, so the big question for consumers is how much in the way of features and functionality you’re giving up in return for the savings. While the Home does lack some options that the Echo has, it also boasts a handful of things the Echo doesn’t, such as a choice of shells to better match your home decor and the ability to sync your audio to multiple devices simultaneously by way of Google Cast.
This category comes first because it’s likely to be the biggest factor in a purchase decision. After all, if your music library is primarily tied up on the Google Play Store or Amazon, then that’s where you’re very likely going to go for quick and easy access.
Both speakers allow you to stream from Spotify, Pandora and Tunein. Echo adds the ability to stream from IHeartRadio and Audible.
Of course, either speaker can be set up to stream from any source by being configured as a Bluetooth receiver streaming from another device (like your phone). If it’s a gift for a non-technically inclined recipient, however, they might find that workaround a little too annoying.
The other option is to import one music library to the other service, but there are hassles here as well. On the Google Home end, you can do this for free with Google’s Music Manager, but you’ll need to download all of your music files to a local device first. Amazon allows you to automatically import your songs from Google, but only the first 250 are free, and then there’s a $25 fee to import up to another 250,000.
Both devices are voice-controlled and operate in “always listening” mode. They also have personal assistants that can perform a variety of similar tasks, although right now Amazon is ahead in functionality thanks to their head start of more than a year.
Both can do basic things involving information recording and retrieval well, like making lists and checking the status of a package or flight. Echo’s Alexa has access to a robust range of “skills”, however, which are basically add-on apps that increase its ability to understand you and integrate with specific smart devices and websites. Google has good contextual voice functionality (so long as you let it integrate with all your other Google accounts), and will likely catch up on this front in time, but right now Amazon is far ahead.
As mentioned previously, Google has a number of different shells available to customize Home’s appearance, while at the moment you’re stuck with Echo’s default model. It’s also possible to automatically output to your stereo system with Chromecast — if you want to do that with Echo, it’s going to be an added $50 to get the Echo Dot, a separate Alexa device that plugs directly into your stereo.
There isn’t really one clear overall winner, but if the ability to control other smart devices through the speaker and/or interact with websites is a primary concern, Echo is definitely the better choice right now (though look for Google to rapidly make up ground throughout 2017). Both have such limited ability to control television right now that it shouldn’t really be a factor in the purchase decision.
If it’s primarily meant for playing music and it’s a gift, or you don’t want to deal with any technical hassle, the best choice is really just whichever service is currently hosting your music library. The $50 savings on the Home is somewhat negated by the fact that you’ll have to download your entire music library from Amazon in order to add it to Google Play. And as far as the Bluetooth streaming option goes, for the price you can simply get a better quality Bluetooth speaker that will stream from another device. If you just want to integrate music library playback with a stereo and don’t care all that much about other features, the Amazon Echo Dot at $50 by far makes the most financial sense.