My husband bought me an Amazon Echo Dot for Christmas, and I LOVE it. The Echo Dot must have been a big hit for Christmas since it was sold out from Amazon well ahead of the big day.
Many of us have been using devices with built-in artificial intelligence (or AI for short) for years, particular in smartphones and tablets. Experts have studied AI for decades, and nowadays, we’re exposed to AI in our daily lives without even realizing it.
Amazon Echos aren’t the only devices to bring AI into a compact household gadget. Google offers another option, with their Google Home product, which I recently had the chance to test. When I searched online for comparison reviews of Google Home vs. Amazon Echo, the results were fascinating.
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Most reviewers named one or the other as the “obvious choice” or “no match” for the other, or some similar description. In other words, most people find one or the other meets their needs, with the competing devices sadly lacking. I’ve put together a head-to-head comparison with my own views, but with enough information for you to make your own decision about which device would best fit with your lifestyle.
While this post focuses on the Amazon Echo and Google Home products, both use technologies that exist elsewhere. Amazon’s Alexa is part of Amazon products such as its latest Fire TV devices. Google Home uses similar technology to what you’ll find in its newest line of smartphones. In fact, it seems a whole lot like the Android voice recognition function in my current Samsung Galaxy S7 phone.
To ask for something on an Amazon Echo device, the default “wake word” is Alexa, meaning, you’d say something like “Alexa, what’s the capital of South Africa?” For Google Home, you can use either OK Google or Hey Google, as in, “Hey Google, play White and Nerdy by Weird Al.”
Here’s my head-to-head comparison of Google Home and Amazon Echo.
Listening to music is one of my favorite things to do with my Amazon Echo Dot. As part of my Amazon Prime subscription, I can listen to songs from Amazon Prime Music, which includes 80 to 90 percent of the tunes I like to hear.
If I wanted to spring for another $3.99 a month, I could subscribe to Amazon Music Unlimited for use on the Echo Dot device. That would play almost any song imaginable.
I generally ask Alexa for specific songs, but I could also request a station or playlist. Songs can include tunes I’ve purchased which are part of my music library on Amazon.
Using Google Home, I had to subscribe to a free 14-day trial of Google Play Music in order to play specific songs. Alternatively, you could subscribe to Spotify Premium or YouTube Red. I’m not inclined to subscribe to another streaming service since I already have Prime Music.
You can ask Google Home to play certain types of music (like play some happy music or play some party music) without a subscription. Personally, I want to pick my own songs rather than have someone else select them as part of a style, occasion or genre.
Amazon also just speaks the title then plays the song, unlike Google Home, which says, “Ok, playing Follow You, Follow Me, by Genesis, from Google Play Music.” That extra, unnecessary verbiage gets annoying after awhile.
Google Home does have a better quality built-in speaker than the Amazon Echo Dot. I haven’t tried the higher-end Amazon Echo devices, but I imagine they offer similar sound quality to Google Home. Amazon Echo Dot costs less than half of what Google Home does.
Winner: Amazon Echo
Out of the box, Amazon Echo will answer a variety of questions about weather, traffic, news, sports, entertainment and more. You can ask for country and state capitals and largest cities, movie times, sports scores, descriptions of famous people and characters and much more. For questions Alexa can’t answer on its own, you can have it ask Wikipedia for information on just about any topic.
Amazon Alexa also offers “skills” that you can activate to make more information available. Two of my local TV channels offer Amazon Alexa skills, so I can ask for local news and weather.
Unfortunately, using Amazon Alexa skills can prove tedious and isn’t very user friendly. You can’t just ask it “what was the closing stock price of Amazon today?” You need to enable the TDAmeritrade skill, then ask Alexa to ask TDAmeritrade for the stock price. You must use an exact syntax for asking, or Alexa won’t be able to answer your question.
My dad enjoys his Amazon Echo Dot, but he has trouble remembering the correct syntax for asking certain types of questions. Heck, I’m a techie, and I have trouble remembering the right way to ask sometimes.
If you know how to ask Alexa, the information is probably there. However, asking Google Home for something is just like asking Google for something. You simply ask.
I asked Google Home how far I was from Rhode Island, and Google told me. I asked for the closing price of a stock, and it told me.
Google Home has a huge advantage over Amazon Alexa because it’s Google. The word is almost synonymous with finding information. What do you do if you want to find out about a topic? You Google it.
You can ask Google Home pretty much anything you’d ask of Google – and there’s a lot you probably didn’t even know you could ask Google. Some tasks you might ask of Google are also available from Alexa, such as math calculations and conversions. However, Google still makes it much easier to find almost anything you’re looking for, without having to ask in a certain way.
Winner: Google Home
Looks and Decor
Amazon’s Echo devices look pretty much like what they are – gadgets. That’s okay by me, since I’m a computer geek anyway, and I have a variety of gadgets sitting around the house at any given time. Echo Dot devices are black with black power cables. The more expensive Amazon Echo comes in white or black, and you can buy different colored cases for the Echo Dot to make it blend in with your decor.
Google Home, on the other hand, looks almost like a decorative piece. It’s not what I’d call super attractive, but it doesn’t look like an electronic device, either. Google Home also comes in a variety of different colors for the bottom half. It comes with a white power cable, which would probably blend into your home decor better than a black cable.
You could definitely place Google Home on a shelf somewhere near an electrical outlet, and it wouldn’t stick out. Guests probably wouldn’t notice that you have an electronic device sitting around.
Amazon Echo isn’t just a dull, geeky device. It’s loaded with fun “Easter Eggs,” with dozens of online lists devoted to ferreting out as many as possible. With Easter Eggs and its other cool capabilities, kids can have a ball with Alexa.
Google Home seems to have a less-expansive list of Easter Eggs and other fun commands.
If you tell Amazon Echo, “Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya,” she’ll reply, “Stop saying that. I didn’t kill anyone’s father.”
If you do the same with Google Home, the reply is, “So, you want me to call you Inigo Montoya?”
In addition, Alexa can read your Kindle books to you, and play audio books if you subscribe to Audible. While you’re doing chores, instead of listening to music, you could listen to Alexa reading a book to you. As of this writing, Google Home does not read ebooks or play audio books.
Either Google Home or Amazon Echo will tell you a joke if you ask, as in, “Alexa, tell me a joke” or “Hey Google, tell me a joke.”
Winner: Amazon Echo
My first evening of testing Google Home, I became quite frustrated with it. That’s saying a lot, since I’m not easily frustrated by tech gadgets.
Since Amazon Alexa doesn’t offer any parental controls for filtering out explicit versions of songs, I was excited to learn that Google Home does.
It took me about 20 minutes to find the parental control to turn off explicit music, and it was in a place that Google Home’s own instructions specifically said it would not be. Having successfully turned off songs with explicit lyrics, I asked Google Home to play “Cake by the Ocean.”
I listened until the singer let the F bomb fly, then I asked it to stop. I thought my 7-year-old wasn’t paying attention, but unfortunately, she has some sort of radar for that kind of thing and was eager to let me know what she’d heard the bad word. Ugh. Parenting fail.
At least Amazon Echo warns that a song is explicit after you ask for it. For example, if you ask for “I Love It,” you’ll hear, “Playing I Love It, Explicit Version.” I’ll give it the edge for that reason alone. Google Home made me think I’d disabled explicit lyrics when it actually had not.
Amazon also lets you easily keep kids from buying stuff without permission. Neither device scores highly for parental controls, though.
Winner: Amazon Echo
Organizing and Messaging
Both Google Home and Amazon Echo will help you keep track of to-do lists, schedules and shopping lists.
Oddly enough for a computer geek, I prefer to write my lists on paper. However, for electronic lists and schedules, Google Home has the edge over Echo due to its integration with Google’s calendar and lists.
Winner: Google Home
Either Google Home or Amazon Echo can control a TV streaming device. Naturally, you can control Chromecast with your voice using Google Home. Amazon’s Fire TV devices already use Alexa technology for voice commands. Unfortunately, neither device will let you control a Roku, the TV streaming device my family uses on all of my family’s televisions.
Both devices will let you control smart home devices such as lighting and thermostats. You can use Alexa skills and IFTTT on the Amazon Echo, while Google Home has its own integrated list of compatible devices.
It should come as no great shock that Amazon expects to make money from customers shopping via their Echo devices. You can ask Echo for Alexa Deals (“Alexa, what are your deals?”), and you can ask Alexa to order anything from batteries to mouthwash and paper towels.
In addition, as of this writing, Amazon offers free returns for anything you order using Alexa. If you somehow manage to accidentally order something, you might be able to cancel the order after you receive the confirmation email.
Google Home recently added shopping capability, but it’s through a variety of merchants which participate in Google’s shopping system. Much as I appreciate Google’s selection of smaller merchants, I tend to order mostly from Amazon with their two-day Prime shipping.
If you prefer a selection of different online retailers, Google Home will give you that. However, they won’t let you order from Amazon.
Winner: Amazon Echo
Amazon sells three different models of its Echo series. The main difference between the low-cost Echo Dot and the high-end Echo is the quality and size of the speaker. The Amazon Echo Dot costs only $50, while the Amazon Echo will set you back $179.99. The Amazon Echo Tap, which requires a tap to activate rather than just voice, costs $129.99.
Amazon doesn’t sell Google’s products, including its Chromecast TV streaming device and Google Home. Verizon Wireless, best known for its reliable mobile network and for bringing back unlimited data, also sells tech products such as Google Home.
There’s just one model of Google Home, and it costs $129.99. As previously mentioned, you can select from a variety of different colors to match your home decor, but there’s no cheaper, smaller model like the Amazon Echo Dot.
Winner: Amazon Echo
Overall Functionality and Ease of Use
Setup was quite easy on both the Google Home and Amazon Echo devices. You install the app on your smartphone or tablet, launch the app, then go through the setup prompts.
Both devices let you control volume by voice (“turn it up” or “turn it down”), but I prefer to use volume up/down buttons. Amazon Echo’s buttons are actually buttons, whereas Google Home makes you move your fingers around the top for volume up or the other direction for volume down.
I find this cumbersome and not very user friendly. Why finger twirling when you could just have volume buttons?
Both devices rely entirely on the internet to do anything useful. They’re internet-connected Bluetooth speakers.
You can tell that Amazon Echo hears you because of its blue lights. Google Home has a pretty rainbow of different lights on its top to let you know it hears you.
Google Home scores points for its out-of-the-box ability to answer almost any question. Amazon Echo requires enabling skills and asking questions in a certain way. You have to get used to the right way to ask for the information you’re most likely to want.
Remember Skynet from the Terminator films? Skynet is a highly advanced artificial intelligence system that becomes self-aware and essentially takes over the world. In the fictional Terminator world, this was supposed to have happened in either 1997 or 2004, depending on which movie you watch.
Having used both the Amazon Echo and Google Home, I don’t fear that a Skynet equivalent will soon take over my home. While both devices seem like miracles of modern technology, it’s also obvious that they work much like small computers such as smartphones and tablets. They can do a lot of amazing stuff, but they’re not in a hurry to take over the world. They also lose all of their capabilities without an internet connection.
Plus, keep in mind that every post you find that compares Google Home to Amazon Echo might be outdated and obsolete by the time you read it. I’ve seen reviews of Google Home and Amazon Echo that were only a few months old describing devices far different than the ones I’ve been testing.
That’s because Amazon Echo and Google Home devices constantly evolve. That’s their most human-like quality, and it’s because the people behind this these gadgets are always working to improve them. Humans created Google Home and Amazon Echo, and humans continue to make them better all the time.
Both devices offer capabilities far beyond what they could do several months ago, and far less than they’ll offer six months from now. Which device is right for you?
- If you can only spend $50, Amazon Echo Dot is just the ticket. My 80-year-old dad has an Echo Dot. He doesn’t know how to use a computer and still carries a flip-phone (he’s never had a smartphone). He’s a smart guy, just not a techie, but he’s been enjoying his Echo Dot. His only frustration has been remembering how to ask for the information he wants. He loves asking for any song he wants to hear.
- If money is no object, decide what’s important to you. Google Home is more attractive and better at blending into your home decor. It’s also a whole lot better at answering questions on nearly any topic without having to ask in a certain way.
- If listening to music is important to you and you already have an Amazon Prime subscription, remember that you can listen to most tunes through Amazon Prime music on an Echo device. You can upgrade to Amazon Music Unlimited and listen to almost any song imaginable for $3.99 on your Echo. Google Home requires a subscription to Google Play Music at $9.99 a month, or another paid music service, for you to be able to request certain albums or songs.
How About You?
Do you have an Amazon Echo or Google Home device? Do you plan to buy one? Which one do you think would work best for your family?
To write this post, I used a review Google Home unit from Verizon Wireless for a brief period of time. I own an Amazon Echo Dot.