Google Home vs. Amazon Echo – CNET

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Google’s newly announced Google Home will compete directly with Amazon Echo as an always-listening virtual assistant. Just like with Echo, you can use your voice to tell Home to add an event to your calendar, set the temperature of your thermostat, or stream your favorite song. Google Home looks like it will be a useful, versatile product, but Amazon Echo has been around since 2014, and I can say from experience that it aces its roles as a personal assistant, music hub, and smart home control point.

Amazon constantly rolls out new features to Echo (dubbed “skills”), so the list of things it can do keeps growing and growing (and keeps Echo in the headlines). That list includes a formidable lineup of compatible smart home devices Echo can control.

Google Home vs. Amazon Echo

Google Home Amazon Echo
Price Unknown $180
Responds to voice commands Yes Yes
Always listening Yes Yes
Wake word “Okay, Google,” maybe more later Alexa,” “Amazon,” or “Echo
Music streaming options Google Play Music, Spotify, Pandora, iHeartRadio, TuneIn, others Amazon Prime Music, Spotify, Pandora, iHeartRadio, TuneIn, others
Smart home partnerships Nest, unknown third party products Nest, Ecobee, SmartThings, Wink, Insteon, Belkin WeMo, Philips Hue, Lifx, Big Ass Fans, IFTTT, other devices via “Skills”
Customizable appearance Yes No
Output to stereo system Yes, via Chromecast No (yes w/ Amazon Dot)
Synced audio playback to multiple devices Yes, to any Google Cast device No
Personal assistant highlights Add items to calendar, make a shopping list, make a to do list, check flight status, track a package Add items to calendar, make a shopping list, make a to do list, check flight status, track a package
Other features Unknown Order a pizza, play a game, arrange an Uber pickup. Echo has an ever-growing list of 900+ skills and counting

But Echo isn’t perfect. Until now, there just wasn’t anything else like it. Google Home, complete with Google’s new Google Assistant for conversational give and take, has the potential to outdo Amazon Echo. Here’s how:

1. Multi-room audio

The various Amazon Echo devices don’t sync with each other. You can’t use two Echos to create stereo sound, and you can’t ask a song to play on multiple Echos throughout your home simultaneously.

With Google Home, you’ll be able to command any Google Cast enabled speaker, any speaker with a Chromecast Audio streamer plugged in and even your TV if you have a Chromecast video streamer. Home will be able to play a song on any of those devices individually, or you can create groups and fill your house with music for a party.

We’ll need to do some first hand testing to see if the native speaker in the Home is better than the one in the Echo. Given Home’s ability to command and sync multiple devices, it’s at least in position to out do Amazon Echo as an entertainment hub.

2. Conversational voice commands

“How many stars are in the galaxy?”

“Which one is closest?”

“Show me what it looks like on the TV.”

During a video demonstration of Google Home at today’s Google I/O developer conference, a child asked Home each of these questions in succession. Home picked up on the context of the first question to answer the second, and for the third, Home pulled up an image of the closest star system on the TV using a Chromecast streamer. The conversational qualities of the new Google Assistant could give Home a big advantage over the Amazon Echo.

Alexa, the personal assistant built into Amazon’s Echo devices, will ask you for clarity after you give a command — if I ask Echo to turn down the temperature, Echo will ask, “which thermostat?” Echo can also play games such as Jeopardy with questions and answers that feel conversational, but Alexa won’t recognize anything beyond preprogrammed responses once you start down a certain path.

Similarly, Alexa often won’t recognize or respond to questions outside of established commands. Echo will simply say it didn’t understand the question, or sometimes it won’t respond at all. Supposedly, Google Home has the full power of the Google search engine built-in, so it could be much more flexible in terms of the commands you can give that will elicit a response.

If Google Home turns out to be as responsive and conversational as the company showed in the demo today — an ambitious goal to be sure — it’ll be a step above Alexa at adapting to voice commands, and possibly a step above Alexa as a personal assistant thanks to a more natural approach to interpreting and responding to your spoken input.

You can customize the color and material of the bottom half of the Home.

James Martin/CNET

3. Customizable appearance

You’ll be able to personalize the design of Google Home with different colors and materials. This won’t be the feature that wins me over personally, but if we’ve learned anything from the robust market for smartphone, tablet cases and accessories, it’s that consumers love tailoring the look of a device to make it more personal.

Why Google Home won’t be better than Amazon Echo

1. The Echo has a big head start in the smart home

When we use Echo in the CNET Smart Home — our living lab for smart home testing in Louisville, KY — we don’t have to deal with multiple apps and passwords to hand off voice control of our lights, our thermostat, and our garage among different users. Anyone in the house that knows the right phrase can control smart home devices that work with the Echo. That and the breadth of device support both underscore the appeal of Echo as a smart home control point.

Google promised smart home control would be a part of Home’s offerings, including the popular Nest Learning Thermostat and other smart home products from Nest Labs (owned by Google parent Alphabet). Google also made general reference to working with smart home devices from unspecified third parties — promising compatibility with lights, thermostats and switches. Amazon has already solidified an expansive list of device partners that work with Echo, and it adds new devices often (including those from Nest). Google will need to add devices rapidly, and at a regular pace to stay competitive.

Ideally, Google will also have a free software development kit for the Home, like the Echo, which would encourage third party developers to add new services and device compatibility to Home. That approach has spurred rapid adoption of Echo by various smart home product makers. At the moment, Google isn’t offering many specifics about how it will expand Home’s usefulness. Google did promise to work with developers and integrate with “all major platforms.” Given the pedigree of the company, it’s possible Home launches with smart home prowess to match the Echo, but I’ll need more details to be convinced.

2. The personality of Alexa

What’s in a name? I’ve been an Android guy for a while and I love the responsiveness and accuracy of Android’s existing voice search, triggered by the words “OK Google,” to say nothing of the potential of the new Google Assistant. But I like Echo’s wake word, Alexa, much more than Google’s more utilitarian phrase.

Say “Alexa,” and the Echo lights up.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Calling Echo “Alexa” and seeing a blue ring at the top light up in response imbues it with personality. “OK Google” doesn’t have the same charm. I’m hoping for alternative wake word options on Google Home. Google has said it might introduce a “hey Google” option. Regardless, Home will need to match Alexa’s charm.

3. The breadth of skills

Adding to that personality, Amazon’s compiled quite the list of quirky, fun, and useful applications for Echo. Again, Alexa seems to add a new skill almost every week. It’s grown as a smart home tool, but also as the life of the party. Alexa can lead you in a game of Bingo or Tic Tac Toe. Alexa can lead a group in a Batman-themed choose your own adventure game. It’ll even hail an Uber when it’s time for your guests to go home.

Google Home will need to work hard to catch up in terms of extras.

The battle to come

Based on what we know right now, Google Home looks well positioned to compete with Amazon Echo as an entertainment hub and personal assistant. If Google Home isn’t close to the Echo in the smart home, I’ll still prefer the Echo overall. Either way, I’m looking forward to seeing what the full capabilities of the Google Home will be at launch, and how Echo has grown by the time Home gets there.

Check out the rest of the news from Google I/O here.

Google Home vs. Amazon Echo – CNET