Should I Buy a Google Home or Amazon Echo?
When it comes to gadgets with built-in voice assistants, which of the heavyweights is the best fit for your home: Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant?
Right now, people are turning to Amazon Alexa most often—in 2017, it had 62 percent market share compared to Google’s 25 percent, according to estimates from Statista, a German data company. However, those numbers also show Google owning 43 percent of the market by 2020, while Amazon is expected to slide to 34 percent.
Selecting the right voice assistant to interact with you and your family still comes down to personal preference, though. We combed through prices, design aesthetics, the strength of each voice assistant’s performance and more to help you pick the right one for your home.
Which is smarter?
The last thing that you want to hear, at any time, is “Sorry, I don’t know that one,” yet it’s a line you’ll have chiseled into your brain after owning an Amazon Alexa-enabled device for a few days.
Last April, market research firm Stone Temple (recently acquired by Perficient Digital) put out a study rating how smart four different voice assistants are: Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana, Amazon Alexa, and Google Assistant. The company found that Google Assistant attempted to answer nearly 70 percent of the questions that it was asked and responded correctly nearly 90 percent of the time. Alexa attempted a little over 50 percent of the questions and answered correctly just over 80 percent of the time.
In most cases, the incorrect answers were not misleading. That is, if you ask Alexa how many centimeters there are in an inch, and she gives the wrong answer, it will usually be a non-answer or something completely unrelated that a user will pick up on. It would be a misleading response if the voice assistant said there are 2.7 centimeters in an inch, because it seems like it could be right, but the answer is actually 2.54 centimeters.
It’s not that Alexa isn’t a great voice assistant—after all, Amazon still owns the market for these smart speakers thanks to an early entrance and loads of discounted Prime Day sales. It’s just that Google has put a lot of cash into its artificial intelligence efforts. It’s definitely helpful to have people asking questions on Google, every moment of the day, and seeing which answers make sense through their clicking habits.
The winner: Google Assistant. There’s a reason why “Google” is a verb.
When it comes to aesthetics, both the Google Home and Amazon Alexa are pretty attractive. Google and Amazon both make devices with fabric on them to tone down the tech vibe that the hardware naturally exudes.
Google Home does offer more color choices than Amazon, at least in the budget category, and the Google Home Mini offers teal, gray, black, and coral. There are three options for the Echo Dot, black, white and a new heather gray fabric option, but Amazon does have a few artsy options in the Echo, with sides that resemble wood.
To break up what would nearly be a tie, it’s important to consider the shapes of the devices. Something like the Google Home Max is big and blocky—coming in at 13.2″W x 7.4″ H x 6″ L—and more than a little bit bulky at nearly 12 pounds. It definitely looks like a speaker rather than seamlessly blending into the surroundings. The original Google Home features a curved top that makes it resemble an essential oil diffuser. If organic shapes are your thing, you may like this look better, but Amazon Echo’s cylindrical design is far more sleek.
The winner: Amazon. Because it’s not easy to design a tech-centric gizmo and make it blend into a room.
Google and Amazon are neck-and-neck when it comes to pricing, especially because Google’s devices have come down over the last few years. What used to be a differential of about $20, with Google being a bit more expensive, has become pretty much negligible.
Amazon, however, regularly drops the prices of its Alexa-enabled devices like the Echo, Echo Dot, and Echo Show. You can count on sales during the holiday season (usually before, during, and after Cyber Monday, which falls on December 2 this year) and on Amazon Prime Day, which was in July. Some devices are marked down by 50 percent, so be sure to buy your devices during one of these sales.
The Amazon devices suit different functions: the Echo Show is great for helping you with recipes in the kitchen or for karaoke with your friends, while the Echo Spot is a smart alarm clock that works well in a bedroom. The Echo Plus has the best sound, so it will likely end up in your main living space. The Echo Dot is the perfect introductory smart assistant considering its cheap price tag.
Keep in mind, you can’t buy a Google Home on Amazon. Seriously, try it. If you type in “Google Home” on the website, it returns all of its own Echo products. If you want a Google Assistant-enabled device, you’re going to want to go through the search giant directly. Google even offers 0 percent financing for 24 months if you want to make small payments on a device.
The winner: It’s a tie. The prices are pretty comparable, but Amazon’s Prime Day specials outweigh Google discounts, while the Google financing option opens the doors for users who may not be able to afford a bulk payment. Each has their own upside, it comes down to which matters to you most.
Alexa definitely has a wider selection of third party “skills” to choose from, including the ability to hail a Lyft with just your voice or buying things on Amazon with a connected Prime account.
However, Amazon forces users to either subscribe to Prime and use Amazon Music to jam, or you must connect a Spotify subscription. There’s no way to tell Alexa to play something on YouTube or from your music library, unlike Google Home.
Google owning YouTube is a huge advantage for smart speakers that include a screen. The Nest Hub and Nest Hub Max can show you a video on pretty much anything from that catalogue. Need help chopping onions? Ask Google to show you how to cut onions and you’ll get a video. Alexa, on the other hand, can’t do that. However, you can manually use the browser to go on YouTube, but just like the FireTV, you can’t download a YouTube app thanks to a long-running feud between Amazon and Google.
Amazon announced earlier this year that it would introduce a native YouTube app to FireTV later in 2019, though, marking the end of that fight. When? We don’t know. What does that mean for the Echo Show? We don’t know. If YouTube is introduced that will make the Amazon Show way more useful.
The winner: Alexa, but just barely. If a YouTube app becomes fair game for the Echo Show, Alexa could pull ahead even more.
No story on voice assistants would be complete without a few cautionary tales of absolute nope scenarios that prove owning a Google Home or Amazon Echo device is just as creepy as you thought it would be.
Likely the most well-known fail to-date is that one time that Amazon accidentally sent a whole file of requested voice recordings to the wrong person (!!!) in Germany. Under the General Data Protection Regulation in the European Union, all citizens in the 28-country bloc can request a complete file of all data that a company has collected on them. When one citizen requested all of the audio files that Amazon had collected on him through his Alexa-enabled device, the e-commerce behemoth accidentally sent 1,700 voice files to the wrong person. YIKES.
To make matters worse, Amazon has also seen a few other controversial moments. In one instance, when users would say a command, Alexa would misinterpret the signal as “Alexa, laugh,” resulting in many unwanted, extremely creepy giggles (you just can’t make this stuff up). That in and of itself isn’t a privacy concern, but shows that wake words aren’t a perfect method for ensuring private conversations aren’t recorded. In another situation, Alexa sent a voice recording of a private conversation from one family’s device to one of their contacts.
The winner: Google Assistant, because it hasn’t sent recordings to the wrong people yet (well, that we know of…) and doesn’t start laughing in a scary voice for no reason.
Which wins: Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa?
There’s no question that both Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa are both great smart assistants. Google is better at understanding what you mean without giving a really specific command, but Alexa does more.
Aesthetically, both companies put out great looking products, so you can’t go wrong. The decision will probably come down to which system is easier for you to integrate with: if you’re already a Prime subscriber, an Echo is a great choice. If not, you may want to go with Google—with a few more years of growth, there’s a chance it could surpass Amazon as the premier smart speaker manufacturer.