Amazon’s Echo family is finally has some real competition.
Behold: The Google Home line of devices, aimed squarely at Amazon’s equivalent Echo line of devices.
We’re not talking about Bluetooth speakers here – we’re talking about speakers that live in your house, permanently plugged in and connected to the internet, which you can command using your voice. In the case of Amazon’s Echo line, you’re speaking to Alexa; in the case of Google’s Home line, you’re speaking to Google Assistant.
Following the announcement of two new Google Home devices in late 2017, Amazon and Google are on more even ground than ever before. But which to buy? Here’s how the two families of devices stack up.
Amazon Echo vs Google Home
Amazon Echo: $100
Google Home: $130
What can it do?
Amazon Echo: Amazon’s main Echo device is capable of playing music, giving you directions, ordering you an Uber, and a whole mess of other things. You can ask Alexa to re-order items from Amazon, or you can ask Alexa how far Pluto is from Earth. It’s the gold standard in smart speakers, and the current-generation Echo both costs less and looks better than the first model.
Google Home: Google’s main Home device is nearly identical, in terms of functionality, to Amazon’s main Echo. It can play your music and answer questions and whatever else, all powered by “Google Assistant” – the name for Google’s smart-ish AI assistant (Google’s take on Siri, in so many words).
Which should I buy?
At $30 less, and nearly identical in terms of functionality, Amazon’s Echo is a no-brainer here. The Google Home seen above is over a year-old device at this point, whereas Amazon’s second generation Echo is still relatively fresh. Not only will you pay less with the Echo, but you’ll get a newer device. Win-win.
Amazon Echo Dot vs Google Home Mini
Amazon Echo Dot: $50
Google Home Mini: $50
What can it do?
Amazon Echo Dot: Amazon’s Echo Dot is an Echo in every way except loudness – we’re talking about a tiny little device. If you were expecting serious sound out of this little hockey puck, you’ve got another thing coming: The Dot is an extension device, enabling you to network your Echo devices and play music in multiple rooms. You could use the Dot as an alarm clock, or you could just use it to hear the morning headlines (“Alexa, tell me the news”).
Google Home Mini: Like the Dot, Google Home Mini is an extension device. It does everything that the Dot does, but it has one notable difference: A broadcast feature. Here’s how it works: Say you’re a parent, and you’re in the garage waiting by your car for your kids to come downstairs. You’ve got a Home Mini in the garage, and various Home devices all over your house. You ask Home Mini to broadcast the message, “Get down to the garage before I freak out.” And it will! Pretty fresh.
Which should I buy?
This one is far more of a toss-up. Both of these devices do roughly the same thing, cost the same price, and really exist to extend the functionality of the Amazon Echo or Google Home you already own. In so many words, don’t buy an Amazon Echo Dot if you have a Google Home, and vice versa – these are items that you get after you choose to buy an Echo or a Home.
Amazon Echo Plus vs Google Home Max
Amazon Echo Plus: $150
Google Home Max: $400
What can it do?
Amazon Echo Plus: Amazon’s Echo Plus can do everything a standard Echo can do, but it has better speakers and a built-in smart home hub. Normally, if you want to, say, control your Phillips Hue lights with an Echo, you have to teach it that “skill” – meaning, you go into the Alexa app and activate that particular ability before you can freely use it. In the case of the Echo Plus, it can detect and connect to stuff like that automatically. The Plus is a vision of the future of the Echo, and what Amazon’s after: a connected smart home, controlled by voice, using Echo devices that are connected to smart lights and TVs and whatever else.
Google Home Max: If you’re big into audio, the Google Home Max is for you. If you’re not, the Google Home Max is very much not for you. This device is more of a speaker than a smart device, though it certainly does everything that all the other Google Home devices do. It’s got Google Assistant built in, and you can order a pizza from Domino’s (or whatever), but the real idea with the Home Max is to take on higher-end speakers like the Sonos Play 5 speaker and Apple’s HomePod. To drive this point all the way home (get it?), Google introduced the Home Max with a video starring Diplo. If you don’t know who that is, this speaker definitely isn’t meant for you.
Which should I buy?
Whoa on that price difference. We’re not talking about a $10 disparity here, but hundreds of dollars.
That said, though the Echo Plus and the Home Max occupy the same tier on their respective product line-ups, these aren’t really comparable devices. The Echo Plus is intended as the main hub for your smart home (in addition to being a better music device than the entry-level Echo).
The Home Max, meanwhile, is intended as the main hub of your music life.
Despite the price comparison being obviously weighted in the Echo Plus’ favor, what you really need to identify here is what you want this device to do. If you’re looking to kit out your house like Marty McFly’s house in “Back to the Future 2,” the Echo Plus is for you. If you want an incredibly loud, clear speaker with voice control, the Home Max is for you.
Oh, and don’t forget about Amazon Echo Show, Echo Look, Echo Spot, and Echo Tap. Amazon makes a lot of different Echo devices now, all with Alexa.
Amazon has a ridiculously thorough product line when it comes to Echo devices.
– The Echo Show, which enables video calling.
– The Echo Look, equipped with a camera and intended for fashionistas.
– The Echo Spot, which is like a really fancy alarm clock.
– The Amazon Tap, powered by Alexa, which is essentially a portable, battery-powered Echo.
All of which is to say one thing: Amazon is way ahead of the game when it comes to voice-powered home devices. Google’s playing catch-up in releasing the Google Home Mini and Google Home Max.
At this point, if you’re thinking about buying a smart speaker, Amazon’s making a far more compelling argument in terms of sheer flexibility and pricing.
BONUS: What about Apple’s HomePod?
- Getty/Justin Sullivan
Apple’s HomePod is sort of like Amazon’s Echo and Google’s Home, in that it’s a speaker you control using your voice. Instead of Amazon’s Alexa or Google’s Assistant, the HomePod uses Siri – Apple’s voice command assistant.
The HomePod is the first such device from Apple, and it’s been absolutely savaged by critics.
By most accounts, the sound quality is excellent, but Siri is still an imperfect voice assistant. More crucially: The HomePod is an extension of Apple’s ecosystem. If you don’t use Apple Music, for instance, the HomePod is mostly useless. In fact, it doesn’t work unless you have an iPhone. The competition – namely, Amazon and Google – have better voice assistants, more functionality, and a lower price point.
At this point, it’s hard to recommend the HomePod to anyone other than the most ardent Apple enthusiasts.