Google Home vs Amazon Echo: Which smart speaker is best?

If you're in the market for a smart speaker your biggest choice is between Amazon and Google. We put the two voice-activated virtual assistants for the home to the test.

Smart speakers like the Amazon Echo and Google Home are increasingly becoming an integral part of our homes, in fact a recent report found that 22% of people own one.

Before you take the first steps to creating your very own smart home you’ll need to make a choice: do you go with Amazon Echo or Google Home? Here’s our definitive guide to help you decide which is the right smart speaker for you.

[Read more: What are smart speakers?]

Amazon Echo vs Google Home: Using voice control

Amazon’s Echo and Google Home are controlled using two voice-activated assistants: Alexa and Google Assistant.

You can wake up Alexa by choosing one of four wake words: Alexa, Computer, Amazon or Echo. For Google Assistant you have to say: Hey Google or OK Google.

Out of the two, Google Assistant feels slightly more natural to converse with out of the box and we’ve also found that it’s less likely to be accidentally activated by something playing on the TV.

If you get tired of hearing the same voice, Google Assistant actually has a range of different English language voices you can choose. Sadly Alexa currently only has one voice.

Amazon Echo vs Google Home: Controlling your smart home

Both families of smart speakers have the ability to control other gadgets in your home, whether that’s turning up the heating, changing the lighting or even showing you who’s at the front door.

While the Echo has slightly more smart home devices that it’s compatible with, both are extremely easy to setup and use.

The best thing to do is make a list of the smart home products you have or would like and then check out both Amazon and Google’s respective lists to see which speaker is most compatible with your home.

Amazon Echo vs Google Home: Helping you day-to-day

Both the Amazon Echo and Google Home can perform a range of different skills which can help you with your day-to-day routine.

The Google Assistant can recognise up to six different people (and their Google accounts) in the house and then give personalised answers based on who is speaking. An example would be if you asked what your schedule looked like today it would be different to that of your partner. This extends to emails, calendars, shopping lists, reminders, photos and more.

While Alexa can also recognise different voices the benefits are limited to personalised Amazon Music, news briefings in the morning and the ability to shop using your own Amazon account.

Amazon Echo vs Google Home: Exploring skills

Where Alexa has a clear advantage is in its ability to learn new tricks. The skills library contains thousands of new features from personalised sports results from your favourite team to recipes from your favourite chef.

You can also create your own questions and responses for Alexa using something called Blueprints. They can be used to help a babysitter find out where the nappies are or you could create a revision quiz for your kids.

Rather than manually installing the skills you want, Google Assistant is simply compatible with smart home products, apps and services straight out of the box. It’s less customisable but easier to use from the start.

Amazon Echo vs Google Home: Using the app

Both apps are incredibly easy to use, in particular the Alexa app has just been given a huge overhaul which turns it into a glorified remote control for all your smart home devices.

Swipe through cards on the main screen and see your latest audiobook, a TV guide of what’s on, and even some tips and tricks on how to get the most out of your speaker.

The communication section lets you call or message other people with Echo speakers while the Drop In feature lets you speak to any Echo in the house or announce to everyone that dinner’s ready.

Google’s app is a little more basic with the homepage showing simply the devices you have and then letting you Broadcast to other Google Home speakers. The Discover tap contains some tips and tricks and then the Media tab is simply a collection of apps that are compatible with Google Assistant.

Amazon’s Echo comes out a winner here for sheer functionality.

Amazon Echo vs Google Home: Playing videos

Both the Echo and Home family of speakers will let you send video to your TV, or if you have one of their smart displays you can watch some content directly on the device.

In order to send films and shows to your TV  you’ll need to invest in the corresponding dongle, which in the case of the Echo is the Fire TV Stick and for Google Home it’s the Chromecast and Chromecast Ultra.

You can ask your Echo to find and play shows from Amazon Prime and Netflix while the Fire TV Stick itself is compatible with hundreds of apps and streaming services including BT TV, iPlayer and more. It’s worth noting though, the Fire TV Stick and Echo do not support YouTube.

Google Home on the other hand gives you voice control over Netflix, YouTube and Google Play TV & Movies. Just like the Fire TV Stick the Chromecast will also support hundreds of streaming apps.

Both offer smart displays, the Echo Show and Google Home Hub. Echo Show is the largest of the two but can only play news briefings and TV shows from Amazon Prime, it cannot play YouTube. Home Hub on the other hand cannot play TV shows but has full access to YouTube.

It’s a close call here but we think Google just about edges it with its YouTube integration and the fact that Chromecast supports a huge range of TV and audio apps across loads of different devices.

Amazon Echo vs Google Home: Listening to music 

Both speakers support a range of music services which, when connected to your speaker, let you play songs simply by asking for them.

The Echo speakers support Spotify, Amazon Music and TuneIn. While TuneIn will play most UK radio stations you can add each station individually as a Skill.

The Google Home supports Spotify, YouTube Music, Google Play Music and Deezer. Google Home will also play every major UK radio station by default, simply ask for it and it’ll play it.

If you want to up your music game why not opt for a third-party speaker that supports Google Assistant or Amazon’s Alexa. Bang & Olufsen (seen above), LG and Bose all make great speakers that support Assistant while UE, Sony and JBL all make speakers that are compatible with Alexa. Sonos speakers will soon support both Alexa and Google Assistant giving you even more choice.

Of course both Amazon and Google make their own speakers with the Google Home Max and Amazon Echo Plus + Echo Sub (see below) being the two clear choices for music fans.

Amazon Echo vs Google Home: Which should you buy?

Ultimately the choice comes down to what you’re likely to do in your home and how you would like to then expand it.

If you’re looking for a voice assistant that just works out of the box then Google Home is the clear choice, being easier to chat to and the fact all its features are pre-installed.

The Amazon Echo might be a little more complicated to use but with that comes increased choice. Alexa Blueprints is a genuinely brilliant feature and lets you create a virtual babysitting assistant or revision guide for your kids. 

In summary, if you’re a boxset-binging family who just want minimal fuss, Google Home is your new best friend. If you’re building the smart home of your dreams and want to do it yourself, then Echo’s ecosystem was designed just for you.

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