Ama­zon Echo vs. Google Home

One of th­ese smart speak­ers is bet­ter than the other

PCWorld (USA) - - Contents - BY MICHAEL BROWN

OP­ER­AT­ING BOTH PLAT­FORMS IS A RECIPE FOR CON­FU­SION, SO WHICH ONE DE­SERVES THE COV­ETED SPOT IN YOUR SMART HOME?

When one prod­uct is bet­ter in one as­pect, but it’s com­peti­tor is stronger in an­other, the easy an­swer is to rec­om­mend both. You might want a Sony TV in your home the­ater, for in­stance, but An­them’s A/V re­ceiver, Bow­ers & Wilkins’ speak­ers, and a sub­woofer from SVS. Well that dog won’t hunt when it comes to smart speak­ers, es­pe­cially if you’re look­ing to con­trol your smart home. No one wants to re­mem­ber one wake word to turn on a light, a sec­ond to stream mu­sic, and a third to lock the front door.

With this in mind, I eval­u­ated the two most pop­u­lar smart speak­ers—the Ama­zon Echo and Google’s Home—us­ing seven im­por­tant cri­te­ria, but giv­ing smart home con­trol the heav­i­est weight. If you can’t stand the sus­pense, my cur­rent opin­ion is that the Ama­zon Echo se­ries is su­pe­rior to the Google Home se­ries. Read on to find out why.

ROUND 1: SMART HOME CON­TROL

Win­ner: Ama­zon Echo. For me, this is the most im­por­tant cri­te­rion of all. And for rea­sons Google still hasn’t ex­plained to my sat­is­fac­tion, con­trol­ling many smart home sys­tems is a two-step process with Google Home. When I use Google Home to con­trol the Vivint smart home sys­tem in­stalled in my own home, for ex­am­ple, I must say “OK Google, tell Vivint to turn on the kitchen light.” Google Home re­sponds, “Sure, here’s Vivint.” And then a dif­fer­ent voice com­ing from the Google Home says “OK, turn­ing off your kitchen light.” The ac­tion is in­vari­ably per­formed be­fore the sec­ond voice stops speak­ing, but hav­ing to pref­ace ev­ery com­mand with “tell Vivint” just doesn’t feel nat­u­ral—i don’t want a con­stant re­minder that I’m talk­ing to a ma­chine.

With the Echo, I just say “Alexa, turn on the kitchen light.” Alexa re­sponds “OK” as the light goes on. That’s the way it should be.

That said, don’t buy an Ama­zon Echo Plus ( go.pc­world.com/ampl) be­cause it’s the only smart speaker on the mar­ket to in­cor­po­rate a smart home hub. The Echo Plus is limited to con­trol­ling Zig­bee de­vices in a mar­ket that has yet to set­tle on a sin­gle stan­dard—you’re just as likely to want to pur­chase a smart home de­vice based on Z-wave tech­nol­ogy.

You’d be bet­ter off buy­ing a smart home hub like Smartthings or Wink if you’re the DIY type. Or you might look into a cloud-based sys­tem with pro­fes­sional mon­i­tor­ing, such as Front­point Se­cu­rity ( go.pc­world.com/frse), an­other sys­tem I have per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence with. If you’d pre­fer to have some­one else to do the work, but can’t af­ford a big-ticket sys­tem such as Con­trol4 ( go.pc­world.com/ctl4), take a look at ADT Pulse ( go.pc­world.com/adpl), Com­cast Xfin­ity ( go.pc­world.com/xf1n), or Vivint Smart Home ( go.pc­world.com/v1v1).

ROUND 2: AU­DIO PER­FOR­MANCE

Win­ner: Google Home. I haven’t heard the

Google Home Max yet, but none of

Ama­zon’s speak­ers have im­pressed me with their sonic prow­ess. The Google Home se­ries is also the bet­ter choice for build­ing out a mul­ti­room au­dio sys­tem. The Alex­a­com­pat­i­ble Sonos One ( go.pc­world.com/ son1) greatly com­pli­cates this de­ci­sion—no one makes a bet­ter mul­ti­room au­dio sys­tem than Sonos, in my book—but that’s not fair to Google be­cause the Sonos One is a third­party prod­uct.

But if you’re al­ready vested in the Sonos ecosys­tem, you can add voice con­trol to it with a sin­gle Sonos One. You can then con­trol ev­ery Sonos com­po­nent in your home by is­su­ing voice com­mands to the in­ex­pen­sive Echo Dot. I have Sonos com­po­nents—not speak­ers in ev­ery case—in my mas­ter bed­room, in my home the­ater, my great room, and even in my garage. And I can con­trol all of them with voice com­mands.

ROUND 3: ME­DIA STREAM­ING

It’s a tie—they’re both ex­cel­lent. The Google Home and Ama­zon Echo plat­forms each have their strengths and weak­nesses on this score, and both em­pha­size their par­ent com­pany’s other prod­ucts and ser­vices. Chrome­cast users and Youtube watch­ers might pre­fer a Google Home de­vice for its tight in­te­gra­tion with Google’s ecosys­tem.

If you own a re­cent model Ama­zon Fire TV ( go.pc­world.com/aftv), you can con­trol it with an Echo or with its Alexa-com­pat­i­ble re­mote con­trol. And Ama­zon Prime fans might en­joy us­ing the Echo Show’s dis­play to watch movies and TV shows (it re­mains to be seen if Google will re-en­able Youtube stream­ing to that de­vice). Both plat­forms have tight in­te­gra­tions with Spo­tify, Pan­dora, and the other ma­jor mu­sic-stream­ing ser­vices.

ROUND 4: MODEL VER­SA­TIL­ITY

Win­ner: Ama­zon Echo. You can choose be­tween just three Google Homes: The orig­i­nal, the diminu­tive Mini, and the beefy Max ( go.pc­world.com/ghmx). None of th­ese has a screen. Ama­zon of­fers five Echo mod­els, and two of them have dis­plays (there’s also the creepy Echo Look [ go.pc­world.com/100k],

but that’s likely to be a failed ex­per­i­ment—it’s still not avail­able for gen­eral sale).

Most peo­ple’s needs will be well served by the small and in­ex­pen­sive Echo Dot (2nd gen­er­a­tion). If you have a smart home, the 7-inch dis­play on the Echo Show is great for get­ting a real-time view of your home se­cu­rity cam­eras, see­ing and edit­ing your shop­ping list, and view­ing al­bum cov­ers while stream­ing mu­sic. The dis­play also lets you make video calls, ei­ther within your home (like a video in­ter­com) or to friends and fam­ily who ei­ther also have Echo Shows or who have the Alexa app in­stalled on their smart­phones.

ROUND 5: RE­TRIEV­ING GEN­ERAL IN­FOR­MA­TION

Win­ner: Google Home. Ask about the weather or traf­fic con­di­tions on your route to work, and both smart speak­ers will do a great job of de­liv­er­ing that in­for­ma­tion. But Google op­er­ates the world’s best search en­gine, and Google Home takes full ad­van­tage of it. Ama­zon might own IMDB, but ask Alexa, “Who starred in the orig­i­nal movie Gone in 60 Sec­onds?” and she’ll re­cite the cast of the re­make from 2000. Google Home will rec­og­nize that you’re look­ing for the orig­i­nal movie and give you the cast from the 1974 film.

ROUND 6: ADD-ONS AND AC­CES­SORIES

Win­ner: Ama­zon Echo. Whether it’s run­ning your smart speaker on bat­tery power, mount­ing it on your wall or in your ceil­ing, or wiring beefier speak­ers to it, you’ll find an ac­ces­sory that makes it pos­si­ble ( go.pc­world. com/aeac). You can change out the lower half of the orig­i­nal Google Home with a cloth grill of a dif­fer­ent color, or you can wrap a dif­fer­ent skin around its up­per body—i par­tic­u­larly like the wood ve­neer of­fer­ings from Toast ( go. pc­world.com/t0st)— but that’s about it.

ROUND 7: PRI­VACY

It’s a tie—they both suck. It’s the na­ture of the beast. To do your bid­ding, both the Google Home and the Ama­zon Echo must be al­ways lis­ten­ing for you to ut­ter the magic wake word: “OK Google” or “Alexa,” re­spec­tively. That means they’re go­ing to hear ev­ery­thing else you say, too. Both com­pa­nies prom­ise they don’t mine that in­for­ma­tion or do any­thing ne­far­i­ous with it, but if you can’t trust them not to, don’t buy ei­ther of th­ese de­vices.

Ama­zon Echo Look

Google Home

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.