Two of the biggest smart home products on the market right now are the Google Home and Amazon Echo. The former primarily uses an AI called Google Assistant while the latter uses Amazon’s own Alexa software. Both are great smart home devices, but is one better than the other? Not necessarily, although you might get more features out of the one with the ecosystem you’re most involved with (e.g. if you use Google, you might get more features out of Google Home).
Either way, it can be a difficult buying decision between the two. Follow along below, and we’ll hopefully make that decision a little easier by helping you become more informed about the two products.
Design-wise, the Amazon Echo and Google Home are pretty different from each other. The former comes in two colors: black and white. It’s a taller device, and has a 360-degree omni-directional speaker around the base of it. This gives you a more immersive audio, perfect for calls and streaming music.
At the top surface of the Amazon Echo, you have a couple of buttons. One button is there to mute the microphones, and once pressed, the light ring around the Echo turns red, indicating that the microphones are turned off. There’s another “Action Button” next to the microphone button that lets you, say, turn off a timer or alarm, wake-up the device and so on.
There’s also a Volume Ring on the Echo. You can turn it clockwise to turn up the volume or counterclockwise to turn the volume down.
The Google Home has a similar setup with the speaker, but is a little better as far as hardware specifications go. You get a high excursion speaker with a 2-inch driver and dual 2-inch passive radiators. With this setup, you’re going to get a deeper bassline, which is also great for music streaming, but also just makes everyday use all that more clearer.
On the back of the device, there’s a button that lets you mute Google Home. This stops the device from responding or listening to voice commands. Instead, you’ll only be able to control Google Home by touch. You can do this because the entire top surface of Google Home is actually a touch surface, so it watches for different gestures and responds to it with the supported action.
One neat thing about the Google Home is that you can actually swap out its speaker base/housing for a different colored one, although this is a separate expense after you buy the Google Home.
Winner: It’s a tie. One design isn’t necessarily better than the other here.
Features & Functionality
As far as features go, these devices are very similar. After all, they were essentially designed to be the “hub” of your smart home. That said, with either the Google Home or Amazon Echo, you tell the device to do something and it will just do it. For example, you could tell Google Home, “OK Google, set an alarm for 12:00 p.m. today” or “OK Google, dim the lights in the kitchen.” You can do the exact same thing with the Echo. So, a lot of the features here kind of overlap.
When it comes to features and functionality, I would say the Echo has a lot more, and this could entirely be because Google Home is still a new product in comparison to the Echo. However, the Echo has more partnerships with smart home companies, making it easier to integrate their products with the Echo. The device can do some other cool things, such as being able to order a pizza, setup an Uber pickup and thousands of other things through the Alexa Skills Marketplace.
On the other hand, Google Home has a lot of different features and capabilities with Chromecast. Of course, you’ll need to have a Chromecast setup for those features to work, but with it, you’ll be to cast to your TV using Google Home and control apps like YouTube and Netflix.
Winner: Amazon Echo. With the Alexa Skills Marketplace, you can make your Amazon Echo do a whole lot more than the Google Home.
Security & Privacy
The one downside to purchasing a smart home hub like this is that they’re plagued with problems from a security and privacy standpoint. When it comes to a device like this, you’re essentially giving away privacy for the joys that convenience brings, even in your own home.
The biggest concern here is that, since the Amazon Echo and Google Home are “always listening” for a command, they’re listening in on private conversations, too. iServ Pro Security expert Mark Pugh says its like “having a microphone in your home listening 100 percent of the time to your conversation.”
This goes with both devices. The data that the Amazon Echo records is sent to Amazon’s own servers. Likewise, the data that the Google Home records is sent to Google’s own servers. Sure, this data is encrypted and either company isn’t likely to dig into the contents of this data; however, data like this can be hacked.
The concerning part, Pugh says, is that, sure, your private information is on the Internet, but now these companies have actual voice recordings of you saying things. There’s even a court case going on in Arkansas right now where police requested that Amazon release recordings from inside a home where a murder may have taken place. The fact that police were able to obtain this data, albeit through defendant consent, is a very concerning matter as far as privacy goes.
It goes without saying, both devices are literally a privacy nightmare. Google might even be worse with all the data it already collects on you through use of its email services, search engine and so on. And unfortunately, there’s no way to fix these privacy concerns. You’d simply have to stop having conversations in your home that you wouldn’t say in public. You could, of course, mute the microphones, but that would defeat the purpose of having a device like the Echo or Google Home.
Winner: It’s a tie.
So, is one better than the other? Both the Amazon Echo and Google Home have their advantages in their own respective ways, but I would argue that the Echo tops the Google Home even still. This is mostly because of the Alexa Skills Marketplace, allowing you to outfit your Echo with thousands of capabilities for true hands-free functionality. By using these skills — at least at home — you almost never have to use your smartphone to do something — you can even order a pizza straight from the Echo!
The Google Home is nice if you use a lot of Google services, as it might give you better contextual responses when you ask it something; however, it still doesn’t have the thousands of capabilities that you can add to the Echo.
If you don’t mind the privacy concerns, the Amazon Echo and/or Google Home are great devices to have around. The Amazon Echo will run you about $180, while a Google Home costs $129.