Alexa and Google Assistant have emerged as the leading voice-control platforms. Here’s how the most popular speakers stack up on audio quality, voice assistance, smart home control, and more
Smarter Voice Assistants
The Amazon Echo and Google Home aren’t just speakers, they’re platforms. While their physical hardware doesn’t get updated very often, the services that power them—Alexa and Google Assistant—are in a constant state of change. A smart speaker is generally a gateway to a voice assistant ecosystem. When you choose an Echo or a Google Home, you’re choosing a side—whether to voice-enable your home with Alexa or Google Assistant
The Echo has been our Editors’ Choice for a long time, and it still has a few advantages, like being able to use multiple wake words. But over the past year, the Google Home has become less expensive, and we feel like Google Assistant has pulled ahead, making the Home a better choice right now.
Alexa vs. Google Assistant
Both Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant have developed into excellent voice assistants. They have dueling sets of features: Alexa supports multiple wake words, for instance, while Google lets you upload your own music to its cloud.
Alexa is more configurable if you’re willing to stick to its specific syntax, while Google Assistant is easier to use, less frustrating, and more fluid. Hollering different combinations of words at Google is more likely to result in a useful response. But if you learn and memorize Alexa’s phrases, you can dig down to find more obscure information sources and more skills with big third-party brands like Lyft.Check Out the Best Amazon Alexa Skills
Google’s speakers generally sound better. But the 3.5mm output jack on Amazon’s models, as well as the Echo Input add-on, opens up a huge world of third-party speakers you can then Alexa-enable with little effort. Both assistants are also now available on a range of third-party speakers, including flagship products from Bose and Sonos.
Which Speaker Will Look Best In Your Home?
The latest Amazon Echo (pictured below) is much more attractive than its predecessor. It’s a squat cylinder, about six inches high, with several removable fabric and wood covers so it can fit into a range of home designs. The top of the Echo has a volume ring that lights up whenever Alexa is activated. It has two buttons: one that turns the microphone off, and a multipurpose Action button.
By comparison, the Google Home measures 5.6 inches tall and 3.8 inches around. It comes in white, with swappable fabric and metal bases in seven colors. The Home’s aesthetic is inspired by candles and wine glasses, with a top half made of smooth, hard plastic that lights up with LEDs in four colors when it’s listening. It also has a touch interface you can use to play and pause music, change volume, and activate Google Assistant. On the back there’s a physical Mute button.
Neither design is going to blow you away, and they now both have the swappable-base approach. It comes down to whether you prefer Amazon’s neutral colors and woods or Google’s bolder colors and metal. I think Amazon’s approach is a little more on-trend at the moment, especially with its light wood base.
How Do They Sound?
The Home provides richer, more well-rounded sound than the Echo does, although it doesn’t get as loud—there’s a 3-4dB difference in maximum volume at a one-foot distance. The Home delivers much better sound quality than the tiny Amazon Amazon Echo Dot.
Both devices support iHeartRadio, Pandora, Spotify, and TuneIn. The Echo also supports Amazon Music, while the Home supports Google Play Music and YouTube Red.
Google now lets you upload your own music library to its cloud. Amazon used to, but you can no longer sign up for that service (and existing users will be cut off in 2019). That makes Google’s cloud a better bet for people who have music collections that aren’t found on the major streaming services.
The Echo has a 3.5mm out jack so that you can connect it to a more powerful speaker. The Google Home does not. However, both the Echo and the Google Home can be used as Bluetooth speakers for your phone, and both support multi-room audio.
If you’re looking for the best possible audio quality, the Alexa approach would be to get a cheap Echo Dot and hook it up to a nicer speaker via the 3.5mm out; the Google approach would be to buy the high-end Google Home Max or third-party speakers from Bose, JBL, or Sonos.
The speakers use voice activation to control music playback, searches, and supported smart home devices. The Echo has multiple wake word options, but only one female voice. You can alert her with, “Alexa,” “Amazon,” “Echo,” or “Computer.” The Google Home (pictured below) only has one wake word option, “Hey Google,” but it has both male and female voices.
Google Assistant is much better at handling free-form, web-based queries than Alexa is. Alexa tends to be a stickler for wording, and for particular sequences of words. Alexa also leans heavily on Wikipedia for general knowledge queries, while Google’s search is more comprehensive. One area Alexa beats Google, predictably, is shopping-related queries—she really wants to help you buy things from Amazon.
Both can do things like spell words, set timers, and read you the news. Google Assistant is more conversational: It will often remember what you were talking about or let you carry ideas throughout a conversation. For instance, if you ask, “Who was the leading actor in Taken?,” you can follow up with, “What other movies was he in?”
Smart Home Integration
The smart home brand gap between Alexa and Google Assistant has closed. Blink and Ring are owned by Amazon, so Blink and Ring devices only work with Alexa. Nest is owned by Google, and Google says it is cutting off access to Alexa at the end of this summer.
Both Alexa and Google Assistant let you combine your devices into rooms, so you can say things like “turn on the living room lights,” and both support Routines, which let you combine multiple actions into one command.
Both the Echo and the Google Home link up to TVs using their associated streaming sticks. If you buy a Chromecast or a Fire TV Stick, you can tell them to open Hulu or play a show. The Google Home has one big content advantage: It integrates with YouTube, which keeps appearing and disappearing from Echo devices because of a power struggle between Google and Amazon.
Wi-Fi, Skills, and Calls
The Echo and Home connect to your Wi-Fi network. In testing, the Home had weaker Wi-Fi connectivity than the Echo. We were able to use the Echo in some places the Home just couldn’t reach.
Google Assistant is catching up on third-party skills (which it calls Actions), letting you order pizzas from Domino’s and cars from Uber, but Alexa still has more. Many of those Alexa skills aren’t worth much, but there are still more local bus systems, radio stations, and sports stat skills on Alexa.
Both the Echo and the Google Home now let you make outbound voice calls to regular phones. Google Home devices can’t receive calls. Amazon’s Echo can receive calls from other Echos, and it can also receive calls on your home phone line with a $34.99 Echo Connect box.
Both devices can recognize different people’s voices and automatically switch accounts.
Alexa and Google Assistant Ecosystems
For first-party devices, Google has the Nest Hub and Nest Hub Max smart displays; three sizes of Google Home speakers; the Chromecast; and pretty much every Android phone.
Amazon has the small Echo Dot, the medium-size Echo, the Echo Plus with a Zigbee hub, three sizes of smart displays from the Echo Spot to the Echo Show 5, some Alexa-enabled tablets, and a crazy miscellany of add-ons: a subwoofer, an amp, a strange camera that judges your clothing choices, a car attachment, various TV streaming sticks, TVs, and more. So Alexa is ahead on that, except for the little asterisk of “every Android phone” running Google Assistant.
In general in the past, we assessed Alexa to be the superior ecosystem. But at the moment, we think Google Assistant has the edge, especially when we’re just talking about smart speakers. Google Assistant is more flexible, with a better natural language processor. You can upload your own music to your Google Play library, while you can no longer do so with Amazon. And Google offers a big, great-sounding speaker in the Google Home Max while Amazon has no first-party competitor.
So for smart speakers, right now, we’re leaning in the Google direction. But it’s close enough that you can go either way, especially if one ecosystem has hardware or a particular skill that you prefer.
And if it’s a smart display you’re after, head over to our story on the Amazon Echo Show vs. the Google Nest Hub.