Choosing a Digital Assistant: Amazon vs. Google
When it comes to digital assistants, two primary players in the marketplace can add value to your day-to-day life. But which one is right for you? Read on for a look at some key features that may help you decide.
Digital assistants are becoming more prevalent in the home. They are also becoming “smarter,” with new capabilities and features being added all the time. They can play music; provide you with the weather, news, and sports scores; connect and control smart home products; call a friend; order pizza, an Uber ride, or a new pair of shoes; keep your shopping and to-do lists; set reminders and alarms; translate for you; answer your questions; read your child a bedtime story; and more. But between Google and Amazon’s digital assistants, there are some variations in features and capabilities. So here’s what you need to know before you buy.
Along with the Echo, Amazon has a variety of compatible products that expand this smart product line, such as the Echo Plus, the smaller Echo Dot, the Echo Show (which features a viewing screen), Echo Dot Kids Edition, and accessories like the Echo Flex (a plug-in mini smart speaker with Alexa), Echo Glow (a smart lamp for kids that requires a compatible Alexa-enabled device), the Echo Input, and the Echo Auto.
The Echo was the inaugural product in Amazon's line of digital assistants and boasts the highest-quality speaker of the two brands discussed here. Thanks in part to the Amazon Echo’s 2-year head start over Google Home, the Echo can control more than 60,000 compatible smart home devices from 7,400 brands, while Google Home controls more than 30,000 devices.
Amazon continues to differentiate itself with an expanding line of products linked to the Echo. Echo Buttons can control smart home products and routines and can be used for gaming. They can also trigger voice responses; a tap of the button can tell everyone that dinner is ready. Amazon’s voice remote can communicate with an out-of-voice-range Echo device. The Echo Input transforms a plain, non-smart speaker into one with Alexa capabilities. And the Echo Auto brings Alexa to your vehicle.
Alexa can track Amazon shipments, so you’ll know where your package is every step of the way. It can also monitor your home when you’re not there. Simply enable Guard in the Alexa app, switch it to Away mode, and Alexa will send notifications to your phone if it detects sounds that could signal trouble, like glass breaking or a smoke alarm—and, it sends you a clip of the sound. The Guard feature also works with Ring security systems and ADT.
You can create your own Alexa skills, which are customizable from dozens of Blueprints that allow you to set up anything from games and jokes to skills that provide information to someone, such as a babysitter, while you’re not at home. The Google Assistant has this capability, but it is more complex to use, and many of the custom creations involve a learning curve, whereas Amazon’s blueprints are easier to set up. Users also report that creating routines is an easier process with the Alexa app than it is for a Google digital assistant.
Google’s repertoire of digital assistants includes the Google Home, Google Home Max, Google Home Mini, and Google Nest Mini. Google’s 2014 purchase of Nest means full integration of Nest smart home products, such as thermostats, indoor and outdoor security cameras, smart locks, routers, and more.
When it comes to queries, Google Home recognizes context. You can ask it to play a song from a movie if you know the movie title and artist, or have at least a little bit of information, and it will try to find what you’re looking for. Conveniently, it can also play music streaming from Chromecast. It can control your Chromecast devices and will respond to commands to cast pictures from Google Photos, YouTube videos, and Netflix movies.
Google Home allows you to combine commands into a single sentence. For example, you can say, “OK, Google, play Pandora and set the volume to 5.” Shortcuts are another convenience feature Google Home offers. With a Shortcut, you can say “Play my favorite song” and it automatically plays the song you previously specified on the music app you set. Alexa’s routines feature allows you to accomplish essentially the same thing, however.
Google Home has contextual awareness, which means that it recognizes context in a series of questions. For example, you can ask Google for the first album by Alicia Keyes and then ask, “Is she touring this year?” and it would understand that by “she” you mean Alicia Keyes. The Google Home also has Night Mode, a feature that lowers the speaker sound and dims the indicator lights.
Perhaps the greatest advantage of the Google Home over the Amazon Echo is its integration with Google. The linking of Google accounts is especially handy for scheduling and reminders and a definite benefit is the power of Google’s search engine behind the scenes.
The digital assistant you choose will depend on factors like what features are most important to you and what products you are using. If you are using Ring products, you might favor the Amazon Echo, but if you have Nest products or a Chromecast, your best bet might be Google Home. View our expanding selection of Google and Amazon products.