OK, Alexa: A Google Home Versus Amazon Echo IQ Test

Reviewing a product designed to learn over time is like reviewing a newborn baby. So much functionality is dependent on artificial intelligence and machine learning, the only certainty is that it’ll get smarter over time. Who knows what it’ll end up being: A jack-of-all-trades? A specialized savant? Or maybe just a creeper that records everything you say?

Consider the Amazon Echo. At birth, it didn’t have the ability to order you Domino’s, play Spotify playlists, or get things from Amazon Prime. In the past year, its capabilities and intelligence have evolved significantly. That’s thanks to hundreds of “skills” created by developers with the Alexa Skills Kit, partnerships with major companies such as Uber and Sonos, and Amazon’s new Music Unlimited service, which offers deep voice-control features.

At the ripe old age of two, Amazon’s Echo already has offspring in the form of the Echo Dot and Echo Tap. And now it has a neonate arch-rival in the form of Google Home. In the long term, the competition between the two platforms will be great for users of both devices: Two heavyweights in the tech world will be trying to make their voice assistants smarter, more versatile, and more useful than the other one.

As of now, they’re more like twins than not: They both tell decent jokes, they both stream NPR if you ask for news, they both do IFTTT, and they spout recipes and random facts with ease. Because it’s had more time in the world, Amazon’s platform has the advantage in many key areas. But Google Home ($130) trumps the full-size Echo ($180) in a few ways too—and not just in terms of price. They’re both really good, and they’re both going to get smarter. A lot smarter.

Google Home’s Big Advantages

Audio quality: Up until about 75 percent of volume, Google Home sounds really, really good. The bass has surprising bump, and it doesn’t muddy up the midrange or high-end. Things start distorting at the top two volume levels, but audio quality is so impressive through most of its range that it’s really disappointing it can’t be used as a normal Bluetooth speaker (seriously, Google?). Perhaps more importantly, the Google Home Assistant’s voice sounds more natural and warm. She even says complimentary things about Alexa.

Aesthetics: While the full-size Amazon Echo looks like Darth Maul’s spaghetti canister, the Home will look good—or at least inoffensive—in any home. It has an elegant vase-meets-lipstick design, and there are swappable base grilles for customizing its color and texture. The multicolored light show under the top touchpad is noice, too.

Multi-room audio: Using the Home app, you set up a music service for Google Home to use. Your choices are Spotify if you have a premium account, Pandora, Google Play Music, or YouTube Music. Then you ask for a song, artist, playlist, or just “music,” and the speaker streams tunes directly over Wi-Fi. But the big advantage to having a few Google Homes in your abode compared to a multi-Echo setup is that multiple Google units sync up for home-blanketing audio. Set speakers as a group in the Home app, say “OK Google, play ‘Informer’ by Snow on Home Group,” and the song plays on all your dang speakers. By default, if you make a request to a single speaker, it only plays on that speaker unless you ask for group playback. You can also control what plays on other speakers by asking a nearby Google Home unit to play something on another speaker. It’s neat-o.

Does a better job with crowd noise: In an unscientific test that annoyed my neighbors, I played loud audio of crowd noise in the same room as a Google Home speaker and an Amazon Echo Dot. Then, I tried using voice commands with both speakers. The Google Home unit didn’t have a problem picking my voice up over the din, while the Echo Dot only heard me once out of five tries. Google Home’s far-field microphone array worked more consistently for me, even though both Home and Echo had the same impressive range when I spoke without a bunch of background noise at normal volume: About 25 feet down the hall, around the corner, without line of sight.

Chromecast controls: There are Alexa voice controls built into the Fire TV Stick and box remotes, but you can’t bark commands to a tabletop Echo or Dot to play things on TV. (At least not yet.) During the setup process, Google Home recognizes if you have a Chromecast or Cast-capable TV in the house, and you can play YouTube videos on TV by asking the speaker. The options are limited: A recommended YouTube playlist starts rolling if you say “Play YouTube on Chromecast”, and you can request a playlist of topical clips by saying “Play sloth videos on Chromecast”. But you have to specify the “Chromecast” each time. And you can’t search YouTube for a keyword, then pick a single video to play by voice. Google Home just serves up keyword-driven playlists.

A better app: One of the drawbacks of the Echo’s more-developed skill set is that the Alexa app has to cover a lot of bases. As a result, the Alexa app can be confusing to navigate, and its dull white-on-black color scheme doesn’t help much. The Google Home app, where you can tinker with options, set your preferences, and see a feed of all your requests, is a much more lively companion. It serves up useful links for some of your voice requests, and it has a simpler, more vibrant interface.

Translations: Simply put, Alexa doesn’t do translations. At least not spoken-word translations: It’ll only send a translated word or phrase to the Alexa app, but that won’t help you pronounce . Google Home gives spoken-word translations for both individual words and phrases, so you can ask it how to say “meatball” in Japanese, “I have a ballpoint pen” in German, or “dj vu” in French. Google Home also one-ups Alexa by telling you what certain animals sound like.

Alexa’s Superior Smarts

Supports Bluetooth, aux-in, and aux-out: This is a pretty big one if you want to play music stored on your phone or if you’re a subscriber to Apple Music. While Google Home only does the voice-request-over-Wi-Fi thing, you can wirelessly stream tunes the old-fashioned way over Bluetooth with the Echo lineup. You can even go older-school with the 3.5mm-in port on the Echo Tap or the 3.5mm-out jack on the Echo Dot.

Amazon

Handles multiple accounts: Another possible dealbreaker for multi-user homes is that Google Home only supports a single account. You choose a Google account to link your Home to during the setup process, and all the Home interactions and calendar requests are associated with that account. Echo is much better for multiple users, as you can register several users in a household and switch between profiles by asking Alexa.

A lot more third-party support: There’s a vast universe of Alexa skills already out there, and they’re growing by the day. You can control your home-security system with Alexa, check on your car’s vitals, and open and close your garage door. Given Google’s popularity and the appeal of the Home speaker, it’s practically a sure thing that the Home platform will get all kinds of third-party support soon. Until then, Amazon’s platform has a huge edge in interoperability.

You can order things on Amazon Prime: Both Google Home and Amazon Echo will give you recipes for meatloaf and mashed potatoes, and both will convert measurements on the fly, but only one of them will place an order on Amazon Prime when you run out of Worcester sauce. Guess which one that is?

Deep controls for Amazon Music Unlimited: Even though the deep contextual understanding is limited to Amazon Music Unlimited—which is a really good deal at $4 a month for Echo-only listening—Alexa is the best voice assistant by far at picking the music you want to hear. It’ll bring up a song if you only know some of the lyrics, if you request “the latest” song or album from an artist, or create an on-the-fly playlist based on boolean genre and era combinations. Amazon has essentially created a voice-only music interface from scratch, and it’s a glimpse at the future.

Cheaper entry point: While the full-size Echo costs $50 more than Google Home, you can get the Alexa experience in the $50 Echo Dot and the $40 Fire TV Stick. The Echo Tap, which is the only one of these devices that runs on a rechargeable battery and is designed for portable use, costs the same as a Google Home speaker.

Both Platforms Have Weaknesses

Directions: While the Google Assistant does a good job at giving you turn-by-turn directions on a phone, that skill hasn’t been passed on to the Google Home version of the helper. It’ll tell you estimated commute times and nearby attractions, but it won’t tell you to take your first left, walk three blocks, and then hang a right. Of course, Alexa doesn’t do that either, but given Google’s mapping prowess, it’s a bit surprising that Home won’t tell you where to go. It also won’t send direction or map requests to your phone.

Editing lists: Both Google Home and Amazon Echo let you create lists with ease and add to them over time: Google’s automatically appear in the underrated Keep list app, while your Alexa lists appear in the Alexa app. Unfortunately, the only way to edit those lists is to jump in the app and delete completed tasks manually. Asking to delete items from your list only confuses Alexa and the Assistant.

Timers: Initially, it seemed Google Home addressed one of Amazon Echo’s major weaknesses in the kitchen: You can set a kitchen timer on the Echo, but you can’t assign a name like “meatloaf” or “green bean casserole” to the countdown clock to keep track of what’s done and what needs another 10 minutes or so. When you set a timer on Google Home, it asks you to name it, so you can assign “meatloaf” to your timer. However, when the timer goes off, it doesn’t repeat what you’ve named it. That smell in the air is my burnt imaginary meatloaf. And my imaginary green bean casserole is really undercooked.

Read more: https://www.wired.com/2016/11/ok-alexa-google-home-versus-amazon-echo-iq-test/

Review: Google Home

I’d be lying if I said unplugging my Amazon Echo didn’t feel a bit like a breakup. “Alexa,” I whispered while pulling the plug, “it’s just for now.” Butit wasn’t Alexa, it was me. More specifically, it was someone else. I needed the space for Google Home.

The $129 Home smart speaker playsa vital role inGoogle’s futuristic vision of “a Google for everyone,” powered by itsomnipresent Assistant. Virtually nothing about it is new; it’s like someGoogler bought an Echo and wondered if, uh, maybe Google should make one, too. (I mean, the product development timeline does allow for this.) Its not a knock-off, though. Google aspires to another level of power, personalization, and accuracy—not to mention a cuter package than the goth tennis ball can Amazon designed.

I like Home. It providesmuch of what Echo offers, while signaling far more product and platform ambition than Amazon. Great potential is worth only so much, though, and Amazon seems to understand better than anyone what’s possible withthese devices right now. Sometimes Home feels like sci-fi magic. Sometimes it reaches beyond its grasp and falls flat. The Echo is less impressive, but more reliable.

The good news is, you cant go wronghere. Youll like them both, though neither is perfect. The question is how much youre willing to bet on what these devices could be, and which company you think can deliver on that promise.

Speaker of the House

Any gadget sitting front-and-center in your home had better look nice. Home does. It sits 6inches tall, with a bulbous bottom and a sharply sloped top which makes it easy to seethe four lights that indicate Home is listening or working. It looks like something you might plant a succulent in, or a modernist orange juice carafe. Or an air freshener.

Google Home

7/10

Wired

Home looks like a gadget you’d actually want in your home. Assistant does all the basic things really well, plus a few remarkably cool things too. It’s an impressively good speaker, for such a tiny package.

Tired

Not much of the Google-infused personalization or intelligence seems to be here yet. Google doesn’t have many third-party partners yet, so you’re stuck in Google Land.

How We Rate

The potential here is enormous, perhapsbigger than what Amazon could ever offer with Alexa. Right now, you can say “OK Google, play Last Week Tonight on my living room TV,” and Home connects to Chromecast tomake it happen. You can network a bunch of Homes together and pump music through your house. You can keep a shopping list in Google Keep, and check your Google Calendar. Echo, of course, can do most of this as well; to truly differentiate, Google needs to integrate more of its services more deeply. Why can’t I email from Home? Or make phone calls through Voice or Hangouts? Or search for photos and see them on my phone? Home also needs more third-party partners, because surprise, not everyone uses all Google everything.

Someday, assuming Google keeps caring about Home, I suspect the device will be more like the ad. It’ll be smart and integrated enough to know that your flight is delayed and change your dinner reservation, to turn on all the lights in your house, to tell you how to get to work, to teach your kids about the world, and all the rest. Right now, it’s simpler than that. Like, a lot simpler.

A Familiar Sound

Don’t get me wrong. As much as I wish Google Home lived up to its future promises, its a fantastic addition to my living room right now. It’s hard to describe how nice it is to play music just by asking for it, or turn on NPR without lifting a finger. You never realize how many times you pull out your phone for one tiny, insignificant thing, until you finally havea better way to do it.

Of course, all that is true of the Echo, too. Home might be better two years from now, but right now they’re more or less the same device. So here’s where I landed, after 18 months with the Echo and a week or so with Home: They’re both great.

Helpful, right? If you don’t own either, I’d say buy a Google Home. It’s cheaper, it’s just as good in almost every important way, and Google’s ambition for both this product and Assistant in general is so high that Home should get really good, really fast.

But then again, Amazon does have Sonos integration coming, which is awesome. And it’s away ahead withthird-party partnerships. And I’m leery of giving Google yet more data it can sell to advertisers. OK, never mind, buy an Echo. Oh, and isnt it overdue for a hardware refresh?

You know what? This is impossible. Both devices are excellent, both have bright futures, both are increasingly essential partsof your household. I bought a Home because I like the design, and I like the sound quality. If you buy an Echo because you love your Sonos and don’t trust Google with your data, youll be perfectly happy as well.

There’s only one mistake you can make, really: not letting a smart speaker into your home at all. These things are great, and they’re only getting better.

Read more: https://www.wired.com/2016/11/review-google-home/