Amazon Echo Vs: Google Home

Physical Attributes
The two look very different. The Echo is a tall black cylinder which looks very techie. The Google Home is much shorter and a bit more stout, with a white and grey-fabric complexion that draws a lot less attention to itself. It also has a much lower center of gravity which makes it less likely to tip over should you bump into it with a hand or elbow.

Physical control functions are nearly identical on the two units, although implemented differently. The Echo has a ring at the top that is turned to raise and lower the speaker volume, along with two physical buttons to mute the microphone and initiate listening without the normally required wake word (Alexa or Echo). Google home has a physical button on the back to mute the microphone, but a capacitive touch surface on top where a long tap initiates listening without the normally required wake word (OK Google or Hey Google), and a circular swiping gesture to control volume. The Home also provides a way to physically pause and resume playback by just tapping the surface. It's worth noting that in a kitchen environment it would be simpler to keep the Home's control surface clean.

The Speakers
The two units have very different designs. The Echo uses two separate downward facing LF and HF drivers for a 360° sound field. This, coupled with the circular microphone array means the Echo's audio performance does not lend itself well to being placed near a wall. The drivers are rather generic looking, with what appears to be paper cones and stamped frames. The LF driver is backed against a folded horn/bass reflex type port which is said to increase bass response.

The Google Home uses a single full range driver, which appears to be of significantly higher quality. Manufactured by Peerless, it features a ferro-fluid cooled, copper plated aluminum voice coil, neodymium magnet assembly, and aluminum cone. It is mounted in a sealed, fairly inert enclosure that couples the pressure generated by the driver to two passive radiators to extend the bass response and move more air. Unlike the Echo, this is a directional design like most conventional speakers and shouldn't be affected by placing it near a wall.

The two speaker systems sound nothing alike. While both are powered by 15W class D amplification, the Echo plays decidedly louder than Google's home (my listening tests estimated about 5-6 dB louder)… however louder doesn't always mean better. The Amazon Echo's rather resonant plastic tube provides a dominant, almost nasal sounding midrange. While this is good with the spoken word, and allows Alexa's voice to really cut through heavy background noise, music sounds a little like it is playing through a paper cup or plastic megaphone. Both the bass and treble really take a back seat here, and everything takes on that resonant midrange glare.

Google's Home has a much warmer bottom end, with noticeably better detail in the high frequencies. It just sounds much better with music, especially when listening near field like on a bedside night stand. I also found the 1% volume increments made it easier to find the sweet spot than with the 10% increments provided by the Echo (sometimes 5 was too low and 6 too high).

Listening Capabilities
The Amazon Echo weighs in with a seven microphone circular array compared to only two, 180° opposed mics on Google Home. So you would think it would be superior in picking up voice commands, but in my testing that did not turn out to be the case. Google Home is noticeably more sensitive than the Echo, picking up my voice from my office where the Echo fails (both the Echo and Home are in a bedroom down a short hallway). And in fact, when listening to commands spoken from identical distances via the recordings both devices save to your respective accounts, the Home's recordings were clearer, with noticeably less electronic noise. My Echo sometimes mistakes 'on' for 'off' when saying 'turn the lights off'. This has yet to be the case with the Home.

There are also times I'll say something like 'turn the media system on' with the Echo simply ignoring it, or replying 'OK' without actually executing the command. Google's home always responds with something. It also replies to commands with prefixes like 'you got it', 'ok', and 'sure', followed by 'turning the media system on'. Alexa always replies with just an 'OK'. The varying and more verbose responses from the Home make for a more positive experience.

Knowledge Base - Amazon vs: Google?
My tests showed that there is really no comparison here. Alexa occasionally responds that she cant help me with that. Every time she has, Google has responded correctly to the same inquiry. There are also instances where Alexa responds, but provides the wrong answer. I have yet to see this with Google Home. There is also no fuss with play commands... I can simply ask it to play any podcast (even rather obscure ones) and it just finds and plays them. The Echo is really hit or miss here.

With Home, I can ask it about traffic to anywhere (not just my work location). In fact, I can ask how long it will take me to walk, bike, or take public transit to any location. While both provide a contextual interface that remembers the subject of the last inquiry… so things like "what is 5237 minus 3367” followed by "what is that divided by 25” will provide a correct answer. However this is a relatively recent addition to Alexa, and one that is not as capable as Google Home (for instance asking Alexa "How far is Portland Oregon", "what is the weather like now” gives me the weather for my home location).

Playback Capabilities
This is where Google's Home really stands out. Currently, the Amazon Echo is limited to playback only over its speaker. Google Home's casting feature is a big plus. Using inexpensive Chromecast devices with whole house range over wifi, I can ask to play music and podcasts to any/all system(s) in my house with a single voice command, or from my mobile device. This is a game changer. Voice commands for skipping ahead or going back any number of seconds/minutes is also supported, and it remembers where you left off. Alexa can only go to the next or previous track/podcast. Unfortunately, Google has nothing akin to Alexa's playback sleep timer.

As for music, both directly support Spotify and Pandora, with only Alexa offering additional support for iHeartRadio and Tunein. And if you're a big Audible fan don't plan on that coming to Google anytime soon. Of course the Echo supports Amazon Music while Google Home supports Google Play and YouTube Music. This is really no surprise… except that currently Google Home can't identify your Google Play purchased or uploaded music unless it is in a playlist. Currently you can not specify an artist, album, or song unless you are subscribed to a premium account. It is not clear if Google plans to change this going forward, but it would be pretty disappointing if they didn't.

Home Automation
Both units support Philips HUE, SmartThings, Honeywell, IFTTT, Nest, Uber, and Wemo right out of the box. However Alexa has a big head start here and there are dozens of additional skills available for it including Wink, Leviton, August, HomeSeer, and many more. While Google Home's IFTTT channel is a little more feature laden than Alexa’s, and could be leveraged to integrate with devices/services that are not directly supported, Amazon's Echo clearly has more direct integration as well as a stronger developer environment for those that wish to code their own solutions. I have written one that sets up conversational modes with SmartThings that runs routines, reports temperatures and other device status such as low battery levels and door states. Google Home is simply not user programmable beyond what it currently offers out-of-the-box. That may change down the road, but for now it is a major consideration for those wanting/needing to code their own solutions.

As a user of primarily HUE and SmartThings, I don't notice Home's current deficiency with this, so for the purpose of evaluating performance, my tests were limited to the HUE and SmartThings integrations I have set up. With that said, I find Home more reliable and positive than Alexa. For example, it is much smarter with my Hue integration; allowing me to change colors (it is uncanny that it can interpret every color I have ask for - including taupe and lavender). It is also a little smarter about turning on lights with the same word in their name; i.e. "turn on front lights" will turn on any lights with 'front' in the name. Both offer a mechanism for device names to be changed without changing anything in either HUE or SmartThings setups, but they work a little differently. Home provides a nickname you can assign to any device, while Alexa allows you to create and name groups you can assign one or more devices to.

Timers and Alarms
Alexa provides a choice of sounds for alarms and timers. Google Home currently has only one available for each. While I quite like the Alarm tone, I am less than thrilled with the timer one. With that said, I can name my timers in Home… which is something the Echo can not do.

Shopping Lists
I prefer that adding something to my shopping list with Home puts it into Google Keep. The Amazon app's shopping list is a little too bare bones, plus it requires an internet connection to open and that is something I rarely have in my supermarket.

To Do's/Reminders
While I am not a big fan of Amazon's To Do list as it does not integrate with Reminders on Android, for some it is better than nothing. While I was expecting Google Home to support "remind me to get a flu shot tomorrow", the whole mechanism is disappointingly absent.

As strange as it might sound, I have to give this one to the Echo as well. Google Home only links to the main calendar in your account, with no visible method to link other calendars like birthdays or holidays. And like Reminders, the ability to create calendar events is also AWOL.

Multiple Devices and Users
I like the fact that when speaking a command with multiple Homes/Echos within ear shot, the command is only executed on the device closest to you, but only the Echo can link more than one account to its Household Profile, allowing others to access their content. Currently Google Home's access to music and other content is limited to what is available from a single user's account.

Summing Up
For the things both units do, I give Google's Home a rather substantial nod for its sound quality, whole home audio, and better operation in general. My biggest disappointment is with things I expected it to do better than the Amazon Echo that have gone missing, mainly setting reminders and calendar events that would be available to all of my devices through Google's services. To be fair, the Google Assistant that is powering all of this is 1.0 at best, and Google tells us things like reminders and events are coming, along with multiple user accounts. We'll just have to wait and see. It took Amazon well over a year to get where it is today so I am OK with cutting Google a little slack.

So with both devices now in my home, if I were to add a third it would be another Google Home. IMHO… the advantages far outweigh its shortcomings, and while I expect the shortcomings to be short lived, I am keeping my Echo until that day arrives. -SiP