The Battle of the Smart Speakers
Amazon Echo, made widely available in the United Kingdom on 28th of September 2016, was the first smart speaker to emerge and consequently, was unrivalled within the market up until now. Owing to the integrated voice assistant Alexa, Echo is capable of answering questions, controlling smart home devices, playing music, setting reminders and more. However, as of April 2017, Google has entered the fray with its Google Home device, which smart speaker, otherwise referred to as ‘home assistant’, comes out on top?
Both smart speakers are cylindrical in shape. Evidently, Google Home (right) is somewhat squatter in shape, a design supposedly inspired by candles and wine glasses. Indeed, Google Home is 5.62 inch in (14.3 cm) in height, as opposed to the Echo (left) which is 9.25 inch (23.5 cm). Both devices display LED interaction, with the blue ring atop of the Echo glowing following voice activation and the four coloured LED lights providing visual feedback on the sloped top of Google Home following voice activation. Of course, design is mostly down to personal preference. However, Google Home does have a slight edge in that the bottom of the unit is covered by a speaker grille which can be interchanged for up to six different coloured shells.
Voice Recognition and Conversation
Both smart speakers require a ‘wake-word’ in order to activate. For Echo, this is programmed as ‘Alexa’ and for Google Home, this is ‘Ok, Google’. In terms of personality, Alexa might appear preferable. However, names aside, Home’s artificial intelligence seems to beat Echo’s. Google Home is capable of following a line of questioning whereas Echo can only respond to one command in isolation (and therefore cannot maintain a line of questioning). Moreover, a recent study by ad agency 360i (via AdWeek) suggests Google Home is smarter than Amazon Echo. In the study, each speaker was asked 3,000 questions. The outcome was that Google Home is six times more likely to answer the questions correctly. So, Echo may have been the very first smart speaker with artificial intelligence on the scene and may also have the larger market share, but Google Home is certainly matching, and even surpassing, Echo’s abilities.
Both Echo and Home are capable of streaming from various music services, namely Spotify, Pandora, iHeartRadio, Google Play Music, and more. However, a distinguishing feature between the smart speakers is that Google Home is capable of syncing with other Google Home smart speakers and even non-Home speakers through use of Chromecast, thereby enabling multi-room audio. Conversely, Echo’s are not able to sync with one another.
Amazon Echo has also fallen under criticism for it’s 1.0 channel speaker, encompassing only one tweeter and one woofer.Google Home, meanwhile, has a “high-excursion driver” design that Google says will deliver “crystal-clear highs and deep lows”.
Personal Assistant Tasks and Home Integration
When it comes to personal assistant tasks, Echo comes out on top. Indeed, Google Home has 80 capabilities compared to a whopping 15,000+ for Amazon Echo. Although both Home and Echo can perform tasks such as making a to-do list, adding items to a calendar, making a shopping list etc, only Echo, as of now, is able to do things like call an Uber or order take-out.
Further, Google Assistant may have a huge reach now that it is live on over 200 million devices, but Amazon Echo excels in it’s compatibility with other apps and numerous smart home appliances. Amazon claims that over 130 apps are supported by Alexa voice commands and Amazon Echo. Echo also dominates support for third party smart home devices such as Nest, Ecobee, Philips Hue, Big Ass Fans, and so on. Conversely, the only smart home device which Home supports, according to Google, is its Nest thermostat. As a result, Amazon Echo wins the fight against Google Home for the highest number of skills available.
Price Comparison and Conclusions
In the UK, the Amazon Echo retails for £149.99. Comparatively, Google Home is available for £129. Amazon Echo has been out for a few years now and is capable of doing a lot more than Home. However, Home offers greater sound quality and brilliant voice recognition. Further, following software developments, Home may yet be able to outcompete Echo in terms of number of skills and capabilities.
It is worth noting that it is very possible that smart speakers may revolutionise the way we all live and work, what with it being predicted that in a few years time smart speakers could be as ubiquitous as smartphones. Indeed, recent reports suggest that Apple and Facebook are now starting to explore the possibility of home assistants too. Leah Hickey, Marketing Manager at Why Media comments:
“I’m really excited to see how smart speakers might be integrated in the future into the workplace. They could definitely be effective at helping us perform tasks more efficiently, such as being able to schedule meetings”.