In a previous blog post, I talked about the skills available on the Amazon Echo range of smart speakers. The Amazon Echo first appeared in the UK in late 2016, and in April 2017, the Google Home range became available. These smart speakers are a real challenger to the Amazon Echo and they have their own strong points. Deciding which to buy can be tricky, so I will be comparing both smart speakers.
Like the Echo, the audio version of the Google Home is available in two versions; Google Home and Google Home Mini.
The Google Home and Google Home Mini both have the same features but the Google Home is larger than the Mini and it produces more bass. At first glance, the Google Home range and the Amazon Echo range are quite similar in functionality but there are a few differences to consider when buying.
The Amazon Echo works with Amazon services such as Audible books and the Amazon shop. Google has just introduced Audiobooks in the UK, but the service is not as well-known or extensive as Audible. Also, although Google does have the ability to shop, it’s not in the same league as Amazon! In general, the Amazon Echo and Google Home do not interact with each other, so you must choose whose services you prefer.
The set up process for Google Home requires either an android or an iPhone. Access to a smartphone is essential to register the Google Home and connect it to Wi-Fi. You can use any computer with a web browser to connect the Amazon Echo. However, I feel that the set up process for the Echo is not as easy as the Home.
Moreover, you’ll need to consider whether and how you intend to connect your smart speaker to other speakers for improved sound quality. Both systems benefit considerably by being connected to higher quality speakers such as a Hi-Fi system. The Google Home can connect wirelessly via Bluetooth or by using Google’s own wireless connection system called Chromecast. You can’t however, connect the Google Home to speakers with a cable such as a 3.5 mm stereo jack, typically used for headphones. This is a real disadvantage for those who might want to connect to older systems which need a wired connection.
With the Echo, you can connect to other people with an Echo by using your phone’s contact list. At present, the Google Home does not have the ability to let you talk to others with a Google Home. Instead, you can ring anyone in your contacts list whether they have a landline or a mobile phone.
Both the Echo and the Home can have apps written for them which give increased functionality but they take a different approach. Anyone can write an Amazon Echo app and publish it.
These apps are called skills. To enable skills, you ask Alexa to enable a skill name. For example, there is a skill to find out if there are delays on the Tube and to enable this I can say “Alexa, enable fast Tube status.”
Google does not have skills but they work with an increasingly wide range of partners, so you can now shop with supermarkets such as Asda because Google has partnered with them. You don’t get individuals writing skills for the Google Home but the partnerships with other services that you do get tend to be higher quality.
Moreover, Google tends to be smarter when answering questions than Amazon, particularly when you want to ask related questions. I can ask Google “How many hits has Elton John had?” followed by “How old is he?” and Google will understand I mean Elton John in the second question, whereas the Amazon Echo will forget the first question I asked. In conclusion, Google tends to be that little bit smarter but it’s a close run thing.
Written by Graham Page, ELVis Assistive Technology Adviser