The battle for branding your smart home is a fierce one. Amazon and Google are the most prominent artificial intelligence competitors, and both AI butlers are worthy of being your own personal Jarvis. Both systems are perfectly capable of offering the basics — audio streaming, voice queries, and smart home control. Their breadth of equipment, the range of third-party compatibility, and the nuances of interfacing with its artificial intelligence is where you’ll spot some differences.
We’re breaking down the smart tech giants and pitting them head to head to help you choose.
Arguably the most important feature of a smart ecosystem is the actual equipment. We’re talking about the hubs you command, the speakers and the displays. Amazon has a larger spectrum of equipment options, but Google executes its fewer products really well.
Amazon Alexa Equipment
Google Home Equipment
Amazon’s Echo debuted in 2014, two years before Google Home. Amazon has since expanded to offer a wide range of Alexa-equipped smart devices.
The second-generation Amazon Echo ($100) is shorter and a bit wider than its predecessor and offers much of the same functionality. For a smaller and more budget-friendly smart speaker, there’s the Echo Dot ($50). It’s shaped like a hockey puck and is often used as a way to add more smart speakers throughout a home. It won’t offer the same speaker power as the Echo, but that’s about all you’ll sacrifice. The Echo Plus ($150) is upgraded with a built-in Zigbee smart hub. For devices that don’t have this built-in, you have to individually download apps and integrate each new piece of smart tech. Other smart speakers (from both Amazon and Google) can connect with Zigbee smart devices too, but with the Echo Plus it’s an instantaneous process.
Echo Spot ($130) traverses into smart display devices with a video touchscreen. It’s designed and marketed as a smart alarm clock — though any of the Echo devices can set an alarm for you. Its 2.5” screen allows users to chat over video, watch the news, or monitor babies or doorbell cams. However, in online reviews of the product, consumers complain that the Echo Spot sports a “Things to Try” advertisement screen that can be pesky to get rid of.
The Echo Show ($230) improves on the Spot with a 10.1” screen. It has all the video functionality of the Spot, plus TV streaming through Amazon Prime and Hulu. Like the Echo Plus, the Show has a built-in Zigbee smart hub. The device is really big for a smart hub and might be excessive unless you’d like to watch “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” over breakfast. When we tested the Echo Show, it was hard to justify the counter space with its lackluster maps function, lack of Netflix and Youtube, and poor picture frame support.
What we’ve covered so far is just the Amazon Echo products. There are also many “works with Alexa” Amazon products that will sync with one of your Echo hubs and allow you to control the device via voice. Some notable examples include the Amazon Fire TV Stick, an AmazonBasics Microwave, the Fire Tablet, and the Amazon Cloud Cam.
To sum it up, Amazon has an extensive catalog of smart home options (and we haven’t even gotten to third-party compatibility). If you’re a big fan of the Amazon brand and like to experiment with smart tech, this may be the ecosystem for you.
Though Google was late to the smart speaker party, it certainly made an entrance. In general, Google Home products are smaller and more minimalist in design next to the Amazon Echo lineup. Each competing product of Google’s will consume less counter space than its Amazon counterpart, and fit on a shelf or window sill easier.
The Google Home ($130) is the baseline smart speaker equipped with the essentials — audio streaming (music, podcasts, audiobooks, etc.), voice calls, voice assistant functionality, and smart system control. The Google Home Mini ($50) is a smaller version of basically the same thing. Like with Amazon’s Echo and Echo Dot, the only thing you sacrifice by going small is the speaker size. If you want to rock out in a larger kitchen and dining space, the Mini may not rise to the challenge. But it should be sufficient for most people to use in smaller spaces like a bedroom.
If the speaker feature is a priority, you’ll probably be interested in the Google Home Max ($300). It’s the largest Google Home device and much of its function is devoted to being a high-quality speaker. It’s fairly large and holds two woofers and two custom tweeters — which basically means sharper audio and distinct bass. The Max hosts all the other Google Home basics, including compatibility with Spotify, Youtube Music, Tidal, Pandora, and more.
The mirror to Amazon’s Echo Show is the Google Home Hub ($150). It also has a video touchscreen, but no built-in camera. This means no video chatting, but some might consider that a privacy benefit. The Home Hub is much smaller than the Echo Show. It weighs only 17 oz. compared to Show’s 62 oz. While the smaller size means it’s not ideal for sitting down to watch a movie, it certainly makes the Home Hub optimal for casual counter use. Using Google Photos, it can serve as a digital photo frame. With Google Calendar, you can see your schedule at a glance. And Youtube integration will allow you to follow along with a recipe.
Google Home’s equipment options will appeal to the minimalists and space-savers. Each device is distinct in function and intentional in purpose. And for the Google loyalists, the integration with other Google platforms is a hard-to-beat convenience.
The two titans start to diverge when it comes to their artificial intelligence. There are two features of your interactions with your digital friend — the actual things it can do (called skills or actions), and the way those things are executed. At a high level, Amazon’s Alexa has a much larger library of skills than Google Assistant. However, Google Assistant is generally favored for actually being more intelligent and easier to interact with.
Alexa has over 60,000 skills, which is probably more than anyone could possibly use, while Google Actions totals closer to 4,000 (according to Voicebot.ai). Now, don’t be too impressed by those numbers: Anyone can create a skill or action. But most are useful, and some of Alexa’s best skills allow you to query for exclusive Prime deals, order pizza from Domino’s, check your credit card balance, ask for rules to a board game, tune your guitar, cue a TED Talk, or find skills with a Skill Finder.
One clear advantage Amazon has is the ability to make purchases for Prime members. You can simply command a reorder of toilet paper or the next installment of a book you can’t put down.
Where Amazon falls a bit short is actually executing those impressive skills. Alexa tends to be a bit particular when it comes to the syntax of a question. In both our reviews of the Echo Show and the Best Voice Assistant, we noticed Alexa had a hard time understanding the different ways you may ask a question and we were thus given less relevant results. However, if you’ve got the patience to learn Alexa’s preferred structures, it should be up for many tasks.
Coming from the search engine mothership herself, a Google smart system thrives at finding the right answer and guessing at what you need. (Alexa uses Bing — enough said.) Interactions with Google Assistant are typically more conversational, and it can guess at your intention with a variety of phrasing. This also likely comes from years of practice. Google Assistant has been accompanying Android phones long before it was the brain behind a smart speaker.
There’s a lot of overlap in available skills, so if Alexa has a skill you love, it’s likely that Google Assistant has the same one. Some actions we love from Google Assistant include translating, ambient sounds, making restaurant recommendations (you can ask the Food Network for a recipe from Bobby Flay), and telling dad jokes or scary stories.
Another big perk for Google Assistant users is the integration with all of Google’s apps. We’re talking Gmail, Google Maps, Google Calendar, Google Photos, etc. If you use many of these to organize your life, they’ll more seamlessly integrate with a Google Home system than with Alexa.
Google and Amazon only brush the surface when it comes to building a smart home. After hubs and speakers, you may want to outfit your home with smart lights, cameras, locks, security systems, or a thermostat. Things could get even more high-tech with compatibility for smart TVs, fridges, and cars. Depending on how intelligent you want your smart house to be, the range of third-party compatibility is a hefty consideration.
Smart Home Compatibility
When it comes to entertainment, Alexa is only compatible with six of 11 entertainment and streaming platforms. It’s not a dealbreaker for those who already have compatible services, but is overall less choice and may alienate users with different platform loyalties.
Amazon has the edge, however, when it comes to smart home compatibility. It works with 39 of the 40 third-party smart systems we looked at. The only one Google Home has over it is Lenovo Smart Home. If you want endless options to choose the best smart tech, Amazon is probably more apt for that lifestyle. Regardless of the brand, there’s a good chance it works with your Echo system. If you aspire to build out a smart home, Amazon is probably for you.
Google Home falls a bit short for compatibility with third-party smart tech. Of the 40 systems and softwares we looked at, 22 were compatible with the Google Home system. Notable exclusions include Scout, Sonos, and Kwikset. If you have a Google Home system, you’ll have to be extra careful when shopping for smart tech and check for compatibility.
That said, Google Home shines when it comes to streaming content. It works with 10 of the 11 platforms we looked at — all except Amazon Music. If you want total freedom when it comes to choosing your entertainment, Google Home is our recommendation.
The Bottom Line
Both systems have their own pros and cons and will fit different lifestyles. Either way, we advocate for choosing your “tribe” — decide on Google Home or Amazon’s Alexa and then commit to outfitting your smart systems with one or the other. This is the best way to maximize connectivity and syncing features. Don’t know where to start? Consider what you already have in your home. Did someone gift you a set of Sonos speakers Christmas? You’ll have easier integrations with Alexa. Are you a Youtube Red subscriber? Google Home might be a better fit for you. Take your time and explore your options and loyalties before committing.
Generally speaking, though, the Amazon Alexa home ecosystem will appeal to smart home enthusiasts looking to automate and connect as many appliances as possible. Google Home, on the other hand, is better suited for entertainment and being a virtual assistant (answering questions, keeping track of your life, etc.).