Amazon's Echo, a Bluetooth speaker powered by voice assistant Alexa, burst on to the scene a couple years ago and instantly captured the hearts and minds of consumers. You could hear the collective cry: voice control is finally here! Of course, there was lots of voice control on the market already (including Apple's O.G. Siri), but Alexa was the first out of the gate that promised—and delivered—on making voice commands useful in the home. With "Skills" being developed for a wealth of tasks (and Alexa being built into a lot of smart products like cars, refrigerators and lamps), it's as easy to ask her to tell you the weather or read you news headlines as it is to have her water your lawn, lock your door or order you a pizza.
But Alexa has a new frenemy—Google Home. It's a speaker just like Alexa, but its brains are powered by the all-knowing Google Assistant. It's empowered with all that Google knows about search, plus data from other Google apps (like traffic from Google Maps). It can also get personal, alerting you to meetings on your Google Calendar or changes in your flight information by reading your Gmail Inbox.
The options are seemingly endless for these two equally charming and brainy gadgets, but I wondered exactly how their strengths and weaknesses would stack up if they were engaged in a little battle. So I set up each device and asked them a question (or nine), to see who would be the most useful.
Setting up both devices was pretty simple— you download the Amazon Alexa or Google Home app, plug the device in, connect the device to the app, and you're good to go. Both devices allow you to start customizing the experience right away. On the Alexa App you can link your favorite to-do app (so Alexa can manage a list for you) or link a calendar. The Google Home app allows you to pair your streaming music services of choice and choose your favorite news sources. You need to have a Gmail account to log in to the Google Home, so it automatically pulls important information from your Inbox and calendar.
Both devices aren't exactly lookers, but they work. The Echo is a tall, thick cylinder, and would work well in most environments in it's black and white colorways. Google Home has been the butt of a few online jokes for looking a bit like an air freshener, but it reads a bit softer thanks to its curves, and it's swappable pants (AKA customizable bases) make it very versatile in a wide range of color stories.
To wake up Alexa, you simply say "Alexa..." before your question, and Google Home starts listening when you start, "Ok Google..." (which is four awkward syllables, and gets annoying to say after a while, for the record). Anyway, here's how the battle of wits went down.
What is the capital of Florida?
I decided to start with a softball: The capital of the state of Florida is undisputedly Tallahassee. But would both devices know that?
Amazon Echo: "The capital city of Florida is Tallahassee."
Google Home: "Tallahassee is the capital of Florida."
Both answered the question correctly. Google has a more conversational way of speaking the answer, to my ear. Facts won't stump these two. Onward.
Who is Beyonce's husband?
Let's see how these two do with pop music royalty.
Amazon Echo: "Beyonce Knowles' husband is Jay-Z."
Google Home: "Beyonce has been married to Jay-Z since 2008."
Again, both answers were correct, but the Google Home went the extra mile with the year they tied the knot. I didn't ask for it, but appreciated it. Also, 2008?! Wow, I had no idea those two had been together for that long.
Play Drake Radio
I need a One Dance...
Amazon Echo: "The Station Drake" [plays Drake]
Google Home: "Alright check out this Drake radio playlist on Google Play Music." [plays Drake]
They both did a good job, but again I liked Google Home's more colloquial response. I feel we're becoming close.
What is the horoscope for Cancer?
Google Home: Begins to read generic information about Cancers. Moody, creative, nesters, sensitive. For more information I can check the link on my Google app.
Amazon Alexa: Alexa didn't have an answer for me, but she understood the word horoscope and prompted me to turn on the "Elle Horoscopes by the Astro Twins" skill. I enabled the skill using the Alexa app, and learned the command, "Launch Horoscope." NOW she had my reading for today. Turns out I should tackle a forgotten DIY project. I'll get right on that.
This was my first encounter with Alexa Skills, and although they make Alexa's capabilities limitless, the onus is on me to make it all happen. I have to enable the skills, and I have to learn the commands, which are pretty awkward to say. I was impressed with the end result, but I'm sure doing a lot of work for this assistant.
What's the cheapest flight to Phoenix?
Alright ladies, time to help me book a business trip.
Google Home: "Here are some flight options for you." [Recites a few flights leaving Los Angeles to Phoenix today, and lets me know what price they start at]
Amazon Echo: "For flight questions, try the travel and transportation category of the skills store in the Alexa app." [I enable the Kayak skill and tweak my ask, "Alexa, Ask Kayak when the next flight to Phoenix is?"] She then asks me what my origin airport of choice was, when I want to leave, when I want to come back and begins to list real flights, by airline, and began to list real flights by airline, flight number and departure time.
Google read me top search results from Google Flights, Alexa went the extra mile once her Kayak skill was enabled. Her very specific information was relevant to me, and her answer was way more helpful.
Set the downstairs thermostat to 74 degrees
Both assistants have integrations with Nest thermostats, among many other smart home devices. So I set mine up to see if they could make me more comfortable on command.
Google Home: "OK , setting the downstairs thermostat to 74 degrees."
Amazon Alexa: She didn't like the way I asked the question, so I had to modify to "Set downstairs to 72 degrees," and she obliged.
I'm giving them both points for turning up the heat for me while I sat on the couch, but I am starting to get the sense that Alexa is a bit more finicky with syntax, and Google is a bit "understanding" of more natural ways to ask questions.
How do you make a matcha latte?
Amazon Alexa: "Hm, I can't find the answer to the question I heard."
Google Home: Took the liberty of reading me a recipe from Bon Appetit. It hit the spot.
Alexa came up short here, and didn't suggest a particular skill (probably since I didn't ask for a "recipe" but instead asked "how to make" the latte). Google knew what I meant, though, and jumped right to top-rated recipe site to get me the recipe for my morning beverage. I browsed some of Alexa's recipe skills and found that required me to have an account with the provider (like AllRecipes), or to set one up, which I wasn't prepared to do. So when it comes to lattes, Alexa and I were an at impasse.
How long will it take to drive to the Hollywood Sign?
Since both devices have access to mapping and know where I live, I thought this question would be an easy one.
Amazon Echo: "Your current location is 3 miles from the Hollywood Sign. As I don't know your speed I can't tell you how long it will take."
Google Home: "On your way to the Hollywood Sign, traffic is lighter than usual. The route via the 101 is the fastest. It is 8 minutes by car."
Oof. Alexa tried her best, but clearly Google's integration with mapping gave her a major edge here.
How do I cure a sore throat?
I wanted to see how helpful the Amazon Echo and Google Home could be when you're seeking advice for a basic medical problem.
Amazon Echo: "Hmm, I'm not sure what you meant. I can't find the answer to the question I heard."
Google Home: Provided a recipe for throat soother, basically a mixture to gargle and how to create it. The device referenced EverydayHealth.com
Again, Google Home understood the question right away and was able to provide a gargling recipe that treats sore throats. The Amazon Echo didn't even understand the question, so it couldn't offer an answer. I could imaging Google Home helping me with a sick child in the middle of the night, when it might be inconvenient to start typing on a laptop or smartphone. Alexa was useless.
When Alexa was the only game in town, I marveled at her ability to come through for me with weather reports, setting cooking timers, playing music and turning off the lights. But now that Google Home has arrived, I'm finding we just click better: She's a bit more conversational with her answers, and has a wealth of information to share that doesn't require setting up skills on the backend. I can see how Alexa skills set up by key partners (like the already wildly popular Dominos pizza skill) are going to give Google Home a run for her money, but at the end of the day, when it came to understanding the nuances of those random questions that come up on the daily, Google Home came out just a bit ahead.