Amazon Echo products were some of the top-selling items of the 2016 holiday season. This was due in no small part to Alexa, the voice-activated digital assistant who can play your favorite music, tell you about the weather and automatically order products from your Amazon account. But Google's recent entry to the digital assistant game, Google Home, is a very similar device that promises to do much of the same. Which one is actually worth your money? We decided to investigate.
We got our hands on both a Google Home and an Amazon Echo Dot, and did a bit of a taste test. We rated both devices on price, responsiveness and overall skills. Here's what we found:
Best price: Amazon Echo Dot
Naturally, cost is a key point and here, and Amazon is ahead of the game. At $49.99, its entry level Echo Dot gives you the magic of a digital assistance for not a lot of money down. In fact, it's the only home assistant currently available for under $100, and we've seen it drop to $39.99 more than a few times. The drawback is that, while the Echo Dot does have a tiny built-in speaker, it's not the best sounding speaker you'll ever hear. If you want a better speaker, you'll need the full-blown Echo ($179.99 at full price) or the Tap ($129.99 at full price). Keep in mind the Tap model does not feature voice activation, so you'll need to press a button if you end up buying that.
Conversely, Google Home is usually $129, and the lowest we've seen it go for is $99. Even at full price, that's cheaper than the Amazon Echo with the built-in speaker. So while, at the end of the day, Google Home has the better price for a decent, built-in speaker, I'm not sure that's the best way to look at things.
In my opinion, while the Google Home's speaker sounds fine, it's not stereo or anywhere near audiophile quality. I found it to be too bass-heavy and there is no way to adjust any audio EQ settings. It's OK for listening to news radio, but it's not great for heavy music listeners.
I gave this round to the Echo Dot, because you can connect it to an external speaker using Bluetooth or the built-in audio jack. There is no audio jack on the Google Home, which was disappointing to me because, as mentioned above, I was not impressed with its speakers. Using an external speaker for the Echo Dot doesn't override the microphone, so you can use Alexa as normal while it's hooked up to the speaker of your choice. I synched mine to my stereo A/V system, and it was my favorite set up when comparing the two devices. Perhaps ironically, the cheapest device gave me the best options for better audio.
Most responsive: Google Home
Perhaps the most important feature of any digital assistant is how well it understands and responds to you. In this, both devices perform quite well. Right out of the box I was impressed how well both devices understand not only myself, but other people. Set-up for both is very simple — all it takes is an app download to your phone or tablet and password inputs for a WiFi network. Both also had excellent recognition from a distance. Even from three rooms away, both were able to hear and understand me. Neither seems to be better than the other in this regard.
If I had to pick a winner for intelligence, I would go with Google Home. Its response time to my queries and commands was noticeably faster than Alexa's. We're probably talking milliseconds, here, but it was enough that I could tell the difference. Google Home also seemed to be better at reasoning. While setting an alarm one night, I accidentally told Google Home to go off at 7 p.m., instead of 7 a.m. but the device was easily able to make the correction when I realized my mistake. When I reenacted this same command error with Alexa, it did not go as smoothly. Alexa did not understand what I was changing and I had to cancel the alarm and set a new one.
As Google is more of a tech company and is Amazon more a retail company, I am not surprised by this. I expect that we'll see faster improvement from Google's digital assistant over time than we will see from Alexa. Google Home also has the edge when it comes to device synching — Google Home devices work better together, and support functions like multi-room group playback for music. This is not something that Echo supports, even thought it really should.
Most overall abilities: Amazon Echo Dot
The breadth of what your assistant can do is important. Both the Echo and Google home offer countless performable functions, some of which they approach the same way, and some of which they approach completely differently.
Google Home integrates pretty easily with your Google account. That means it syncs automatically with events and reminders you set up in Google calendar, though you can't yet add things to it, which is disappointing. You can, however, keep lists with through Google Keep. It also streams music and radio from its own Google Play (the full version requires a monthly fee), as well as from services like Spotify and Pandora. I set up Google Play and Pandora accounts and both worked pretty seamlessly. If you have Chromecast, it can sync with that, too, and you can ask it to play shows and movies through that. The Echo line can't yet do that with compatible Amazon Fire TV devices.
Google Home can also perform some home control, too, though it is limited to the products from Nest, Philips Hue, and Samsung SmartThings. This was disappointing, as it rendered the TP-Link smart plugs that I use for some of my lighting useless. They work great on Alexa, however.
In fact, as far as skills go, Alexa outshines Google Home in several ways. For starters, it's compatible with more brands of home control devices, which allows you to find not only a better variety of products, but helps fit a wider variety of budgets. Music is readily available through Pandora, Spotifiy, Tune-In Radio, Prime Music, and a few other services. Alexa can also keep lists, but links them directly to your Amazon shopping account, making your shopping list a bit more efficient and useful than Google Home's. And, since it's tied to your Amazon account (Prime or regular), you can order directly through Alexa. Google Home has no retail feature yet.
Shopping through Alexa can be handy, but I found this to bit a bit imperfect. Amazon offers Alexa-only deals, but when I tried to order one, it kept quoting me a higher price than what I saw online, so I gave up. There have also been reports of accidental orders by people's kids, even though there are supposed to be measures in place to protect against that.
On top of all this, Alexa has a unique "Skills" section, which make it a bit more interesting than the Google Home. While both Alexa and Google home are pretty good about answering questions with answers found from basic internet searching, Alexa has a litany of customizable skills you can select, enable, and disable as you please. These include things like sailing forecasts for specific locations, interactive Jeopardy games (which I admit I play regularly), a short bedtime story you can personalize for your kid, and even a health tracker that can pair with your FitBit and analyze your fitness patterns. Not all the skills are great, but each one is subject to user reviews, so you can see what ones aren't worth your time. I have found this very helpful.
Overall winner: Amazon Echo Dot
In the end, I think both devices are good, but if you are just getting into this for the first time, I would recommend the Amazon Echo Dot. You'll save money and the device currently gives you more options for add-ons. You can also get a few Echo Dots for around the house at a much lower price than if you were to to buy multiple Google Home devices. Having more than one device around the house helps make voice-activated home assistance and control worthwhile, and makes it accessible in all parts of your home.
Google plans to add more functionality to Google Home, but it seems to be going slowly. Since I found I could do the same things — and more — with the Echo Dot as I could with the Google Home, the Dot is my pick for overall winner.
This story originally appeared on Brad's Deals.