A whole new product category was born when Amazon first introduced the Echo smart speaker in 2014. Back then, it may sound weird for someone to talk to a speaker, but who would have known that other giant companies would make multi-million investments in making their own version of it — like Google with its Google Home, and just recently Apple, with its HomePod.

These smart speakers are becoming an essential part of the modern household. But which one is the best smart speaker for you? Let’s take a look.

Design

 

Amazon’s Echo used to look like a big black monolith – but it’s become a bit shorter and fatter in its second iteration. It still lights up when you speak to it, but it’s become a lot less conspicuous. You can still get it in a metallic finish if you miss the 2001: A Space Odyssey look though.

There’s also the Echo Plus variant to contend with. While it doesn’t do anything particularly special over its original counterpart – namely a few more smart home features and improved audio – it looks a lot more like the original Echo once did. Again, it’s a big, black monolith of a speaker.

Google Home blends in a little better with your home decor. It looks like one of those motion-activated air fresheners and looks great in any room you put it. You can also pick up different coloured bases for an extra fee – in either fabric or metal finishes– to blend it into your family home even more.

The mesh-covered exterior of the Apple HomePod is perhaps a touch bland but it is in keeping with Apple’s minimalism.

Features

 

It is important to consider the software that they run before going through the features of each device. The Google Home is basically a shiny case for Google Assistant, Google’s digital assistant that can also be found on its phones, and more recently some of its smart home devices. The same is true for the Amazon Echo, which houses Alexa, Amazon’s assistant. And, last but not least, Apple’s Siri is the digital assistant on the new HomePod.

All of the assistants are more than capable, but there are advantages to choosing one over the other. For starters, if you own an Android phone, Google Assistant is the same across your devices — and assuming you’re logged into your account on your different devices, that means it’ll remember your preferences, be able to access the same music and playlists, and control the same smart home devices. Google Assistant also leverages Google’s search expertise — it can answer questions about all kinds of topics, thanks largely to Google’s Knowledge graph.

Alexa, however, still has a longer list of “skills” than Google Assistant. That’s to say, it just connects with more devices and services, meaning there’s a wider range of things you can do with it. The Google version of that is “Actions,” and while Google is adding more Actions every day, there still aren’t as many as what’s available on the Amazon Echo.

Apple’s Siri as arguably the first smart assistant on the block, but many consider that it has slipped in quality. That doesn’t mean that it’s not a helpful assistant — it is. But considering the fact that it’s so late out of the gate, and the fact that Apple is much more restrictive in allowing third-party integrations with Siri, you won’t find as many skills as on the other two devices. Siri can, however, still control HomeKit-connected devices, order an Uber, and so on. Siri will likely get a whole lot better in the near future considering the renewed emphasis tech companies have on home assistants.

Services

 

All these smart speakers have a long list of services to take advantage of – and that list is constantly growing. The Echo is your best bet if you’re an Amazon Prime subscriber, for instance, as you can order stuff directly and listen to your favorite tunes on Amazon Music Unlimited.

Likewise, if you’re a Google fan, Google Home will be right up your street. It can be paired with your Chromecast so you can order it to play specific YouTube videos or kick off your Netflix binges. If you’ve purchased films via Google Play, or subscribe to Google Play Music, you can play those as well.

And just like Apple’s HomePod, both speakers include IFTTT support, perfect for tying all your smart home devices together and getting them to talk to each other.

Skills and Actions

 

With the Google Home, Amazon Echo, or Apple HomePod, you can do things like check the weather, set times and alarms, and so on. All three speakers now also support voice calls, which can be a pretty helpful feature.

One feature that the Google Home offers over the Amazon Echo and Apple HomePod is the ability to work like an intercom. For example, if you have more than one Google Home, you can use Google to “broadcast” a message — and it will play that message to any Google Home in your house. That can be kinda handy. On the flipside, the Amazon Echo has plenty of skills not available on the Google Home or Apple HomePod – like the ability to integrate much more deeply with Amazon’s shopping services and track your packages. It can also read you books from your Kindle library.

Verdict

In the end, the smart speaker that’s best for you largely boils down to personal preference and which service or services you’re already paying for. With that being said, those with Android phones who use Google Assistant stick with Google Assistant-powered devices — like the Google Home, Google Home Mini, or Google Home Max. On the other hand, those with active Amazon Prime accounts might prefer the Echo range of speakers, while iPhone users might like the integration on offer with the Apple HomePod.



This entry was posted by Staff Writer on Thursday, February 22, 2018 at 6:10:07 AM and is filed under Sweet Tech.

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