Amazon Echo 2 vs Google Home vs Apple HomePod: Which smart speaker should you make the centre of your smart home?
In the battle between the Google Home and Amazon Echo, the two tech giants keep releasing features and products in an attempt to either copy, or outdo, the other. With Google‘s announcement of the Google Home Hub, Google is taking this fight to a new level.
The device introduces a screen to the smartspeaker formula, which lets you watch videos and monitor parts of your home. This means the Google Assistant has a slew of new functions, including finding recipes for you to follow and choosing photos to display when not in use.
Of course this announcement means cuts in price to other Home products, which in turn means its competitors will cut prices or announce new features too.
This is just another example of how it’s getting increasingly difficult to pick between the two.
Our comparison begins below
So you’ve decided you have room for a digital assistant in your house. That’s great: welcome to the future. But do you want to entrust your digital life to the Amazon Echo 2, the Google Home or the Apple HomePod? All three either are excellent in their own ways, but which company should get your hard-earned cash?
Google Home vs Amazon Echo 2 vs Apple HomePod: Appearance
For three products that essentially do the same thing, Amazon, Google and Apple have come up with remarkably different looking products. Although the second generation Echo looks a bit more like the Home than the previous.
Let’s start with the Amazon Echo 2. Cylindrical, and the shape of a giant tin of beans, the speaker looks self consciously space age if you buy it in its metal finish, or more like a speaker if you plump for grey mesh. It lights up brightly when spoken to, and it would be pretty hard to hide – though if you’ve just spent over £80 on a speaker, that might well be what you want.
The Google Home, on the other hand, does its best to blend into the family home, and it does a remarkably good job of it. I’ve been moving it around the house as I write this piece, and I’m surprised at how neatly it fits into whatever room it currently resides on – be it a kitchen shelf next to the spice rack, or on the living room table. It too lights up when spoken to, but in a far less obvious way.
You can also get different skins for the Google Home, to make it blend in further with your decor, while the Amazon Echo 2 comes in a variety of finishes that cannot be changed.
The HomePod looks like a mesh barrel, not a million miles away to something from Pop Up Pirate. It comes in just two colours, and you can’t add skins to it.
I’m giving Google Home the nod here because, with the extra skins, you can make it as attention-seeking or camouflaged as you see fit.
Winner: Google Home
Google Home vs Amazon Echo 2 vs Apple HomePod: Sound quality
First off, I should say the Amazon Echo’s sound quality is technically as good as you want it to be. That’s because both the second generation version and smaller Echo Dot can be connected to any speaker, either via 3.5mm jack. But for the purposes of this section, let’s assume we’re talking the default sound of the full sized Echo 2 against the Google Home and the Apple HomePod.Between Amazon and Google, to my ears the Amazon Echo 2 wins this particular bout. Google Home is a little more bass heavy and offers a slightly muggier, less clear sound overall. It’s also worth noting that while the Echo can be paired to a phone with Bluetooth to play any sound files you like, Google Home cannot be. While you can stream your Google Home to a Chromecast Audio for better sound quality, it’s a bit of a faff and requires you to spend an extra £20 on the adapter.
But Apple’s HomePod is just a whole different ballgame to both. It’s not really fair to put them on the same playing field. As Jon wrote in his review: “In back-to-back tests, where we were played the same tracks on ‘volume levelled’ Amazon Echo 2, Sonos One, Harman-Kardon Allure and Apple HomePod speakers, the Apple HomePod won hands down.
It sounded sweeter, with better instrument separation, a wider soundstage and better bass and it wasn’t a fair fight, with only the Harman-Kardon getting close.”
A clear winner, then. Well done Apple.
Winner: Apple HomePod
Google Home vs Amazon Echo 2 vs Apple HomePod: Voice recognition and smarts
Rather than taking my word for it, you can just download the apps to your Android phone and find out for yourself. Both Google Assistant and Alexa have their own apps which allow you to chat away in the same way as you would with a speaker, and Siri is built into every speaker. You can test which recognises your accent and answers your questions better without spending a penny.
One of the big advantages of these cloud-based virtual assistants is that they’re learning all the time and as such voice recognition just keeps improving. That said, for me, I’ve found Google Home much better at picking out words than Amazon Echo. Trying to get Alexa to play a REM playlist took about ten goes. Now to be fair, initials make for an odd word for assistants to recognise – nonetheless, Google Home recognised it much faster.
In terms of overall smarts, Google Home is a lot more clever. You can ask it all kinds of things, and it reads out an extract of a page from its search results with full citation. Echo does this occasionally, but it’s less effective. For example, when I asked Google Home “what was Derby County’s last score,” it correctly told me they drew 1-1 with Rotherham United. Alexa, bizarrely, told me about Derby losing 3-1 to Leicester several months’ prior. More often then not, it’s left stumped by questions.
But even when they both come up with the same answers, Google Home is generally more effective. If I ask Google Home how many hairs a cat has, I get the answer “On the website catsinfo.com they say there are approximately 60,000 hairs per square inch on the back of a cat, and approximately 100,000 per square inch on its underside.” The Echo, meanwhile says “A cat has 60,000 hairs.” Same answer source, presumably, but one is completely wrong: unless your cat is molting pretty badly.
This intelligence battle has been confirmed by research from 360i, which put the two smart speakers to the test with a series of 3,000 questions. The results were clear: Google Home was six times more likely to answer the question effectively than Amazon Echo.
And as for HomePod? The microphone array picks up voice commands from a few metres away even with the music turned up and it can tell you about the music you’re playing. Ask it “who is the drummer on this track?”, for example, or for more information about the label and it finds the answers with ease. You can also ask HomePod to queue songs in a way the Amazon Echo and Google Home can’t.
It’s not perfect, it often struggled with changes in band lineups, for example, and gave the names of old drummers rather than the one on a track, but that’s a minor thing. Plus, it doesn’t come with the search weight of Google’s mammoth engine. Overall, it doesn’t have the smarts of either of its competitors, as Jon said in his review. That may change over time, but for now, it’s another win for Google.
Winner: Google Home
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