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Amazon Echo (2020) vs. Nest Audio: Which new smart speaker is best for the holidays?

Google and Amazon are releasing bold new designs for their signature smart speakers. But which one is better?

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Tech giants Amazon and Google always save their annual hardware events for the fall, and in 2020, they fell in back-to-back weeks at the end of September. While Amazon's event packed at least a dozen major announcements into a 45-minute time slot, Google stayed a little more modest with four major products in half-hour presentation. But both companies announced a new version of their signature smart speakers: the fourth-gen Amazon Echo and the spiritual successor to the Google Home, the Nest Audio.

We're excited to get review units over the coming weeks so we can do a proper head-to-head comparison of the speakers, but for now, here's how their specs stack up.

Amazon

Amazon's focus in 2019 was on hardware, rolling out half a dozen speakers and displays in a single year, but in 2020, Alexa is the star. Alexa's improved home security features, more naturalistic speech and predictive smart home controls could make it far more competitive with Google's still-superior Google Assistant. When those features roll out -- and Google's answers to them -- will continue to keep the voice assistant race tight between these two.

The new Echo's hardware similarly prioritizes home integration, featuring a Zigbee receiver to connect smart lightbulbs and an Amazon Sidewalk bridge to connect with the tech giant's growing network of home and near-home devices.

As a speaker, the new Echo will likely see marginal improvements over the previous generation, which had solid sound quality for the $100 price tag. It features what appears to be the same 3-inch woofer as the last generation, but adds a second 0.8-inch tweeter, which likely means better distinction in mid-to-high range sound. Amazon also says the speaker's sound will automatically adapt to the acoustics of the room it's in.

For a $100 price tag, the new Echo is a pretty sweet deal.

Read our Amazon Echo 2020 first take.

 

Google

The $100 Nest Audio is replacing the 2016 Google Home, and Google says it will be "75% louder with a 50% stronger bass than the original [speaker]." That performance will come from its 19mm tweeter and 75mm mid woofer, which are both slightly smaller than their counterparts in the new Amazon Echo (the Echo also has two tweeters). Generally speaking, bigger is better when it comes to speakers, but with such a close margin here, we'll have to wait and see which smart speaker sounds better in practice. It's safe to say they'll most likely continue to be pretty comparable, though.

Google Assistant continues to be the more natural-sounding voice assistant, though Amazon is keeping the competition tight with its recent upgrades. For most people, whether you prefer Alexa or Google Assistant will probably come down to use-cases: Google Assistant works better with Google's Calendar, Gmail and search services; Alexa works nicely with Amazon shopping. Both will get the job done to varying degrees for most requests in between.

When it comes to smart home connections, the Nest Audio brings a solid array of integrations with other Nest devices, along with the big hitters in the connected home space. That said, it simply doesn't have the wide reach Alexa does with smart home developers -- particularly those with more niche products. And while the new Echo has a Zigbee receiver built in, Google has not confirmed the same for Nest Audio (although that may change over the coming days).

Read our Nest Audio first take.

 

The best smart speaker?

It's too early to definitively claim one smart speaker victorious over the other, but Amazon's new Echo seems to have a slight edge over the Nest Audio when it comes to hardware (particularly with its extra tweeter and Zigbee receiver). Google Assistant is as impressive as ever, but with Alexa's improving speech patterns and clever features for home security and more proactive automation, Google might not hold onto its voice assistant lead forever.

Regardless of the outcomes, one thing is certain: 2020 will be a critical holiday season for Amazon and Google. For the first time since 2016, consumers will have two new well-priced (both are $100), competitive smart speakers to anchor their smart homes -- and choosing between them won't be easy.

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