The Amazon Echo ($80 at Amazon) has controlled the smart home speaker niche for nearly two years. But now, there's a second contender: Google Home ($99 at Walmart). Both gadgets can control smart home devices, play music, answer random questions, and tell you all about traffic or news or movie showtimes -- all with simple voice controls.
The Echo and Home each have their own exclusive abilities, whether it's casting YouTube videos onto a TV (Google) or ordering products online (Amazon). But picking a virtual assistant for your home is a bit like picking a roommate -- personality matters.
To that end, we sat down with the Echo and Home and asked each of them the same questions to see just how different (or similar) the digital assistants are from one another. Here are the questions and a breakdown of how each device responded to help you decide which one is right for you:
'Can you play some indie music?'
Both devices can pull up playlists for you based on a genre request. The only real difference is the platforms from which they draw. The Home uses playlists from Google Play; the Echo uses playlists from Amazon Prime or Spotify (you can select in the app). Your pick will probably just depend on your current preference.
'Can you play the song that goes, "I got soul, but I'm not a soldier"?'
Both devices can help you identify a song if you only know a lyric or two. But the Echo correctly identifies the song way more often than the Home. Of course, if the lyrics have the name of the song in them, both devices pretty consistently play the right thing.
'Hey, Google, play trivia.'/'Alexa, play Jeopardy.'
Jeopardy is a third-party skill on the Echo, which means Amazon didn't create it (think of "Skills" like apps on your phone). That said, it's a far superior game to the Home's ingratiating trivia game. Alexa asks six questions that you might actually hear on the game show; Google Assistant makes lame jokes, and its questions include basic math equations in multiple-choice form. The only people who might prefer Google's game are children.
'Turn on the lights.'
The Echo and Home can both control your smart-home gadgets. The Echo boasts a ton of integrations, whereas the Home only works with five platforms. However, the Home offers a lot more flexibility in how you issue commands. Alexa can be a stickler for phrasing (e.g., "entry light" but not "entryway light"), but the Home almost always understands. In addition, Home can control smart LED colors -- something that Echo still hasn't mastered.
'How's the weather? How about on Friday?'
The Home's much-touted conversational assistance means you can ask follow-up questions without having to repeat previously established information. This feature is key to making conversations with smart-home speakers feel more natural and helpful. But the feature isn't that much stronger on Home, which is a bit of a surprise.
Both Alexa and the Google Assistant can answer the above combination of questions. But both of them are hit-or-miss enough with their contextual conversations that I generally repeat information just so I don't have to repeat whole questions (e.g., "How's the weather? How will the weather be on Friday?").
'Tell me a joke.'
This is pretty self-explanatory, and the jokes vary. One thing you can depend on: The jokes are almost always bad, no matter which device you're speaking to.
"What movies are Jeffrey Wright and George Clooney in together?"
The Echo and Home are both great resources for finding answers to those niggling questions. Both can perform quick online searches to answer even some of the most random questions. But only the Home could answer the above question thanks to Google's robust search technology; it tends to better handle complex searches.
'Cast trending videos onto the living room TV.'
Only one of the devices could perform this action: the Home. One of the Home's biggest distinctions is its ability to queue YouTube videos onto TV screens using Chromecast ($25 at eBay). Google says Netflix and Google image searches are on the way. The feature certainly isn't polished yet, but even its imperfect presence sets it apart from the Echo.
'OK, Google, call an Uber.'/'Alexa, tell Uber I need a ride.'
The Home and Echo can both call an Uber, albeit with slightly different wording. But what this question really shows is the difference in philosophy behind these two devices. The Home has Uber because it intentionally included the service as a feature; the Echo has it because Uber made an Alexa Skill. Both devices might be able to summon an Uber, but for the Echo, Uber is only one of more than 3,000 Skills. Uber is one of the Home's only integrations with third-party services. Put simply, users will get a lot more options out of the Echo than the Home right now.
So which roommate should you pick? With the Home and Echo, the choice might just come down to personality.