As soon as Google announced its new Home device last autumn, everyone (including this blog) was quick to call it an Amazon Echo Killer. But since then, the Echo has gained some new powers. So how do the two gadgets stack up in a head-to-head spec battle? Pretty evenly — except for the price.
Image: Gizmodo / Google / Amazon
Neither the Google Home nor the Amazon Echo are available in Australia yet, though you can import the Echo and use some workarounds to operate it.
Let’s start with the basic design element. The new $US130 ($171) Google Home is tiny, white and curvy, quite unlike the monolithic design of the $US180 ($236) Amazon Echo. The Home also features an interchangeable base that comes in six different colours and textures (fabric and metal). On top of the Home are four LEDs that offer feedback as well as a touch-sensitive surface that lets you adjust the volume, much like the blue ring on top of the Echo does. All in all, Google’s compact new Wi-Fi speaker will probably blend in better than the clunky Echo.
Once you get past the very different looks, the guts of the Home and the Echo actually seem very similar. The Home comes with three outward-facing speakers that supposedly blast sound in every direction.
The Echo has dual downward-facing speakers that also blast sound in every direction. Both the Home and the Echo connect to Wi-Fi, but only the Echo offers Bluetooth connectivity. One other thing that the Echo has more of: Microphones. Amazon says that the seven microphones on top of the Echo means that it picks up commands from near and far. Google, however, says that the two microphones on the Home are plenty, since it uses special algorithms to locate sounds.
Image: Gizmodo / Amazon
Then, there’s the software. Based on the (lengthy) demo at the Google hardware event, the Home offers much of the same functionality as the Echo. You can ask questions — “What time is the Super Bowl?” — and the smart speaker will provide answers. You can issue basic commands — “Play the new Bon Iver album” — and the gadget will do it. Google fans will probably love how the Assistant software that powers the Home works across all devices. You can also control any Cast-powered device with the Home. So if you’re already using a lot of Google products, the Home integrates into that your tech ecosystem.
If you’re not big on Google gadgets, you might find the Echo more appealing. Amazon had a head start in recruiting companies to make their products compatible with the Echo, and Alexa now boasts over 100 skills, everything like being able to order a pizza to summoning an Uber. The list of Google Home launch partners is much smaller than the gigantic offering of Echo friends. In fact, the device will only work with 13 services initially, many of which are Google-owned. Obviously, the company says more partners will be added in the future, but we don’t yet know which ones.
But just for the sake of simplifying the decision-making process, let’s just agree that price and design matter to most people. Even with a smaller list of capabilities, the $US130 ($171) Google Home is an appealing way to add a sleek speaker to your kitchen while also getting involved in the voice-powered computer future. (Amazon’s $US50 [$66] Echo Dot is even cheaper but lacks a decent speaker.) The $US180 ($236) Amazon Echo is more of an ugly workhorse, one that might not offer more than the Home in the near future. The Echo is great! But the Home sure looks better, and it looks like better value.
That said, we won’t know if the Google Home can live up to its promises until we’ve tried it out, and we will. Pre-orders for the Home start today in the US, and it goes on sale November 4. In the meantime, it’s worth waiting for the reviews before you try to import a Home or an Echo.