We encounter voice assistants more and more frequently in everyday life: They read us recipes, give us a very personal daily briefing, have YouTube videos played on the television on request or dim the bedroom light. Speech technology today is digital, networked and interactive. The special thing about voice assistants: They aim to combine all available personal data, digital services and household devices in a central control system. Language becomes the new interface between people and technology.
While digital assistants such as Siri (Apple) or Cortana (Microsoft) primarily serve as organizational tools, “external” voice assistants go one step further: As independent devices and primarily designed for the home, they network the digital life of the owner with his home. The voice function makes this technology more human, the AI technology makes it more intelligent and smart home networking more convenient. This market was opened by Amazon – but now Google is following suit.
Google Home and Amazon Echo are the best home-based voice assistants on the market today. When Google Home launched in the US in May 2016, it almost looked like a copy of Amazon’s Echo. Nevertheless, Google was able to score with its huge knowledge database from the start. With extensive updates about a year later, Google moved even closer to its competitors. On August 8, 2017, Google Home was launched in Germany – a good reason to take a closer look at the two voice assistants. We explain what is important when making a purchase and compare the respective properties and features of the wizards in detail.
Table of Contents
- What makes a good voice assistant?
- Voice assistants in comparison: Google Home vs. Amazon Echo
- Properties at a glance
What makes a good voice assistant?
So what are the features that make a good voice assistant? What should you look out for when looking for the best voice assistant for you?
When choosing a good voice assistant, the first thing that matters is high sound quality, powerful voice technology and an appealing design. After all, together they form the user interface of the device and influence how much you enjoy interacting with the device. However, the quality of the entire product stands or falls with the performance.
Depending on what you would like to use the device for, its ability to answer everyday questions is crucial: How reliably does the assistant react to questions about the weather report, the traffic situation or general factual knowledge? At least when used at home, external voice assistants could replace smartphones in the long term: A question that arises is simply spoken out loud and answered promptly by the assistant, who is always listening. However, a good implementation of knowledge databases and reliable speech recognition are crucial for this.
If you want to get the best voice assistant, you also pay attention to the number of partnerships with third-party providers: Which music streaming services are supported? Are there any collaborations with delivery services or shopping portals? There is a long line of service providers that see Google Home and Amazon Echo as promising platforms for popularizing their own applications. For the end-user, such partnerships mean additional skills for the device.
For many, it still sounds futuristic: the smart home or the Internet of Things. But it is precisely this technical development of our private living and lifestyle that products like Echo or Home are aimed at. That is why Google and Amazon are cooperating with numerous providers from the smart home sector and networking their assistants with devices such as heating, dishwasher or television. This also shapes the functionality of the respective product.
The so-called Internet of Things is the vision of an all-encompassing networking of physical and virtual objects. This goal in relation to private living space is called a smart home. The light is regulated via voice commands or the refrigerator is networked with an online food provider. This should make everyday life easier and improve the quality of life.
Last but not least, how well the device works as a personal assistant is important. The voice assistants are like little brownies when it comes to organization: They integrate calendar, to-do lists and reminder functions. In doing so, they collect a lot of data about their users, which means that they can respond to them even better. For example, assistants in the USA already recognize their users by their voices: a voice assistant can identify different family members and automatically play their favorite music or give them their personal daily briefing.
Voice assistants in comparison: Google Home vs. Amazon Echo
Echo and Home are the undisputed market leaders in voice assistants and are in direct competition with one another. As the first home-based voice assistant, Amazon Echo was able to secure a large market share. The group can also defend this because it conveniently advertises its product in its own shopping portal.
If you consider Amazon’s lead, Google took an astonishingly long time to launch Home in both the USA and Germany. So far, Amazon Echo has won the economic competition for distribution in private households. But is it really the better product? Both Echo and Home have been on sale in German since August 2017. We compared the most important functions of the assistants and identified their strengths and weaknesses.
Core functions in comparison
If you compare the most important functions of Amazon Echo and Google Home with each other, you can see how balanced their advantages and disadvantages are. It is all the more important to know the products in detail. This is the only way you can choose the best voice assistant for you.
Technology and design
The voice assistant Echo is shaped like a tall cylinder with a loudspeaker with large holes on the lower half of the device. Echo is available in black and white; when the voice function is active, a blue ring lights up in the upper half. The device has two manual operating options: the microphone can be turned off with one button, another serves as a multifunction button.
Home does not differ significantly from Echo in terms of design, but is a bit more compact, bulky and has more inconspicuous speakers. In addition, Home weighs only about half of Amazon’s Echo. The lower half of the device is available in different colors and materials (black, gray, copper), while the upper part is always made of white hard plastic. The only visible button operates the microphone, further manual commands are recorded via a touch-sensitive surface.
As is well known, one can argue about taste – but the tenor in IT magazines and experience reports is in favor of Google Home. This device is smaller, lighter and offers more design options. Overall, however, both products are so restrained in their appearance that both Amazon Echo and Google Home can be easily integrated into every household.
In the area of the voice function, the technical heart of the voice assistant, there are minor but notable differences. This is the case with the technical equipment of the assistants: While Home only receives the voice data via two microphones, Echo has seven sound sensors – also to better remove background noise from the input.
The speech recognition works a little better with Echo: If louder background noises or several voices can be heard, Echo understands the questioner a bit more reliably than Home. In a neutral situation, however, both devices hear the user equally well, both react reliably at distances of up to 15 meters and respond equally promptly to inquiries – the assistants do not “pause for thought”. In addition, both Home and Echo are always ready to be woken up and activated with their code word – “OK Google” or “Echo”.
There are also subtle differences in the sound quality when compared with Google Home vs. Amazon Echo: If you occasionally want to play music directly with the devices instead of connecting them to external speakers, Google Home offers a fuller, rounder sound. However, the Google AI’s voice sounds a bit more mechanical than Echo’s AI, and Google Home’s sound remains a few decibels quieter than Echo’s overall.
When it comes to voice intelligence, Google is clearly ahead: Although Home is still young on the German market, its voice AI is already much more conversational: It remembers topics of conversation and does not allow itself to be disturbed by several follow-up questions. On the other hand, Echos, the German language assistant, has problems with understanding even with simple factual questions. In addition, he does not always manage to formulate the answers in grammatically correct sentences. Google’s lead over Echo is hardly surprising since the company is also aggressively investing in a better understanding of spoken language in the Google Search algorithms.
Nevertheless, the language intelligence varies depending on the subject: While Google Home answers general knowledge questions and information more reliably, Echo reacts more adeptly to shopping and product inquiries of all kinds. The same applies to both assistants: Their speech recognition is continuously revised and improved. In summary: Echo can hear language better, Home can understand it better.
Both devices are amazingly small entertainment boxes that send YouTube videos to the TV screen or play your current favorite songs when you call them. Amazon Echo allows the use of music streaming services such as Amazon Music, Prime Music, TuneIn or Spotify. On request, Echo activates the radio station of your choice and accesses mobile devices or private music databases via a Bluetooth connection. Furthermore, the device is compatible with Amazon Fire TV and understands instructions on YouTube or Netflix. In contrast to Home, Echo also plays audiobooks on Audible when its user asks for them.
Google Home does not differ significantly from Echo in terms of its offering, but instead integrates Google Play Music and Google Cromecast instead of Amazon’s streaming services. If you already have a Google Cromecast device, Google’s voice assistant is likely to be the best choice: These Google services communicate with one another without any problems and thus expand the multimedia functions of Google Home considerably.
One disadvantage of Google Home weighs heavily, however: The device is not Bluetooth-enabled, which is why loudspeaker boxes (or other mobile devices) can only be controlled via a cable connection. Although the connection via audio cable has the advantage of reliability, the device loses a lot of flexibility in contrast to the Amazon Echo. In terms of multimedia, Google Home still has some catching up to do compared to Echo.
Overall, Amazon Echo offers far more features than its Google competitor – and the number of Amazon’s partnerships with external providers is growing and growing. Amazon was also able to win numerous partners for the German market: The service now provides more than 1,500 skills in over 25 categories. B. activated via the Amazon website. This includes information from Deutsche Bahn, DHL parcel tracking and controls for numerous smart home applications.
On amazon.de you can find around 1,500 different skills in over 20 categories in the “Alexa Skills” section, which can be activated for the Amazon Echo with a simple click.
Echo has won an important place in the smart home sector in particular: In contrast to the younger home, it has been able to expand its collaborations over the years and now has a long-range of smart home services with which the Amazon device activates lights, regulates the heating, instructs the vacuum cleaner robot or communicates with radio-controlled sockets and the dishwasher. Google Home also integrates the most important smart home providers – including Phillips Hue, Nest and Samsung SmartThings – but Echo is still unrivaled in this area.
However, it can be assumed that Google will quickly follow suit in this area. And Home still has a little trump card: If you have connected your Google Cromecast device to your TV at home, Home can communicate with it. Instructions such as “Ok Google, play ‘The Simpsons’ on the kitchen TV” are carried out without any problems.
Many of the functions of the personal assistant are similar in Echo and Home: Both create calendar entries and to-do lists, read messages and create the personal daily briefing. However, Google is still missing some skills in the German version that are already a matter of course in its US version. The German Google Home is not yet able to read directions or the current cinema program – Amazon Echo has already included these functions in its German assistant.
However, with its huge data sets from Google Search or Gmail, Google can create a more complex picture of its users. The group is also known for its sophisticated search algorithms and its technical lead in artificial intelligence. Of course, Google Home also benefits from this technological capital. But: So far, this has hardly been noticeable in daily use of the device. Almost all testimonials agree that Amazon does not lag behind Google as a personal assistant.
Strengths and weaknesses of the voice assistants
Both IT giants rely on the know-how from their core business: Google Home scores as an intelligent knowledge assistant, while Amazon Echo scores as a versatile consumer assistant. It makes sense to rely on your own strengths, because after all, voice assistants combine many different functions in a single device. The strongest technologies from Amazon and Google are also the strengths of their voice assistants Echo and Home.
Amazon Echo: Consumer-oriented and open to expansion
With its voice assistant, Amazon is orienting itself towards the online sales of consumer goods. As a global shopping empire, Amazon has a strong distribution network and knows how to meet the consumer needs of its users particularly well. Amazon uses this expertise optimally for Echo: All test results confirm it – Amazon Echo reacts particularly skillfully to shopping inquiries and product information. In the USA, where everyday goods are also often ordered online, this is a clear competitive advantage.
Amazon also knows how to use its expertise from online sales elsewhere: from the outset, the group pursued the strategy of opening up its voice assistant and networking it with the largest possible number of third-party providers. Amazon Echo is resolutely outward-looking and amassing a steadily growing number of partnerships and skills that make the assistant attractive to consumers. These include numerous popular multimedia platforms, ordering and information services. With Echo’s great success, this list of third-party and external features is getting longer and longer.
This is particularly noticeable in the smart home sector. Echo already plays an important role for this: The devices are offered and purchased via the Amazon shop – and once set up in the home, Echo functions as the central control system for these various smart home functions.
- Reliable speech recognition even with background noise
- Speaks fluently and with a natural tone of voice
- Bluetooth connection with boxes or mobile devices possible
- Good implementation by shopping providers
- Reliable shopping and product information
- Many collaborations with third-party providers and a large selection of skills
- Versatile product for the smart home
- Limitations in the implementation of search algorithms: Questions about general facts or information are not always answered reliably
- Limitations in language intelligence: Reaction to follow-up questions or the formulation of grammatically correct sentences can still be problematic
Amazon Echo scores above all with its variety of functions and features. Networking with other services and his many skills make him attractive. The wizard is also particularly helpful for information about products and for their online sales.
Google Home: personal and knowledge-based
Google Home has very different priorities than Amazon Echo: The product aims at communication that is as natural as possible and the personal preferences of its users. Google Assistant – the technical basis for Google Home – was designed to offer a completely individual user experience with the help of AI technology. Google’s special expertise in customizing its assistant’s answers will be of long-term benefit to Google Home – after all, users want the most natural and personal communication possible with the assistant.
Google Home is already benefiting from the high level of language intelligence, which is constantly being developed, especially for Google search . The intelligence of the voice function is Home’s great advantage over Echo.
In addition, Google Home relies on its general knowledge – and here also uses the know-how from its core business as a search engine. Home shows particular strengths when it comes to questions of knowledge and general information: A test with 45 questions, carried out by Forbes, revealed the Google assistant as the clear winner. In more recent tests, this lead seems to have increased. So if you want to be informed regularly from the couch and have small conversations with your assistant, you will be satisfied with Google’s product.
- Low purchase price
- Choice of design options
- Full sound from the integrated speaker
- High linguistic intelligence and reliable reaction to follow-up questions
- Complex AI technology and effective evaluation of user preferences
- Good implementation of knowledge databases, reliable information
- Limited selection of skills and features
- Cooperates only with the most important smart home providers
- No Bluetooth connection possible
- Higher risk in terms of data protection, through networking with other Google services
Google Home scores above all with its intelligent speech recognition and good implementation of other Google services. He is a particularly intelligent conversation partner and information provider.
Properties at a glance
Google Home vs. Amazon Echo – ultimately you decide for yourself which functions of a voice assistant are particularly important to you. This is the only way to find out which is the best language assistant for you personally. Finally, here are the most important properties of Echo and Home in a tabular overview: