The home gadget head-to-head: Amazon Echo vs Google Home vs Apple HomePod
June 2017 saw Apple announce the launch of its HomePod – a speaker that doubles up as a personal assistant by hearing and responding to voice commands. The move sets Apple against Amazon and Google, who have already released their own smart speaker – Amazon Echo and Google Home.
Top takeaways from this comparison
- Amazon’s Alexa is the best home assistant when linked to third-party apps
- The Google Home is very user-friendly and is well set up for multiple users
- Apple’s HomePod will have a great speaker but has to catch up in other areas
What’s the point of a smart speaker?
These smart speakers or home assistants are a kind of artificial intelligence. Through verbal instructions, you can tell them to do anything from plan your calendar to dim your lights. The home gadgets also support voice search, so you can ask questions you’d try to answer online and expect an accurate answer. This review will judge the home gadgets based on their usefulness, as well as their design and audio quality.
The Amazon Echo was the first smart speaker to be released back in 2014. It works by responding to the ‘wake word’, “Alexa”, which you speak before asking for its help. As well as the voice control, there are buttons on the device to do things like changing the volume or turning it off.
What can the Amazon Echo do?
The Echo can hear you from anywhere in the room using its beam-forming technology; sensors that fade out other sounds to hone in on your voice. Out-of-the-box Alexa can carry out simple tasks, such as tell you the weather and update your calendar. However, there is now a range of third-party Alexa Skills apps to teach Alexa much more. From checking flight times to ordering food, the Alexa app store takes Alexa from a novelty gadget to something more practical.
How is the sound quality?
For playing music, the Amazon Echo isn’t anything special. If you turn the speaker up to full volume, your audio will become less crisp. To get around this, a lot of users link the device up to better quality Bluetooth speakers, which are compatible with the Echo.
Importantly, the Amazon Echo does link to most music and podcast streaming services, including Spotify and TuneIn. You can also sync 250 songs to the Echo from your iTunes account (to upload more you’ll have to fork out for an Amazon Music subscription).
How does it look?
The Amazon takes on a canister-like feel with its 9.25” x 3.27” cylindrical design. The bottom half is peppered with holes for the speaker grille, while the top half is marked by the volume ring that lights up in response to instructions. The design isn’t stylish, but then it’s not meant to be. Its unobtrusiveness helps the Amazon Echo blend in with the rest of your home, which is what you need from a home gadget.
The Amazon Echo is currently available in two colours: white and black. That said, other companies do offer skin wraps in a variety of colours and textures. Depending on your tastes, you could use these to make your device stand out or blend in even better.
The Echo is available from Currys here >> Buy Amazon Echo.
In 2016 Google entered the smart speaker space. It’s since partnered with a range of third parties, including Nest, Samsung SmartThings and Philips to enable the Google Home to command an array of home gadgets. What’s more, the Google Home links to Chromecast TVs, so you can browse through Netflix or search images online.
What can the Google Home do?
Google’s Assistant is cleverer than Alexa. Its natural language processing technology lets you conversationally interact with the device. What’s more, the gadget is better at retrieving information from the web.
Although the Google Assistant is more intelligent, the Home struggles to match Alexa for integrating with third-party apps. As a result, the Google Home is less useful for online shopping. Also, some apps won’t work you until you link them to your account, which you do in the app’s settings.
How is the sound quality?
The Google Home trumps the Echo for audio quality. Played at high volume, the audio is less distorted, and the bass gives sound greater depth.
Another cool feature is the option to change the music that’s playing in each room. Many households will enjoy linking their Google Home to other sound systems in the house. By syncing these stereos, you can move about the house knowing the same song is playing from one room to the next. And what if you’re 12-year-old daughter doesn’t want to listen to the same music as you? That’s fine; Google can respond to different users in each room and play multiple tunes at once.
The Google Assistant can also play songs you don’t know the name of if you give it some context. For example, if you say, “OK Google, play that Ed Sheeran song that goes ‘me and my friends at the table doing shots’”, Shape of You will start playing.
Visit this link to make the Google Home yours.
How does it look?
The design of the Google Home has taken some criticism for resembling an air freshener. Which admittedly, it does. However, like the Amazon Echo, it does a good job of blending in with the rest of the house – there’s a reason air fresheners are designed the way they are.
At just 5.62” high, the Google Home is a petite gadget that won’t take up precious space. You also have more flexibility when it comes to customisation, as the base can be swapped for one with a different colour and texture. Google is currently offering bases in six colours: mango, marine, violet, carbon, copper, snow. Mango, marine and violet come in a cheaper fabric base, while the other three are available in a more expensive steel.
All we know about the Apple HomePod is what was showcased at the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC). The product isn’t due for release until December 2017.
Based on the announcement, it’s clear that Apple hopes to outstrip Google in the quality of their gadget’s sound system. Equipped with a seven-tweeter array and high-excursion woofer, the Apple HomePod’s specs are impressive. But, is this enough to win the battle of the home gadgets?
What will the HomePod be able to do?
The HomePod will integrate with all Apple HomeKit devices – no surprises there. Apple has also partnered with Philips, Haier and Honeywell to make the speaker compatible with other home gadgets. It will enable you to turn lights off or adjust your thermostat if you have items from these retailers.
Apple puts its partners through rigorous checks. Most likely, we can blame their strict vetting of partners for the short list of complementary gadgets that would let us do more with the HomePod.
How is the sound quality?
Okay, so this is where the HomePod is going to prove a game changer. Those specs mentioned above put the HomePod on par with high-end speakers, which would make this the first assistant to meet the standards of music fans. Like the Google Home, the Apple HomePod will have a multi-room feature that lets you play music through your house.
The drawback of the HomePod as a music player is the same as its weaknesses as an assistant – it doesn’t support third-party platforms. It might change in the future, but for the moment you’ll have to stream music from your phone if you want to listen to anything other than Apple Music.
How does it look?
Apple has followed its competitors in choosing a curvy, cylindrical design for its home assistant. It’s small at 7” tall and available in white or space grey. You’ll notice the device is almost entirely covered in a fabric mesh; this is to utilise its surface area and get the best output from those speakers.
Apple is playing it safe with this design. So, there’s not a lot between the three home gadgets when it comes to aesthetics. Your best bet is to go with the one that matches your décor.
Who wins the home gadget head-to-head?
A lack of clear differentiators between the three means that many people will go with the brand they know and use most. However, if you look at usefulness, audio and design in isolation, one of the three always have an edge.
When it comes to the usefulness of the home assistants, the Amazon Echo just about edges it over the Google Home. The multitude of third-party apps designed to skill-up Alexa automates your life on a whole new level. That said, Google’s Assistant is more intelligent out-of-the-box and will continue to integrate with more products, so this could change in the coming months.
For design, the Google Home takes the prize as the easiest to customise. Most people will be happy with the greyscale colours offered by Amazon and Apple, but for those of us who like a little more pizzazz to our living area, the option of a more colourful base is tempting.
Meanwhile, when it comes to the sound systems, Apple looks set to take this prize. Even Apple’s tagline for the HomePod’s launch, ‘The new sound of home’, shows their priority is delivering a great audio experience.
When making your decision about which is right for you, also think about the price. There’s not a lot of difference between Google and Amazon’s home gadgets, with the Google Home, coming in at £129.00 and Amazon Echo retailing at £149.99. However, the Apple HomePod will sell for £270. That’s a big hike for a smart speaker that isn’t all that smart.
|Amazon Echo||Google Home||Apple HomePod|
|Dimensions & weight|
|Width or Diameter||8.35 cm (3.3 inches)||9.6 cm (3.8 inches)||14.2 cm (5.6 inches)|
|Height||23.5 cm (9.3 inches)||14.3 cm (5.6 inches)||17.2 cm (6.8 inches)|
|Weight||1.045 kg (2.3 pounds)||477g (1.1 pounds)||2.5 kg (5.5 pounds)|
|Driver type||tweeter driver, woofer driver||mid/woofer driver, passive radiator||High excursion woofer / seven tweeter array|
|Network & internet|
|Connectivity||Bluetooth, IEEE 802.11a/b/g/n||IEEE 802.11a/b/g/n/ac||802.11a/b/g/n/ac Wi‑Fi with MIMO|
|Service & support|
|Type||1 year warranty||2 year warranty||1 year (expected)|