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Google Home vs. Amazon Echo: Smart Speakers That Listen

Nov. 4, 2016
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Speakers aren’t just for playing music anymore. Nowadays, smart speakers listen when you speak and do what you ask, and we’re not just referring to Amazon’s brainchild, the Echo.

This month, Google released a smart speaker and home assistant that looks and sounds a lot like the Amazon Echo. Not sure which to pick? Here’s how the new Google Home stacks up against the Echo.

At a glancegoogle-home

Google Home and Amazon Echo mix pleasure with purpose. Each of these Wi-Fi-enabled speakers streams music, but they also do much more. Talk to them, and they’ll answer you. They can read you the traffic report or even control your smart home. But despite having similar functionality, the Google Home speaker is $50 less expensive than its Amazon competitor.

Let’s see how the two fare across a variety of features and categories.

 Google HomeAmazon Echo
Wi-Fi connectivityYesYes
Voice serviceGoogle AssistantAlexa
Voice functionalityYesYes
Compatible appYesYes
Always onYesYes
Power cableYesYes
Audio2-inch driver and dual 2-inch passive radiators2.5-inch woofer and 2.0-inch tweeter
Buy on AmazonNot yet available.

From the outside

Google Home is a cylindrical white speaker that can fit in the palm of your hand. It measures 5.62 inches high and 3.79 inches in diameter and has a touch surface top with colored lights that turn on when the speaker is active. It comes standard with a slate fabric base, but users will soon be able to purchase interchangeable bases in seven colors and finishes (sold separately) starting at $20 each from Google.

Amazon Echo is cylindrical, too. But it’s slightly bulkier than Google’s model. It stands 9.3 inches tall and measures 3.3 inches across. This speaker is easily distinguished by a blue ring at the top that illuminates when it’s listening to a question or request. It’s sold in black or white.

» MORE: Amazon Echo vs. Sonos Play:1

On the inside

In the most basic sense, these two products are speakers. Amazon Echo can play music wirelessly from services such as Pandora, Spotify, iHeartRadio and TuneIn. The speaker is Bluetooth-enabled, so users can also stream iTunes from their phone or tablet.

Google Home can stream from Spotify, YouTube Music and Pandora, among other music services. With this one, too, users can stream from their phone — this time from more than 100 Chromecast-enabled audio apps.

For each speaker, users should download the compatible app (Amazon Alexa: iOS, Android; Google Home: iOS, Android) to get started.

» MORE: Amazon’s Alexa line comparison

amazon-echoAlexa and Google Assistant

It’s not just music, though. Both Amazon Echo and Google Home are always ready to work. Both are equipped with far-field recognition microphones to pick up your voice. Google Home has two, while Amazon Echo has seven. You can mute these microphones when you don’t want your speaker to hear you.

The Echo uses the Alexa voice service, which users can initiate with the wake word “Alexa.” Ask a question like, “Alexa, what’s the weather today?”

The Google Home speaker will be at your service when you say, “OK, Google” to alert its Google Assistant service. It promises to be “your own Google,” with access to all of the search engine’s knowledge. It can even remember the context of your previous questions, much like a real conversation.

Beyond answering questions and providing information, both speakers can be used to control the thermostat, lights and switches in your smart home. Google Home can connect to Chromecast, Nest, Philips Hue, Samsung SmartThings and IFTTT. The Echo works with devices including WeMo, Philips Hue, Samsung SmartThings, Wink, Insteon, Nest and ecobee.

Prices and perks

Google Home retails for $129 from Google. An added benefit? Through the end of 2016, new YouTube Red subscribers can get six months of the service free with their Google Home purchase. Amazon Echo is $50 more expensive than Google’s speaker; it’s $179.99 from Amazon. The Echo is available for free two-day shipping for Prime members.

You may not think of a speaker as a major home purchase, but since each of these models will set you back over $100, consider putting your purchase on a cash-back credit card with a generous rewards rate.

Final word

Would you rather say “Alexa” or “OK, Google”? We recommend giving the more affordable new Google Home a try. You’ll save $50 upfront and can give it a fresh look by buying new colors down the road.

But if you’re an Amazon Prime member ($99 per year subscription), you may benefit most from the Echo. Amazon has been known to offer special deals and promotions exclusively to shoppers who place orders with Alexa. The extra price of the speaker may be worth it for frequent Amazon shoppers.

Courtney Jespersen is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: [email protected]. Twitter: @courtneynerd.