Smart speakers are a relatively new category of products that has been slowly embraced. They became a thing in late 2014 when Amazon launched its Echo – a tall cylindric speaker, with a built-in Alexa smart assistant, which you could control using your voice.
The second-gen Amazon Echo is the successor of the market-defining product that was the first-gen Echo. Carrying the burden of the crown is a hard task, but the second-gen Amazon Echo does the job well. The design has stayed pretty similar to the first Echo, meaning it's still tall and cylindrical, the only difference being the addition of new build-material choices, like wood and metal. And because the Amazon Echo is first meant to be a speaker, it should be good in the audio department. And it is. To get the job done, the speaker has 2.5" woofer and a 0.6" tweeter on the inside, both powered by Dolby, to deliver a great audio experience, rich in crisp tones. The "brain" of the Amazon Echo is Alexa – Amazon's very own smart assistant made to fit its ecosystem of products. Alexa can do almost everything you ask it to, but we'll talk more about it in a second.
Released two years after the Echo, Google Home was meant to successfully rival its Amazon counterpart in every aspect imaginable. Google Home sports a slick-looking cylindrical design, which can fit well in any interior because of the customization options you have, but we'll get to that in a second. You can also change between different colors, making for a fully-customizable gadget. And because the Google Home is first and foremost a speaker, it needs to sound good. And it does – removing the fabric-coated grill unveils the main speaker, alongside two smaller ones. The sound those three produce is not bad – while you may not hear the clearest tones, the sound is loud and has some bass to it, which the Echo lacks.
It doesn't matter whether a smart speaker sounds good or not if it lacks compatibility with other smart products (or you're Apple). Worry not, as the Amazon Echo can work with almost every smart gadget out there, allowing you to control it just by using your voice. We're talking about all sorts of security cameras, smart locks, lights, doors, appliances, you name it – the Echo works really good with those. However, some devices might require you to download an Alexa skill (basically a voice-based app) from the Alexa Skill Store, so keep that in mind.
This is one of the areas Google Home falls behind the Amazon Echo. Don't get us wrong – Google Home too can pair with and give you control over some of the most popular smart gadgets out there, includingPhilips Hue lightbulbs, all sorts of Nest cameras and thermostats, and much, much more. However, Google Home still lacks in compatibility compared to the Echo, examples being no support for Lightify smart bulbs, Insteon smart home products, and more, which puts it a step behind.
There's no doubt the heart and soul of the Amazon Echo is its built-in smart assistant, called Alexa. Combined with the always-on mic, the artificial intelligence allows you to control the speaker by using the hotword 'Alexa', followed by whatever your request is. For example, 'Alexa, what's the weather on Monday?' would prompt the assistant to search it up and say it out loud. You can also use Alexa to make calls, send messages, add events to your calendar, set up your schedule and much, much more. Controlling the smart gadgets at home is also an option, in case those are paired with the Echo. Playing music is as easy too – you simply ask Alexa for a song of your choice, and she'll play it. Keep in mind the default music service is Amazon Prime Music, and if you want something to be played from Spotify for example, you need to specify it.
'Routines' is another selling point of the second-gen Amazon Echo. Available both on-the-go and while at home, 'Routines' allows you to chain a set of activities together, which will be triggered by saying a particular sentence. To give you an example, saying 'Alexa, good morning!' could turn on the lights or raise the curtains (in case you've got smart curtains), raise the thermostat temperature, and turn on the TV. Everything said, 'Routines' is a relatively new feature and still has some flaws, not being able to choose the trigger phrase (the one which starts the routine) yourself, but Amazon keeps improving the feature by gradually releasing updates.
Another useful feature of the Echo is its list of Alexa skills. Those are downloadable voice-based apps, that enable all sorts of activities. To exemplify it, downloading the 'Hill's Pet Nutrition' app, enables you to ask Alexa about health tips for your dog/cat. The list of Alexa skills also includes voice-based games, like the popular 'Guess My Name', or 'Simon Tap', where you repeat a pattern by tapping Echo's lights.
Google Home has a smart assistant of its own, which helps it satisfy your needs. It's called Google Assistant
and it's also available on your smartphone. It also happens to be a very knowledgeable assistant and will answer any question you throw at it. Did the Yankees win last night? What's the weather in Honolulu? When does American Air have a flight to Paris? You can ask those questions and many more by first waking up the speaker with the "Hey/OK, Google" hotword. What's more, if you ask another question within the context, Google will answer, making it feel like a real conversation. Speaking of conversations, Google Home will hear whatever you're saying even if you're a floor away because of its nearly perfect voice detection.
When it comes to playing music, Google Home is as easy to use as its Amazon counterpart – you name the song and artist and you'll be enjoying it in just a few seconds. Google Play Music is the default music streaming service, but you can also choose between Spotify, Pandora, YouTube Red, Apple Music, and so on. Amazon services are not supported, so no Audible or Amazon Prime Music. Streaming music from your phone is also an option for both the Echo and the Google Home.
The second-gen Echo follows the design pattern set by its predecessor. It's still a cylinder, but it's a bit shorter and wider this time, reaching 5.9" in height and 3.5" in width. The speaker grills are located on the bottom-half of the speaker, and if they are visible or not depends on the Echo Cover you choose. Speaking of covers, you can choose between six different shells for your Amazon Echo. Those act like skins, which you can change whenever you like and are as follows:
- Fabric Covers: Charcoal, Heather Gray, Sandstone
- Material Covers: Silver, Oak, Walnut
This is what your Echo can look like
And because you can control Amazon Echo physically, there are four buttons on top of it – volume up/down buttons, a button to mute the microphone (for those cases when you don't want Alexa to listen), and an action button, which can do different things, according to the situation.
Have you ever seen an automatic air freshener? That's what Google Home looks like, and it can be easily mistaken for some kind of furniture if you're having non-geek guests. Google Home is shaped like a cone, reaching 5.6" height and 3.8" width, where its touch-capable controls are located, alongside some LED lights, which activate whenever you use it. On the front is located a button to shut down the mic.
Google Home can be customized, too. You can change the lower half of the device (Google calls that "base"), which hides its speakers, into one of four different options: black plastic, orange fabric, brown plastic, or gray fabric (comes by default).
The Echo usually sells for $99,99 at Amazon.com but the company sometimes runs discounts on it (as of the time of writing, Amazon Echo can be bought on a 15% discount for $85). You can also bundle Amazon Echo with another product to get a greater discount, which is a bargain, too. You can buy the second-gen Amazon Echo here
Both Google and Amazon occassionally run discounts on their smart speakers.
The Google-branded smart speaker is a bit more expensive than the Echo, priced at $129, but chances are you might encounter a discount, as Google runs them pretty often. There are bundle offers too, for example, if you buy a Google Home and a Google Home Mini, you'll save $25. You can buy the Google Home smart speaker here
And the winner is... the Amazon Echo!
With its array of Alexa skills, the Amazon Echo can do pretty much anything you ask it for. Call a relative? Check. Write someone a message? Check. Routines that completely change your experience? Check. Amazon Echo can also fit into any interior as it has differently colored shells that you can swap between.
Yes, Alexa is not as smart as Google Assistant and you can't do a contextual Q&A session with it, but the Echo offers too much value to be overlooked. The fact you can shop directly through Amazon using just your voice is a reason good enough to buy the Echo, but it's not just that it has to offer. The Alexa Skills Store is an amazing way to improve your smart speaker functionality, and the fact you can multitask using solely your voice via the Routines feature is indeed a gamechanger. No, we're not saying Google Home is bad – it's just that the Amazon Echo is better. In case you're looking for a fully-fledged, affordable smart speaker, which also happens to be your first one, look no further than the Amazon Echo.