Welcome to the future. Science fiction games that once talked to your computer are now a reality, thanks to the rise of something called distant school voice communication found in connected home companion apps like Amazon Echo and Google Home.
Amazon first launched two years ago with echo (powered by AI called Alexa) and Google Home joined last fall. These products are more similar in that: Both are based on cloud-based artificial intelligence, chatbot-style voice tools, the ability to control smart devices in the home, and both become smarter over time without any of your involvement.
Amazon’s Alexa benefits from a growing ecosystem and a long-term open developer community – And you’ll soon start to see Alexa inside products not made by Amazon. Meanwhile, Google’s Assistant benefits from the diversity of Google’s services and resources, including machine learning and the so-called Knowledge Graph – but at the moment it is only developing a developer community to compete with what Alexa can do.
So how do these ai-fighting hands work when given similar tasks and questions? We think we’ll tell you what it’s really like to live with these technologies and integrate them into our lives over the past few months.
Music: Winner, Alexa
Both Alexa and Google integrate with existing music services, but Alexa has more options than Google Home. Alexa links to Amazon Music, Prime Music, Spotify Premium, Pandora, TuneIn, iHeartRadio, and Audible.
Google Home supports Google Play Music, YouTube Music, Spotify and Pandora.
So what does this mean in the real world? In addition, we find Alexa more complete, although she certainly benefits from being an Amazon Prime member and automatically has access to a wide selection of music there.
If we asked to listen to Lindsey Stirling’s songs, Alexa played the artist’s songs. Google Home responded by broadcasting Google Play Music including songs by Lindsey Stirling and other artists. A pleasant blend, but not the same.
Alexa can also play talk books through Audible. While we want her voice to be more natural, it’s great to have this option and this is an attractive extra feature that Google Home lacks.
For sound quality, a simple $130 Google Home for better sound than the $180 Amazon Echo has thinner audio. But the $50 Amazon Echo Dot is a humorous compromise; it’s surprisingly good compared to the price and it also connects to the speakers, if you want better sound.
Digital Helper: Winner, Google Home
Don’t get us wrong, Alexa wants help, but it’s annoying when you ask questions just so she says she can’t understand what we’re asking for or she doesn’t know the answer. And that happens a lot.
We’re less likely to encounter this problem with Google Home. And Google has an important skill that puts Alexa in the dust: Google really remembers your conversation and doesn’t treat every interaction as if it were the first time you met. Ask Google questions, then follow up, and Google Home can often follow the conversation so you don’t have to keep repeating things.
For example, we asked Google Home successfully “What is Adele’s real name,” “How many Grammys she won” and “Play one of her famous songs” without saying Adele’s name each time.
Alexa is much less capable. She nailed the first question – recounting Adele’s real name. But she stumbled as soon as we didn’t speak specifically in the next questions. “Sorry, I can’t find the answer to the question I’ve heard” is a popular chorus, almost no matter what you ask Alexa.
Indeed, Google is often much more useful. Accidentally saw a drug on your shelf that you can not remember what it is for? It doesn’t matter — ask Google Home and you’ll get results. Ask how far you’ll get from California to New York by car, and you’ll get the answer. You’ll even get answers about how long it takes to drive from point A to point B.
Alexa, for comparison, does not know how to help with the drug. And while she can tell you “the distance from New York to California,” she will show you the straight line distance. Ask her driveway, and she’s confused as if you asked a 4-year-old the same question. Ditto for driving time, unless you’ve set up a “work path address” in the Alexa app; even then, Alexa is even more limited than Google.
The list keeps stretching. Google Home comes from a variety of impressive sources, while in general, if the answer is not a fact-based question easily found on Wikipedia, Alexa will give up without trying.
Fun Easter Eggs: Google Home
This is almost a draw. Both will surprise you with hilarious and unexpected reactions that will surely make you giggle at home. And they both do more than you might expect — playing games, singing songs, rolling around, telling jokes and debating in Star Wars versus Star Trek (come on, enthusiasts have built these things, so why isn’t this age-old debate in it?). Alexa even has a series of quick comebacks (try saying “My name is Inigo Montoya”, to pay homage to The Princess Bride).
However, Google Home’s superiority is in its superiority. Both can sing Happy Birthday, but Google will probably give a line like “Happy Birthday to the person with that birthday”. Requires game play and Google Home launches into game mode, complete with fun music.
Scalability and ecosystem: Winner, Alexa
Amazon’s Alexa benefited from being on the market and continually improved for more than two years before Google arrived. Similarly, the ecosystem has benefited from Amazon’s open developer community. The result: Alexa has hundreds of “skills” that you can activate to allow Alexa to interact with a myth of products and services.
Google is just getting started. It works with Google-owned Nest and ChromeCast, along with Honeywell, Ecobee, Philips Hue, Samsung SmartThings, Wemo and Lifx.
Alexa supports Honeywell, Lutron, Philips Hue, Samsung SmartThings, Wemo, Insteon, Lyric, Nucleus, Wink, etc. More. Both make it easy to operate, then you can control it with your voice. “Lower the temperature.” “Turn off the switch.” Even so, the magic can’t be created: For example, the Wemo switch can turn off the heater attached to the switch, but not turn it back on, even if the switch has power back on.
Google Home is stronger on the entertainment front thanks to Chromecast support. But Alexa supports more devices on other categories, which is why it gets consent here. We hope Google Home catches up with the news that Google has opened the Google Assistant Action to third parties. But even so, it’s not as open as Alexa’s platform.
Everyday Life: Winner, Google Home
Again, the two are almost neck and neck, expressing their own unique strengths. Alexa is better at shopping, weather and to-do lists. Google Home has an advantage with alarms, calendars, and personalization.
Daily snapshots. Google Home’s My Day is very friendly and helpful. Just say “My Day” and you’ll hear Google reply Good morning to you by name accompanied by time, weather forecast and “have a good day” before putting on the news. This is a great feature and we like it more than ever compared to Alexa’s Flash Briefing.
Calendar. Home has the advantage of home (pun intention); it connects to your Google Calendar and only works. Google Home recounts your day, fluently and smoothly, with chat conversions between events.
Conversely, if you ask Alexa about your calendar, she says you must link it through the Settings page of the Alexa app. But we simply couldn’t figure out how to do it.
Forecast. Both Alexa and Google Home provide weather updates. Typically, the results are similar, although Google Home previews its weather in more detail. When we examined these two factors in parallel, Google surprised us by giving us false information, noting that it is currently raining or raining in the forecast – both Alexa points are nailed on rainy days in San Francisco. Ironically, a week later, their accuracy failed again. Find the picture.
Shopping. Alexa not only has a shopping list that you can add by saying “Add to shopping list” but also allows you to easily shop from Amazon through your Alexa device.
Similarly, Google Home lets you add to your shopping list that’s maintained in the Google Keep app. But you can’t shop from Google Home. The binding of Google Express will be a natural fit, but it is not yet available.
What to do. Alexa features to-do lists that work similarly to shopping lists. In fact, on the app, you can easily move items between two things. Google Home does not yet have an equivalent product and that omission is both offensive and frustrating. Sure, Google Home integrates with IFFT formulas, and now that Actions is open to third-party developers, we’re sure to see something fill the void. But the lack of to-do lists is a surprising omission of indigenous people.
Let’s go out: Alexa has the advantage here. Alexa benefits from Amazon-owned IMDB, making it easy to see the information and screening schedule. But don’t ask for a ticket — that request led alexa to ask us if we wanted to buy a Fandango gift card. At least Alexa gave us the screening schedule; Google Home has just recognized the nearest theater. Book dinner? Forget it: Both devices don’t pre-order dinner as we requested.
Working time: There’s no doubt that, thanks to Google Maps, Google does better here; it can really tell you how long it takes to drive to a specific destination. But ask Alexa how long it took to drive from Roosevelt Field shopping center to Valley Stream, and she said, “I don’t know, but I found Roosevelt Field in Garden City.”
Alarms: Google Home is difficult, as Google Home allows you to have multiple alarms – which many of us consider necessary. And you also get a report back. Alexa only supports one alarm. And if you’re irritable in the morning, the best thing about Google Home is that it won’t make an impact when you yell at it, “Hey Google, shut up.” Not polite, but it turns off the alarm. Alexa was baffled by such a response and continued to alarm.
Best Friend Document: Winner, Alexa
While Google Home sounds smoother and easier to talk to, Alexa is easier to connect with. Finally, do you feel cosier with an extension with your own name like Alexa or something you need to activate by saying “Ok, Google?”
Personality and voice: Winner, Google
So Alexa is The Best Friends Document. But Google Home won the personality contest. Google Home is more flexible and less robotic, and it has better humor. Google brought in comedy writers from Pixar and The Onion to help create humor in AI conversation. And it works — the surface touches on humor when you least expect it in everyday interactions, and it makes it easy to believe that Google Home is a more comprehensive and capable chat partner.
Alexa does well enough, but her language feels rigid, with intonation and misleading content in a way that makes talking less… more human. We swear we’ve noticed some improvements since we started this experiment — such as asking Alexa to sing — but she’s still losing to Google Home.
The biggest problem with both of these new AI assistants? Both are not the same as computers in Star Trek. That popular computer voice (played by Majel Barrett Roddenberry) is the science-fiction ideal of what this AI brings to life. Surely it would be fun if one of them could figure out how to bring that voice to life. At least one recent update lets you get Alexa’s attention by saying, “computer!”
Easter Egg Warning. Of course, both Amazon and Google love Star Trek. Try redirecting Captain Picard inside of you by asking, “Tea. Count Grey. It’s hot.” Alexa replied with sentences such as, “Can’t comply. The copier is offline.” For its part, Google will reply: “Normal things will happen, captain.”