Amazon Echo vs Google Home: which one should you buy?
By Martin Pratt
The Amazon Echo was first on the voice-controlled smart hub scene, but has the Google Home perfected the technology? We compare the two.
Talking to an inanimate plastic object in your living room would have earned you some bemused looks a few years ago, but now thousands of people in the UK have an Amazon Echo or Google Home perched on their shelf. But which is best?
These voice-controlled smart hubs are a gateway to the internet and a way of controlling other smart home tech you might have dotted around your home. Devices, such as smart light bulbs, thermostats, smart plugs and more can be controlled with simple commands, meaning you don’t need to reach for your phone every time you want to make an adjustment.
Both the Amazon Echo and Google Home talk back, too. They can answer questions and read Wikipedia entries and news bulletins. Plus, their list of abilities is ever expanding thanks to regular software updates.
Both of these devices' features are strikingly similar - much like comparing an iPhone to a Samsung Galaxy handset or 4K TVs from Samsung and LG. Does anything set them apart and should you choose one over the other? Our unique lab tests provide the answer and you can see the results in the table below.
Only logged-in Which? members can view our exclusive ratings of the Amazon Echo and Google Home in the table. If you're not yet a member, sign up for a £1 trial to get instant access.
Amazon Echo and Google Home test results
- 5 out of 5
- 5 out of 5
- Home security:
- 2 out of 5
- 3 out of 5
- 4 out of 5
- iOS privacy:
- 5 out of 5
Which is the best for controlling your smart tech?
The Google Home and Amazon Echo are personal assistants, wireless speakers and smart hubs all rolled into one neat package. Regardless of what initially attracts you to these devices they should be competent in all three areas.
Being a good smart hub means they should be compatible with devices from different brands, and using voice control shouldn’t be more limiting than using an app. Ideally all of the same options would be available to owners of either of these smart hubs. If you use your Philips Hue light bulbs app to dim lights in different rooms, then a voice command to an Amazon Echo or Google Home should be able to do the same thing.
The good news is that both of these hubs work with a wide range of smart tech, including some of the most popular devices, such as the Nest camera and Nest thermostat, Hive thermostats, Samsung SmartThings devices and more.
Both Google and Amazon have a range of peripherals, which are steadily getting intergrated with the hubs.
Google Chromecasts, which let you stream video and pictures to a TV, and Chromecast Audio, which lets you stream music to speakers and stereos, are both compatible. If you have these peripherals you can ask the Google Home to play House of Cards on your TV or play Stevie Wonder on your bedroom stereo. The Echo does the same thing with its range of Fire Stick TV streamers.When you buy one of these hubs, it’s worth checking if devices you already own, or plan to buy in the future, are compatible. You don’t want to be stuck with a hub that only controls half of your connected tech.
Which is better at understanding you?
If you’ve ever barked commands at an unruly dog only to see it ignore you and chase your neighbour’s cat anyway, you’ll understand the frustration of supposedly smart tech that can’t understand a word you're saying.
The Google Home and Amazon Echo pride themselves on being able to understand anyone, even if there is music playing, and our lab tests confirmed it. Both hubs did an excellent job recognising voice commands, though they struggled more when there were several competing voices in the room – you’ll need to tell your friends and family to keep it down when you want to chat with your hub.
Of course the Echo or Google Home need to be within earshot of you and, unless you don’t mind shouting from the other end of the house, you’ll need to be in the same room to be heard. However, the Echo has an optional extra that gives it the edge over Google Home. You can buy a small remote that acts as a portable microphone. Talk into it and your Echo will hear regardless of where you are in the house. Don’t take it to the shops with you though - it needs to be on the same wireless network.
What's unique about the Google Home?
The Google Home is better at recognising you. It can recognise six unique voices and respond contextually to who is speaking. If Dad asks it, ‘What’s on my agenda today?’ the hub will respond with events from his specific diary. It’s possible that this function could be broadened to include parental controls, so if a child asks it to play Die Hard on the TV it won’t work because they aren’t old enough to watch it.
It’s also the only hub of the two that’s customisable. You can change the colour of mesh to suit your décor, whereas you’re limited to black or white with the Echo.
What’s unique about the Amazon Echo?
The Amazon Echo’s standout feature is the fact you have more choice. The £150 model has a large speaker and, like the Google Home, it's designed for playing music. If you’ve already got speakers you could save £100 and buy the Echo Dot. This smaller, hockey-puck-sized hub is identical to the full-size one in every way except the size of the speaker.
You wouldn’t want to listen to music on an Echo Dot, but you can connect it to your existing speakers via Bluetooth or an aux cable. Once connected, Alexa’s dulcet tones and your favourite songs will play on your lovely stereo rather than the Dot’s tinny speaker.
You can connect a Google Home to your speaker via Bluetooth, but you need to pay £30 for a Chromecast Audio first.
The Echo’s other standout feature is 'skills'. These are like apps and you can activate them from the Alexa smartphone app or by saying the specific activation command. Anyone can make a skill and there are already thousands available. They range from the sublime to the ridiculous, but for every skill that makes Alexa meow, there’s another that tells you whether your flight will be delayed.
Which one should you buy?
The most important factor is compatibility. You want a hub that works with your current and future devices. If one hub doesn’t work with your tech, your decision is all but made.
You should also consider how each speaker sounds. If you think you’ll be listening to music on either of these hubs, find out how they rated as wireless speakers. We have already run the Echo through our wireless speaker test - you can see how it fared in our Amazon Echo speaker review - and we'll have speaker results for the Google Home soon.