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. To find out which one performed best at answering our questions when we pitted the two against each other - scroll beyond the tables below to see our video. Plus, their list of abilities is ever expanding thanks to regular software updates.
The features of these devices 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 - you can see the results in the table below.
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Amazon Echo and Google Home test results
Amazon Echo (2nd generation)
Which? score %
As a hybrid of music speaker, smart home hub and voice-activated home assistant, the Amazon Echo was a truly unique product when it first came out. The second generation model is claimed to be an improvement, but can Amazon stay ahead of Google in the smart hub race?
Which? score %
Google's answer to the Amazon Echo is Google Home, with its rival to Alexa being the built-in voice-controlled helper, Google Assistant. It can give information, answer questions and control smart gadgets, but can Google really topple the all-conquering Echo?
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 integrated 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, as they do in our video above, 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?
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.
Both the Google Home and the Amazon Echo can call other devices, but while an Echo can only contact other Echos or devices with the Alexa app installed, a Google Home can contact mobiles and landlines.
Our research has found that the most common use for these hubs is playing music and while they all have speakers only Google has made one designed for room-filling sound. The Google Home Max is a hefty hub that is just as much a competitor to a Sonos Play:5 or Samsung R7 as it is for an Amazon Echo. You can see what we thought of its sound quality in our Google Home Max first look review.
What’s unique about the Amazon Echo?
The Amazon Echo’s standout feature is that it gives you more choice.
Both Google and Amazon now have a smaller hub - the Google Home Mini and Echo Dot respectively - but Amazon is the only one to put a screen in one of its hubs. The Amazon Echo Show works in the same as any other Echo, but the added screen means it can show you videos, pictures, song lyrics, news bulletins and more. You can see whether we thought the screen was a useful addition to the Echo formula in our Amazon Echo Show review.
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. Any of Amazon's hubs can be connected to other speakers in the same way.
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 run both the Echo and Google Home through our wireless speaker test - you can see how they fared in our Amazon Echo speaker review and our Google Home speaker review.