Amazon and Google compete in voice-off to transform your home

Amazon and Google are competing to transform the way you operate your home, writes Noel Campion.

In 2015, Amazon brought Echo into the world; then in 2016, Google released Google Home in direct competition.

You may or may not have heard of either of these voice-assistance devices for your home because neither are available in Ireland to buy in a retail store. The only way to buy is to use a service like AddressPal and have it posted directly from the UK to your door.

I’ve been using Amazon Echo dot which is a cutdown version of its bigger sibling, for well over a year; and I’ve been using Google Home for a couple of months. While both offer similar features, there are differences.

Amazon Echo

Alexa and Google Home work like Siri or Google Assistant, but you have to plug them in and connect them to your home WiFi network. Their voice features mean that you can ask them to do all sorts of things, like “play U2” or “play TodayFM Radio”. I have a premium subscription to Spotify and the Echo works great with that, but it won’t work with the free version. Google Home will, and I don’t have to specify that I want to play music on Spotify either, like I do with the Echo.

The setup for Echo and Home require an app on your phone. For Echo, you need to install the Alexa app which you’ll search for on the internet because it’s not available on the Irish PlayStore or iOS app store.

Also, no matter what I did, I wasn’t able to get it to understand my Irish address, so when I ask it what the weather’s like outside, it gives me the forecast for Seattle. The Google Home app is freely available on both stores and it already knows from my Google profile where I live.

I can ask it “what’s the weather like?”. Or “how long should it take me to get to work?” Unlike the Echo, you can have up to six accounts on Home and creepily, it knows who’s talking to it by the sound of their voice. So, I can tell it to add something to my shopping list, or add an event to my calendar or set a reminder and it will show up in my account.

Google Home

There’s only one version of the Google Home and it comes with interchangeable but optional fabric bases — the standard is white. The speaker is more than adequate for most casual listening to music but for a better listening experience, you can connect it to an external Bluetooth speaker.

The Echo has a similar speaker quality but the Echo dot is way smaller and cheaper but lacks any oomph or musical fidelity, so if you want to listen to music on it, then an external speaker is a must either via Bluetooth or the 3.5mm AUX out.

The Echo has been around longer but has also gained a lot more support for home devices than the Google Home.

However, the support for Home has grown since its launch and all of my smarthome devices are supported including LiFX bulbs, Netatmo Heating Thermostat and Weather Station, TP Link SmartPlugs and DLink Camera. I did find that Echo worked better with my lights but Home gave me more features with the Netatmo stuff.

I have three Echo Dots and use them for different reasons in each location. In the kitchen, it’s great for setting timers and listening to internet radio or more, while in the living room I’ll use it to control the lights from the comfort of the couch.

You can buy three Echo Dots for the price of one Google Home or Amazon Echo so for me it made sense and I can see Google releasing a similar competing product in the future.

If you use a Google Chromecast connected to your TV then you can ask it to play a specific show or movie on Netflix.

Overall, Amazon Echo has better support but doesn’t play as well in Ireland as it does in the UK. That being said, the Echo Dot only costs £49.99 and the full version is on a special at the moment for £99 both with free UK post. The Google Home costs £129. Both are only available in the UK.


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