A smart speaker is an essential element for controlling your connected home. In this area, Amazon and Google compete for the majority of the market with their respective assistants, but especially their connected speakers and screens Echo and Nest. Choosing one or the other is not a trivial decision, so we made it easier for you by testing and comparing the two for six months. Here is our opinion.
Source: Hagop Kavafian for Frandroid
A connected home can include a variety of automated features, from lighting, security, thermal comfort and more. In addition to using a smartphone, the easiest way to centrally control these different objects is to use a connected speaker or screen. However, choosing the right ecosystem can be crucial, both in terms of compatibility with the rest of the products and ease of use in everyday life.
Personally, I chose Google Assistant in 2017 with a Google Home Mini, particularly because the system offered great compatibility with devices on the market and worked with my Chromecast. Over the years I have experienced many mistakes, but I am also happy about developments and improvements.
My usage has also changed, as I have now bought a Nest Audio, several Nest Hubs and a Nest Mini and use them in multi-room mode. Google Assistant helps me in everyday life, for example listening to music and controlling my devices, but also adding things to my shopping list, cooking or setting reminders. I moved into a house just over a year ago and my use of multirooms has increased, as has my use of connected devices, be it for thermal comfort or lighting.
Last winter, out of curiosity, I activated Alexa on my soundbar and discovered that Amazon’s assistant was pulling a lot of strings. I then purchased several Echo Dot and Echo Show speakers and screens earlier this year to compare the two ecosystems and assistants. Here you will find a detailed comparison that will help you choose the assistant that best suits your purpose.
A connected speaker often has a voice assistant that is responsible for listening and interpreting what you tell it. His good understanding is therefore crucial on a daily basis in order to correctly carry out the tasks you have set. At the beginning of this experiment, Alexa understood much better than her competitor what I was asking her to do: whether to play a piece of music, turn on the lights, or add items to my shopping list, in both French and English.
Google Assistant had much more difficulty understanding me, for example adding a “Georgette” to my shopping list or not understanding the end of the sentence. The problem also occurred in both languages and Google Assistant often has more difficulty switching from one language to another than Alexa. However, things have improved since September 2023 and Google Assistant seems to make fewer mistakes when talking to him, although his ear is still worse than Alexa’s.
Amazon Echo Pop (2022) // Source: Chloé Pertuis – Frandroid
The main problem I had with understanding Google Assistant is the fluctuation. Over time he got it right, then less well, then right again. It’s unfortunate and frustrating every day, even if we hope that things continue to improve in the future and not the other way around.
One area where Google Assistant far outperforms Alexa is its ability to understand complex sentences and commands. For example, if Assistant asks Google to turn off the lights in two rooms at the same time, it will recognize that it is being asked to perform two actions in several different rooms. On the other hand, Alexa cannot understand what is expected of her and simply replies that she has not found a group or device named “Kitchen and Living Room”.
Likewise, Google Assistant performs much better when it comes to searching the internet or interacting naturally with a human. Therefore, it is the right solution if you are looking for a real voice assistant. Smart, especially if you have children at home.
The main difference I noticed when using Alexa for the first time is how quickly commands execute, barely taking a second. Google Assistant took several seconds to interpret the command and turn the light in question on or off. So much so that sometimes it became pointless to ask him to turn on a light bulb when he just wanted to get an item out of a room, since I had already had time to leave the room and trip over a carpet in the hallway before that Light finally came on.
However, I have to admit that things have improved a lot in the last few weeks, with Google Assistant only taking two seconds on average to turn on a WiFi or ZigBee light bulb, compared to just one for Alexa. So there is an improvement, although Alexa remains faster on this point.
On the other hand, it simply answers stupidly “OK” when it comes to influencing a light or a socket. Google Assistant is more subtle and adjusts its behavior. If the device to be controlled is in the same room as the speaker, a musical note will be played as you can visually confirm that the action was carried out correctly, while a verbal confirmation will be given indicating the name of the device if it is in another Space.
As mentioned above, a connected speaker makes a lot of sense in a connected home as it allows control of the various connected devices. Although both Amazon and Google operate across a variety of brands and platforms, the two companies’ approach is somewhat different.
Google makes it easier to control products from different brands thanks to its Google Home application, while Amazon takes center stage by freeing itself from third-party platforms.
Home automation center
For several years now, certain models of Echo speakers and connected screens have natively included a ZigBee home automation hub, allowing you to connect light bulbs, outlets, and other home automation devices without having to use a third-party hub. This is especially true for the Philips Hue, IKEA Trådfi and Lidl Silvercrest and Livarno lamps, which can be purchased individually without the need for a gateway, saving money and space.
In practice, this means your Echo speaker will control your light bulbs and other products directly, rather than sending the request over the internet to the product gateway, which then delivers it to your device. Google has never promoted the use of Zigbee and simply connects to various products by connecting to the manufacturer’s platform. However, things could soon change with the arrival of Matter.
Although both ecosystems offer built-in routines, Alexa’s are much more sophisticated and advanced than Google’s. The number of conditions offered by Alexa far exceeds those of the Google Assistant and allows for very advanced automation.
Google simply allows you to trigger an automation based on a command at a specific time, at sunrise or sunset, or just for some states of specific devices. Alexa goes much further, also offering the ability to trigger actions by disabling an alarm clock or even when a speaker detects snoring, barking, crying, coughing, beeping, etc. In addition, Alexa offers more actions, such as the ability to send a notification, but above all the ability to control your connected devices with more possibilities and even integrate with IFTTT.
However, it should be noted that Google Home has recently started offering a very advanced script editor, but you have to program the actions to be performed yourself, which complicates things significantly.
Some Alexa-enabled automation ideas: put your radiators in eco mode when you activate the alarm or open the window, or put on relaxing music when your dog barks. However, keep in mind that you don’t necessarily need Echo speakers to use these routines and the application is sufficient. This means you can automate interactions between your advanced connected products with Alexa, while also controlling them on a daily basis with Nest Audio speakers.
Whether Alexa or Google Assistant, both go hand in hand with TV dongles from both competitors. These do not integrate and do not work in the same way, which may also affect your choice.
Chomecast vs Fire TV
Whether you prefer Google or not, you have to admit that Chromecasts are much more popular in France, which affects the way you watch TV. Not only do most box operators, with the exception of Orange, run Android TV and therefore integrate a Chromecast, but many TV applications also do not work on Fire TV. So this means that using a Fire TV will limit you to certain applications and require you to purchase an additional dongle, while your carrier may already offer one in their TV box.
Chromecast with Google TV // Source: Arnaud Gelineau for Frandroid
Additionally, if you use an Android phone or tablet, casting a program to a Chromecast device will automatically create a notification on your phone or tablet to pause and control the content, which is not the case with the Fire TV.
However, Fire TV has other tricks up its sleeve when it comes to how it works with Echo speakers. Although both players allow you to control your TV dongles through your speakers, Amazon takes the integration even further and turns the Echo speakers into surround satellites for Fire TV 4K and Cube audio.
Google has been talking about such a possibility for almost a year, with no functionality currently available.
Let’s move on to an important point for a speaker, which is music. Both Google and Alexa allow third-party management, of course without support for Amazon Music for the former or YouTube Music for the latter. Google also offers Chromecast functionality built in by many manufacturers, so a Bose or Samsung speaker, for example, can be part of a group of Nest speakers. Alexa also offers a similar feature called Alexa Cast, which is a little less common but is becoming increasingly popular among audio device manufacturers.
However, the two don’t work in the same way, starting with speed. Chromecast takes several seconds to connect, while Alexa Cast is faster and provides an almost instant connection.
Google’s Nest Audio // Source: Frandroid / Arnaud Gelineau
However, Chromecast allows you to use a TV in an audio group, allowing compatibility with an older generation home theater system. Alexa Cast offers it depending on the application used, but less systematically.
Additionally, the Chromecast app makes it easy to add or remove speakers while a channel is playing on Chromecast devices. Alexa doesn’t allow you to do this unless you create groups, complicating a task that should actually be quite simple.
Additionally, like content on TV, Chromecast-compatible devices can be controlled via a notification that automatically appears on an Android smartphone or tablet.
Finally, although audio quality is not necessarily the subject of this comparison, it is important to note that after discontinuing the Home Max, Google no longer offers high-end speakers, while Alexa continues to market its Echo Studio, making it an interesting choice for those looking for a connected speaker with very good audio quality, although there are also others with third-party Google Assistant and Alexa.
Let’s finish with the connected screens both companies offer. The approaches here are quite different, as Amazon prefers to integrate a camera into its own and thus promote video calls. Google, on the other hand, is limited to the Nest Hub Max, but integrates a radar sensor into its Nest Hub.
Amazon has also turned its connected screens into true intelligent hubs. You’re able to display customizable widgets on the homepage, so you can see things like your shopping list, calendar, and news at a glance.
Amazon’s Echo Show 15, a large screen to centralize private life // Source: FRANDROID – Robin WYCKE
Google prefers to view its Nest Hubs as design objects and only allows them to display the time or photos. It’s a real shame that it’s not possible to customize these elements, despite the recent update to Fuchsia that didn’t even improve responsiveness. The system is particularly slow and not very pleasant to use.
Which one is better?
As you have probably understood, the answer to this question is not as simple as you might think, since each product excels in a certain area. In my humble opinion, Alexa had a good lead before Google caught up somewhat by correcting major problems without offering the same innovations as Alexa.
Today, Alexa is more advanced in controlling connected devices, especially thanks to its advanced routines and its Zigbee hub built into Echo speakers and screens. It is also slightly faster than Google Assistant, which makes it the preferred partner in everyday life.
Google performs better on the music and Chromecast side, as well as in more complex interactions, without having to blush on home automation despite perhaps a slight delay. However, we regret unexpected bugs that cause the assistant to no longer understand us at times, as well as software that simply needs an update to make the screens really useful, but also a real integration of the speakers with a Chromecast for surround sound to enable.
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