Picking the best smart speaker from the ever-growing tech industry is by all means an uphill task.
The Anakim family is majorly dominated by Amazon, Google, and Apple, with many other siblings tagging close behind.
In this review, we tackle the two goliaths; Amazon and Google, who have been at each other’s necks demanding supremacy in making your home smart.
We get down and dirty to reveal the little secrets behind their smart speakers, Amazon Echo, and Google Home.
It is true that the only thing you cannot buy from Amazon today is life. Everything else is in the smiley logo’s menu.
And if you have to look for anything online, Google has your back, all colors included. The two deliver everything you need at the touch of the button. Or is it the call of its name?
However, in a world where less is more when thinking of smart homes, the legacy is on the brand as a whole.
Maybe you should care who minds your privacy more than who gives you everything. Remember, whatever you give, can be given to another. Just saying.
As Amazon Echo and Google Home/Nest speakers deliver a wealth of resourcefulness in your home, we considered three main areas we believe would help you decide which one to take home.
The looks, the brain, and their works. Then we go on to define their middle grounds. But first, let us introduce their latest babies in the market and a little about where they are coming from.
Amazon Echo (4th Generation)
The Alexa-enabled fully dome-shaped speaker with a 'sitting allowance' comes with a 3-inch upward-firing woofer and two 0.8-inch front-firing tweeters supporting Dolby Audio.
You are assured of filling your house with rich, detailed sound; clear highs, full mids, and deep bass.
It allows you to stream music from Amazon Music, Spotify, SiriusXM, Pandora, and Apple Music at your voice command.
It also allows you to tune to local radio stations, dive into your favorite podcast or enjoy the companion of that audiobook from Audible.
Your help is extended to setting alarms, controlling other compatible smart home devices, checking weather, news, and guiding the little ones with their homework.
Amazon Echo’s new shape opposes its predecessor's cylindrical shape to take an adorable, homely spherical shape.
It is powered by the new Amazon's AZ1 Neural Edge processor to accelerate machine learning applications.
Echo has Bluetooth Low Energy for reduced power consumption and enhanced communication range, making it possible to use Amazon Sidewalk. It also has a built-in ZigBee smart home hub to keep the related devices in the loop.
Its exterior structure is built with 50% post-consumer recycled plastics, 100% post-consumer recycled fabric and 100% recycled die-cast aluminum.
The Amazon Echo measures 5.2 inches in height, 5.7 inches wide, and weighs about 2.14 pounds. It comes in three colors; charcoal, twilight blue, and glacier white blending well with the colors of your home decor.
When you give the wake command “Hey Alexa”, the Amazon Echo smart speaker's ring lights blue. And unlike the older versions of the Echo speakers that had the ring on top, this one has it at the bottom. Chances of the light irritating your eyes are low.
This smart speaker allows you to set an alternate wake name using the Alexa App just in case a member of your family also goes by the famous Alexa title. The App is compatible with Fire OS, Android, and iOS devices.
Its Alexa button sits at the top of the dome together with the volume on/off and mic mute to give you privacy when you need to keep the story within the confines of your family.
The 3.5mm audio jack and power port sit at the back.
The first generation of Amazon Echo was launched in 2014 featuring smart speakers with Alexa virtual assistance.
The slim and tall cylinder measuring 9.25 inches in height and 3.3 inches in diameter wireless speakers are willing to wake you up, tell on the weather, and venture on a few other soft home chores at the call of their name.
Amazon Echo’s Predecessors
This original, first-generation Amazon Echo is equipped with a 2.5-inch woofer delivering deep bass, a 2.0-inch tweeter for crispy high notes, and a 7-microphone array listening for your command.
This smart speaker pioneered the famous blue ring that lights up when Alexa is at work. It has only two buttons; action and mic mute, both sitting at the top surface of the speaker surrounded by the mics.
It is cylindrical-shaped measuring 9.25 inches in height by 3.3 inches in diameter.
For connectivity, it has both dual-band Wi-Fi to connect to the internet and Bluetooth to support audio streaming to Bluetooth speakers. Alexa App aids in the connection.
Since the original design birthed in 2014, the Echo family metamorphosed to 2017’s Amazon Echo; yet another cylinder but this time shorter and thicker.
You are looking at a 5.8 x 3.4-inch smart speaker with a 2.5-inch down-firing woofer, 0.6-inch tweeter, 7-microphone array, the obvious blue ring, and 4 buttons at the top; action, mic mute, volume up and down.
Amazon’s desire for smartness inspired the silver, oak, and walnut finishings as well as charcoal, sandstone, and heather fabrics, shells you can buy separately, and clothe the smart speakers to match your home décor.
The third generation of Amazon Echo presents a 5.8 x 3.9-inch cylindrical smart speaker powered by a 3.0-inch down-firing woofer, a 0.8-inch tweeter, and similar controls as its predecessor.
Its sound quality is more superior to that of its older siblings with the Dolby powering delivering 360-degree immersive sound. This feature is carried on in the spherical Fourth generation Amazon Echo but with dual tweeters instead of the previous one.
Of course, Amazon Echo has other smart speakers in various iterations; Echo Plus, Echo Dot, Echo Show, Echo Studio to mention but a few.
Among them all, it is the arresting design of the newest kid in the block, the Fourth Generation Echo that steals the show.
Google Nest Audio
The newest smart speakers in Google family slots a little above the Google Nest Mini going for around $49 and way below the massive Nest Max that goes for about $300.
The Google Nest audio is seen as the spiritual successor of the original Google Home.
Nest Audio comes in a loaf-like shape. Its soft rounded corners with a rectangular take stands in a world of its own, measuring 6.89 inches high, 4.89 inches wide, and 3.07 inches deep.
It weighs a whopping 2.65 pounds courtesy of the undercover aluminum and magnesium chassis.
Parts of its casing are made with 70% recycled plastic. The outer wrapping fabric comes in up to five colors; green, blue, pink, light gray, and dark gray.
You are treated to neutral sounds; a calm leveling of the crisp highs, soothing mids, and deep lows, from the 2.95 inches mid-woofer and 0.75 inches tweeter.
It is powered by a Quad-Core A531.8GHz processor, uses dual-band Wi-Fi for connectivity, and Google Assistant for voice is supported by both Android and iOS.
MediaEQ enables the sound quality from Nest Audio to adapt to any room you place the speakers in regardless of the audio content you are listening to.
Its Ambient IQ adjusts the volume to level out the noise in its surrounding environment. For more bass-y tones, adjust the bass and treble from the Google Home App on your smartphone.
These speakers play music from Google Play, iHeartRadio, Pandora, Spotify, TuneIn Radio, and YouTube. If you have music on your phone that you need to listen to, you must upload it to the cloud and then stream it back!
Nest Audio also gives you access to the alarm, delivers weather news, traffic updates if you set up your location with the Google Home App, and receive local News. All at the bare minimum.
Like all Google smart speakers, Nest Audio uses Google Assistance for voice commands. You can use 'Hey Google' instead of the former 'Ok Google' that your Android Phone still clings to.
On controls, Google Nest Audio's upper part of the face is touch-sensitive. Tapping the top right corner increases the volume, mid-area carries the play/pause functions while the top left reduces the volume.
The belly section has four colored LEDs that light up when the speakers hear your voice or when responding to your commands. The mic mute button and power port are situated on its back.
The smart speakers can pair with others of a similar type for stereo output or married to other speaker groups for multi-room audio setup on further configurations.
Google Home’s Predecessors
Between the first Google Home birthed in 2016 and Nest Audio launched in October 2020, Google's smart speakers have evolved several times and rebranded to the Nest name, a gesture thought to allow competition with other brands adopting Google Assistance for voice command. Not to mention the smart displays to spice up the race.
In the previous version, the 2019 Google Nest Mini boasts of fast processing, great sound, and a short-roundish figure.
This is the second generation in the Home ecosystem standing at 1.65 inches in height and 3.85 in diameter with a fabric covering coming in coral, sky, and chalk. It assumes a small round cushion shape and weighs about 0.4 pounds.
There is also the Google Home Mini that resembles the Nest Mini but slightly lighter in weight and costs about $10 less.
Its sound is not as superior as the Nest Mini but it comes with a wall mounting for easier placement around your home.
Unlike the Nest, Home Mini has a reset button below the power port that when held down for 10 seconds puts the smart speaker back to factory settings.
The Mama in the family, the original Google Home is the almost-cylinder with a rounded bottom speaker measuring 5.6 inches tall and 3.79 inches in diameter.
The speakers have a swappable base and fabric allowing you to dress them according to your home decor without missing a season.
The top is made with smooth but hard plastic that lights in four LEDs when eavesdropping on your conversations.
The same top is touch-sensitive allowing you to pause or play the music and can be stroked to raise or lower the volume.
It can capture your voice for commands at up to 50 feet distance; unfortunately, it is not as loud as most users would like. In fact, the Nest Audio is 75% louder with a 50% stronger bass than the mama.
Now that you know the two smart speakers’ ecosystems, let us place the two on the seesaw, shall we?
Amazon Echo versus Google Home. Which One To Take Home.
As expected, when this review is done, your decision; whether to take Amazon Echo smart speakers home or Google Home will get easier.
And since both have developed over time, we will focus on the original versions and glide all the way to their new representatives as we compare one to the other. That way, you know what side to lean as you make the buying decision.
If you are going to interact with any speakers claiming to be smart, they had better have the looks to satisfy the claim. This is one area we felt Google Home designers went off and Amazon Echo won the battle.
Both speakers began with the cylindrical shape in mind but branched to enticing shapes to please the market.
Echo took the time to grow through the cylinder thickening it until it turned to a bubble. Speaking to the dome-shaped fourth-generation Amazon Echo gives you an on-top-of-the-world feeling. Especially when the blue ring at the bottom shines as you chat with it!
Google Home on the other hand graduated from the round-bottom cylindrical speaker with a slanting head and some minion-y warmth to a rounded pillow and now seems to return to the old shape.
Only this time, the speakers’ rectangular block-y shape feels uninspiring. It does not bring out the intelligence bit of AI or a robotic feel that would win the heart of the market. User Experience let down.
What knocked the boots off our feet though is the ability to create the much-needed contrast by Google Home’s base and fabric with the home decor.
You have up to 7 bold colors to play with. A fair compromise if you may. Echo’s swappable fabric is a bit low toned and may not spark the fire in most homes.
Regardless of your speakers of choice, they are only the hardware. All that beauty you see is incomplete without the smart part of life, the voice assistants. The top five in the world include Amazon’s Alexa, Google Assistant, Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana, and Samsung’s Bixby.
Alexa scoops the hearts of many in the race on voice assistants both in Amazon’s smart speakers and third-party troop.
Unlike Google Assistant, Alexa is praised first for making your shopping sprees ABC-easy by directing you to the world’s mega shop that only fails to package life, Amazon.
The intelligent voice assistant is equipped with the Skills to feature to enable you to make the most out of your Amazon Echo smart speakers.
Among the over 100,000 Amazon Skills available, you can command your smart home devices around and they will dance to your tune.
With the Echo smart speakers, you not only get to know what the weather outside is up to but also order a pizza, find a hospital nearby, Send a hug, give donations to a meaningful cause, call the veterinary for your pet and even have a workout coach!
Even, “Alexa, ask Uber to request a ride” is possible. And that is just the teaser.
You however need to memorize the skills’ phrases for meaningful results.
The voice assistant is yet to learn how to turn wrongly phrased commands into something worthwhile. But they say, they are soon getting there.
Alexa is built on the cloud, and that alone restores our faith in Amazon Echo. The voice assistant’s learning curve continues to get better by the day as it learns your voice, vocabulary, patterns, and preferences.
This has garnered support and acceptance for Alexa in over 7500 brands. Its ease of use makes it easy to adopt in non-Amazon speakers such as Bose and Sonos. That way, your Amazon Echo has mates from other mothers to invite into the multi-room audio party.
Alexa App runs and can be managed on Fire Os, Android, iOS, and desktop browsers allowing your speakers to relate with several smart devices.
This praise is not to mean Google Assistant is sleeping on the job.
The voice assistant picks the fame from its mother Google, the search engine, and runs with it. So when you are handling web-based queries, it whips Alexa’s behind big time!
Have you noticed, from your browser, when you Google the price of an item, the results include those from Amazon, but you cannot search Amazon for web-based queries?
That should tell you who is winning that bit of the race.
And as if that is not enough, Google Assistant does not require you to memorize phrases to obey your command.
Spit your gibberish and Google will work overtime to make sense out of it and give you the most probable answer. And more often than not, it is correct.
That makes its response time shorter and more satisfying. As far as intelligence is concerned, Google Assistant has the muscle you need. After all, Google is always listening.
The cherry on the cake goes to Google as far as privacy is concerned. Contrary to many users’ beliefs about Google as a company, they are not out to get what you do not want to give.
So if you have been speaking to Nest Audio with the microphone on and you decide the information is too sensitive to float about, you can delete the history by saying, “Hey Google, delete what I just said.”
The Assistant gets rid of the information and is no longer able to use it as part of its learning.
By the way, you can teach Google Assistant a thing or two about something you believe it gave a wrong answer to. That way, other people asking a similar question get help from your answer. Learning never stops at Google.
Let us start with what speakers are made for, sound.
Upon testing both in similar environments, we felt that Google Home sounds great at low to medium volume, but on raising it beyond 75%, it is all cranky.
Getting such results from Google Home is okay, but the fact that Nest Audio uses the very word but does not deliver good sound at peak volume is worrisome.
We feel that Google engineers did not give the world the best thrust on sound as far as smart speakers are concerned
The fourth-generation Amazon Echo won the points for allowing us to play Snoop’s rap at 100% volume and still retain the music’s glory.
On connectivity, Amazon Echo embraces both Bluetooth and dual-band Wi-Fi. That allows the Echo to act as Bluetooth speakers; you can play music stored in your smartphone via Bluetooth then turn to Spotify and stream from the internet.
Google Home and the siblings have no Bluetooth feature so if you have to play music stored in your phone, you must first upload it to the cloud then stream it back.
That however is a blessing in disguise since Echo no longer allows uploading music to the cloud.
Echo comes with a 3.5mm audio jack allowing you to connect to bigger speakers, not the intelligent type, for a better boom. Home lacks the feature.
Amazon Echo and Google Home. Middle Grounds For Your Benefit
This is where the two warring goliaths seek your attention through compromise instead of competition.
The first is in pricing. We feel that Amazon Echo as an ecosystem allows you to pick from the spread pricing; from the affordable to those you have to think twice about before swiping the card.
A good example is the Echo Dot versus the smart screen option, Echo Show. Google on the other hand seems to play it safekeeping the price within reach. Rarely going above $100 except when you choose to go Max.
The second area is in multi-room music playing. Both smart speakers allow you to play your preferred content from various speakers in different rooms provided you observe compatibility among the speakers.
And since the voice assistants in both have been adopted by other brands of speakers, with Alexa leading the pack, you are not held at ransom to going either all-Google or all-Amazon. Spice up your sound!
Third, both speakers allow outbound voice calls and can recognize the voices of different users. As long as the receiving end has the appropriate app, you are good to go. This favor extends to text messages.
Fourth, environmental care is well respected by both teams. From the reviews, it is clear that both Google Home and Amazon Echo ensure to use recycled plastic and fabric for the exterior structure of the smart speakers. We feel they are worth the applause.
Finally, they both keep the control features nice and simple.
They use colorful LEDs, touch surfaces, and mute buttons minimally, increasing the hands-free factor especially now that the COVID-19 cloud is still at large.
The war on the best smart speaker to take home can go on forever now that more serious tech giants are daring the field.
The focus on Google Home and Amazon Echo comes about due to the power struggles witnessed between the two over time.
Like the story of users sometimes not being able to stream music from YouTube on Amazon Echo just because Google owns the station.
So where does that leave you?
From the reviews and history above, if looks do not bother you and you have money to spend as you wish, then you should focus on great sound and a devoted voice assistant.
The latter is the smart-aspect of the speakers anyway. Since we have stripped both Alexa and Google Assistant bare and then talked about the audio bit, it is now your turn to decide on who to take home.
But if you are keen, the writing is actually on the wall.
A slice of advice: Amazon and Google are what we like to call jealous suitors and they are not about to accept colla-petition any time soon.
They want dominance. They want to own you, your home, and your whole life. So for sanity of mind, pick the best smart speaker; Amazon Echo or Google Home, and go home!