At its launch, Google Home had the advantage of undercutting the first-generation Echo by $50. But now that the original Echo’s no longer sold and the second-generation Echo is $100, the Home’s now the pricier smart speaker.
Even so, the Home still puts the Echo to shame, and is well worth the extra $30 if you want the smartest smart speaker in town.
But as smart as Alexa is, Google Assistant is a lot smarter because of the work Google has put in to understand natural language and context. It can also tap directly into Google Search and other services.
If you already own an Echo, you probably don’t need a Home, unless you really care about having the Assistant read you search results. But if you don’t own an Echo and haven’t yet set up a smart home, Home is a great smart speaker to pick up (assuming you’re okay with giving Google a physical presence in your home).
Fits right at home
Say what you want about Home looking like a Glade air freshener, but compared to the the Echo Plus, it’s a downright looker.
Home blends better into my home decor on my kitchen counter or on a bookshelf than the black-Pringles-can look the Echo Plus has going. Home looks less like a gadget and more like a piece of modern art; the only thing that gives it away is the flat cable snaking out the backside, but that can easily be tucked away.
Home is also customizable. The standard gray fabric base pops right off with a light tug and you can swap in a different color made of either fabric ($20) or metal ($40). Google sent over a “Mango”-colored fabric base and a black metal base to check out and I’ve taken a real liking to the orange.
The second-generation Echo is definitely more of a looker than the Echo Plus — it’s roughly the same dimensions as the Home and Amazon also sells “” in a variety of finishes such as fabric ($20), wood ($30), and plastic ($30). Ultimately, which one fits better in your home is a decision only you can make.
On the back of the Home, there’s a single button to mute and un-mute the microphone. And that’s it for physical buttons, unless you count the touch-sensitive top; you can tap it to play and pause a song, use a clockwise gesture (with one finger) to increase volume and a counterclockwise gesture to decrease volume, and tap it to cancel a Google Assistant command.
The top lights up with four dots (blue, red, yellow and green) when you say “OK, Google” or “Hey, Google,” and they spin when it’s searching for an answer.
Controlling your house
Functionally, Home is capable of doing everything the Echo does. Just like the Echo, it’s got a built-in speaker to play music from various music services like Google Play Music, YouTube Music, Spotify (both and premium accounts are supported) and Pandora. It also connects to smart home devices including but not limited to vendors such as Philips, Nest, Logitech, SmartThings, TP-Link, etc. It also works with the digital “recipe” service .
The number of things Google Home currently does compared to when it launched is staggering. Beyond the aforementioned smart speaker staples, Home’s capabilities have been expanded to include some cool tricks like (U.S., UK, and Canada), , help you , help you , and .
If you’ve never used an Echo with Alexa to control your smart home, you’re going to be mighty impressed.
Using the Google Home app for iOS and Android, I was able to easily connect my Philips Hue smart light bulbs and Nest Cam, and within minutes say “OK, Google, turn on living room lights.”
If you’ve never used an Echo with Alexa to control your smart home, you’re going to be mighty impressed. It’s going to feel like magic. But since I’ve been using an Echo and Alexa for years now, it just felt normal. The “OK, Google” command doesn’t feel quite as personal as “Alexa…” (or “Hey, Siri” for that matter), but good thing you can say “Hey, Google” as well.
Despite its small size, the Home is a decent speaker. Google says it included a “high-excursion speaker” for clear highs and rich bass. The speaker sounds good (comparable to most $50-75 Bluetooth speakers), but the second-gen Echo and Echo Plus sound better with deeper bass and clearer highs at the loudest volume. You’ll hear more distortion at louder volumes with Home. If you really want the loudest sound on a Google smart speaker, the is the way to go.
When Home launched in 2016, it didn’t have as much third-party smart home device support as the Echo. For example, my Wink smart plug, wasn’t compatible. But things have changed since and Home now supports virtually every major smart home brand, which brings it up to par with the Echo.
One thing Home has going for it: Chromecast support. If you’ve got a plugged into your TV or a plugged into a speaker and they’re turned on, you can say something like “OK, Google, play Casey Neistat videos on TV,” and it’ll play his newest vlog video. Say “OK, Google, play tThe Weeknd on bedroom speaker,” and it’ll play music from whatever supported music service you have it set to.
It’s not quite full entertainment-center automation but really cool nonetheless. Besides, it’s just awesome being able to use voice controls to play YouTube videos.
Smarter than Alexa
“Credit to the team at Amazon for creating a lot of excitement in [the home AI space],” Sundar Pichai, Google’s CEO, said during 2016’s I/O keynote. “We’ve been thinking about our own unique approach.”
It’s rare for a company, let alone one as large as Google, to publicly tip its hat at a competitor. But by doing so, Google admit Amazon was onto something with a voice-controlled platform.
The Google Assistant is Google’s equivalent of Amazon’s Alexa. It’s the same digital assistant that’s built into Android phones, smartwatches, Chromebooks, smart TVs, etc.
Powered by over a decade of natural-language processing and Google Search, the Assistant is simply brainier than Alexa in almost every way. It knows 70 billion facts, according to Google, and is constantly adding more knowledge to its artificial gray matter. If it doesn’t know something, it’ll try to find an answer from the internet using Google Search.
While reviewing the , I pitted the Assistant against Siri and the Assistant . I did the same with the Assistant and Alexa and — no surprise — the Assistant was able to answer more questions in more detail.
For starters, the Assistant is able to understand context better. For instance, you can ask it a question, then follow it with another and another. Alexa couldn’t even answer the first question below.
Q: When did Michael Jordan retire?
Home: Michael Jordan career ended in 1995 and 2003.
Q: And how tall is he?
Home: He’s 6’6″ tall.
Q: Does he have any kids?
Home: Marcus Jordan, Jeffrey Michael Jordan, and three others.
Q: Where does he live now?
Home: According to Reference.com, Jordan also owns a luxury condo in Charlotte, N.C. and a property in Salt Lake City. He has sold his Chicago mansion for $29 million.
Missed the answer the first time? Just say “repeat that.” But don’t wait too long or else the Assistant will tell you “I forgot what I said.”
The stronger conversational queries are great, but they’re not perfect. Sometimes when you ask a completely unrelated follow-up question, it still thinks you’re talking about the same previous topic.
Assistant also knows traffic information data:
Q: How long does it take to bike to the World Trade Center?
Home: It takes 18 minutes to bike to One World Trade Center.
Echo: Your current location is 10.6 miles, 17.1 kilometers from World Trade Center. As I don’t know your speed, I can’t tell you how long it’ll take.
And the weather in more places:
Q: What’s the weather like in Lake Elkhorn?
Home: Right now in Lake Elkhorn, it’s 57 and cloudy. Today, it’ll be cloudy with a forecast high of 59 and a low of 58.
Echo: Sorry, I couldn’t find info on location.
And translations (although not all of the languages from Google Translate), which is super convenient:
Q: Translate “This is the best day ever” into French.
Home: C’est le meilleur jour.
Echo: Sorry, I don’t have the answer to that question.
And recipes (swiped from the internet):
Q: How do I make meatloaf?
Home: According to McCormick: Preheat oven to 350°F. Mix ground beef, bread crumbs, egg and seasonings in large bowl. Shape into a loaf on shallow baking pan. Pour ketchup over top. Bake 55 to 60 minutes or until cooked through.
Echo: Hmm, I don’t know but you can take a look at the Bing search link I added in the Alexa app.
And nutritional info (to maybe help you stop eating so much junk):
Q: How much fiber is there in a pretzel?
Home: There are 0.9 grams of fiber in one salted pretzel.
Echo: Hmm, I can’t find the answer to the question I heard.
And how to soothe a sore throat:
Q: What do I do about my sore throat?
Home: Here’s some information that’ll help soothe sore throats. According to Every Day Roots: Heat the water until it is very warm, but not so warm that you can’t drink it. Mix in ½ teaspoon of salt and ½ teaspoon or a little less baking soda, stir, and test the temperature. Pour some of the liquid into your throat, let it sit for a moment, then gargle. Do this twice in a row 3 times daily.
Echo: Sorry, I didn’t understand the question I heard.
The Assistant is also funny:
Q: Is Siri better than you?
Home: Siri is the best Siri. I try to be the best Google Assistant. I think Siri is great. I’m definitely more Google-y.
Echo: I’m not better. Just different.
And knows way more pickup lines than Alexa:
Q: Tell me a pickup line.
Did it hurt when you fell from heaven? If so, I can find you the nearest doctors office.
It’s a good thing I have my library card because I love books.
Do you wash your clothes with Windex? Because you shouldn’t, I can find tips for doing laundry.
If I could rearrange the alphabet I wouldn’t because that would be mayhem.
This place must have have good Wi-Fi because I’m definitely feeling a good connection.
You must be the square root of two because I get irrational around you.
Where Home and Echo both fall short is making shopping lists. You can add items to a shopping list (Home adds it to your Google Keep app) but you can’t remove any items using voice controls. I don’t need toilet paper on my list twice, guys!
Pichai touted Assistant as “your own personal Google.” Hands-down, Assistant is the smartest digital assistant on the block and it’s only going to get better.
Setting up a multi-room setup is also easy and can be affordable. Like the Echo ecosystem, you can get a Google Home and then add a to additional rooms. The Mini’s only $50, which is the same price as the . You also aren’t limited to Google’s own Assistant-powered devices; there are tons of Assistant-equipped smart speakers from third-party brands that can connect together with the Home for multi-room audio.
Gets better over time
Home is instantly intuitive to use and intelligent enough to satisfy anyone who’s never used a voice-controlled digital assistant at home before.
Google unapologetically cloned virtually all of the Echo’s features and then went further integrating its own Google services.
I’ve got my quibbles with the Assistant’s limitations just like I did with Alexa at first, but Google’s still only scratching the surface of what it can do. In the two years since it launched, the Google Home really has become like your own personal Google — you just have to be willing to trust Google with all your data.
If you already own an Echo and live in the Alexa ecosystem, I wouldn’t recommend getting a Google Home. You really don’t need two different competing smart speaker platforms at home since they do virtually the same things. But if you’re new to the smart home, the Google Home’s a solid buy.