I’d be lying if I said unplugging my Amazon Echo didn’t feel a bit like a breakup. “Alexa,” I whispered while pulling the plug, “it’s just for now.” Butit wasn’t Alexa, it was me. More specifically, it was someone else. I needed the space for Google Home.
The $129 Home smart speaker playsa vital role inGoogle’s futuristic vision of “a Google for everyone,” powered by itsomnipresent Assistant. Virtually nothing about it is new; it’s like someGoogler bought an Echo and wondered if, uh, maybe Google should make one, too. (I mean, the product development timeline does allow for this.) Its not a knock-off, though. Google aspires to another level of power, personalization, and accuracy—not to mention a cuter package than the goth tennis ball can Amazon designed.
I like Home. It providesmuch of what Echo offers, while signaling far more product and platform ambition than Amazon. Great potential is worth only so much, though, and Amazon seems to understand better than anyone what’s possible withthese devices right now. Sometimes Home feels like sci-fi magic. Sometimes it reaches beyond its grasp and falls flat. The Echo is less impressive, but more reliable.
The good news is, you cant go wronghere. Youll like them both, though neither is perfect. The question is how much youre willing to bet on what these devices could be, and which company you think can deliver on that promise.
Speaker of the House
Any gadget sitting front-and-center in your home had better look nice. Home does. It sits 6inches tall, with a bulbous bottom and a sharply sloped top which makes it easy to seethe four lights that indicate Home is listening or working. It looks like something you might plant a succulent in, or a modernist orange juice carafe. Or an air freshener.
Home looks like a gadget you’d actually want in your home. Assistant does all the basic things really well, plus a few remarkably cool things too. It’s an impressively good speaker, for such a tiny package.
Not much of the Google-infused personalization or intelligence seems to be here yet. Google doesn’t have many third-party partners yet, so you’re stuck in Google Land.
How We Rate
The potential here is enormous, perhapsbigger than what Amazon could ever offer with Alexa. Right now, you can say “OK Google, play Last Week Tonight on my living room TV,” and Home connects to Chromecast tomake it happen. You can network a bunch of Homes together and pump music through your house. You can keep a shopping list in Google Keep, and check your Google Calendar. Echo, of course, can do most of this as well; to truly differentiate, Google needs to integrate more of its services more deeply. Why can’t I email from Home? Or make phone calls through Voice or Hangouts? Or search for photos and see them on my phone? Home also needs more third-party partners, because surprise, not everyone uses all Google everything.
Someday, assuming Google keeps caring about Home, I suspect the device will be more like the ad. It’ll be smart and integrated enough to know that your flight is delayed and change your dinner reservation, to turn on all the lights in your house, to tell you how to get to work, to teach your kids about the world, and all the rest. Right now, it’s simpler than that. Like, a lot simpler.
A Familiar Sound
Don’t get me wrong. As much as I wish Google Home lived up to its future promises, its a fantastic addition to my living room right now. It’s hard to describe how nice it is to play music just by asking for it, or turn on NPR without lifting a finger. You never realize how many times you pull out your phone for one tiny, insignificant thing, until you finally havea better way to do it.
Of course, all that is true of the Echo, too. Home might be better two years from now, but right now they’re more or less the same device. So here’s where I landed, after 18 months with the Echo and a week or so with Home: They’re both great.
Helpful, right? If you don’t own either, I’d say buy a Google Home. It’s cheaper, it’s just as good in almost every important way, and Google’s ambition for both this product and Assistant in general is so high that Home should get really good, really fast.
But then again, Amazon does have Sonos integration coming, which is awesome. And it’s away ahead withthird-party partnerships. And I’m leery of giving Google yet more data it can sell to advertisers. OK, never mind, buy an Echo. Oh, and isnt it overdue for a hardware refresh?
You know what? This is impossible. Both devices are excellent, both have bright futures, both are increasingly essential partsof your household. I bought a Home because I like the design, and I like the sound quality. If you buy an Echo because you love your Sonos and don’t trust Google with your data, youll be perfectly happy as well.
There’s only one mistake you can make, really: not letting a smart speaker into your home at all. These things are great, and they’re only getting better.