Google Home vs Alexa vs Apple

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The Big Names in Smart Home Systems Battle it out for Superiority

Inviting someone to live in your home alongside you and your family is never a simple process, even if, strictly speaking, they’re not someone, but something.

Choosing which virtual assistant and smart home ecosystem are right for you can seem like an impossible task, mostly because it’s quite hard to dig up exactly how they differ. You’ve seen one robot speaker, you’ve seen them all, right?

Google Home vs Alexa vs Apple

Granted, they’re all capable of roughly the same things: they’ll allow you to control your smart devices via voice command, seek out the information you need, play your favorite tunes, set schedules and reminders, and so on.

But how they go about these tasks differs significantly. Let’s explore how.

Amazon and Alexa

As the most popular of all three smart home setups, I think Amazon and their virtual assistant Alexa are a fantastic place to start.

Now, just because Alexa is in right now, doesn’t necessarily mean that Amazon’s way of boosting your home’s brain is the best.

Part of their success is clearly down to the company marketing their products on their own site, which just happens to be the largest online retail platform in the world.

So, has Alexa really earned a place in our homes, or does its success boil down to clever marketing strategies? Let’s find out.

Amazon — Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Advanced audio options available
  • Wide device compatibility and streaming support
  • Efficient AZ1 Neural Edge processor
  • Some basic privacy-boosting features

Cons

  • Poor audio quality in Echo and Dot
  • Search algorithms aren’t as thorough as Google

Smart Speaker Options

Unless you’re willing to invest in an older refurbished model, your options are limited to the latest 2020 releases, but thankfully, there are a few to choose from, arriving at different price points.

The Echo Dot is the baseline option. If you can add a couple more bucks into your budget, it can be bought with a digital clock feature.

The Echo is Amazon’s premium smart speaker option. It looks the same but features significantly enhanced audio.

One for the audiophiles out there. If you’re looking for a smart speaker that can really belt out your favorite tunes, then this is for you. It’ll cost you, though, especially if you want to round out that bottom end with the Echo Sub.

  • Other Amazon Smart Offerings

You don’t necessarily need to have a standalone smart speaker to enter Amazon’s smart ecosystem. The Echo Show brings all the functionality of the Echo and Echo Dot, but adds a screen to the mix for video playback.

Design and Controls

Shelving the tubular design of yesteryear, Amazon now favors a spherical enclosure for its Echo and Dot designs. They look fairly innocuous and should blend nicely into the decor of most rooms.

The four controls are located on top of the enclosure, including an action button, a mic-off button, and two buttons for volume control — simple yet effective.

Audio Quality

The Echo Dot’s biggest flaw is the driver quality. The audio just sounds like it’s being shouted through an old tin can. Clarity isn’t really an issue, but if you’re looking for fill-the-room audio, it’s not for you.

On the other hand, with a 3” woofer and dual front-firing 0/8” tweeters, the Echo does sound pretty good, but the size of this unit still imposes a cap on audio quality, which is why the Echo Studio and Sub are available to augment your listening experience.

Streaming

Alexa supports all major streaming services, including Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal, and, of course, Amazon Music, making it a strong contender for those with multiple streaming subscriptions.

Amazon’s audiobook platform Audible is also fully accessible via their smart speakers, so if you liked to listen to, say, The Lord of the Rings while working, Amazon is the right choice for you.

Search

Featuring an all-new AZ1 Neural Processor, the search function of Amazon’s gen 4 smart speakers is responsive and efficient. This fancy new chip cuts hundreds of milliseconds off every single response, ensuring low-latency performance — very handy if you’re often pressed for time.

Having said that, Alexa’s search algorithms are way off Google’s, so although it may be fast, it’s rarely as thorough.

Device Compatibility

Amazon really goes above and beyond in terms of compatibility. Both the Echo Dot and Echo feature an integrated ZigBee radio, allowing them to communicate with tons of different off-brand smart devices, meaning it can act as a standalone hub for your whole smart home network, from locks, to lights, to doorbells, to plugs.

Do bear in mind, though, that Alexa may not offer as comprehensive control over certain devices as their own hub will. Take Philips Hue lights for instance. Alexa can turn them on and off, but you’ll need the Hue Bridge and app to control the advanced color and sequence options.

Privacy

The Echo and Dot do have that mic-off button to deafen Alexa, and you can also explore old interactions, deleting them as you go, but it’s impossible to say just how private Amazon’s devices are. 

The company claims that they only mine data pertaining to device performance, and your personal information remains secure.

What Does the Amazon Ecosystem Have that Others Don’t?

  • Voice Shopping

Being that Amazon cut its teeth as an online marketplace, it’s only natural that you can shop with your voice using their Echo and Dot speakers.

  • Alexa Skills

You can think of Alexa skills like the apps on your phone or tablet. They’re just neat little extras you can use to enhance functionality.

Google and Google Assistant

Google is Amazon’s biggest competitor in the smart speaker market, so let’s take a look at their offerings next. Generally speaking, Google smart speakers cost a little more, but supposedly bring a little more to the table. Is this true? Let’s find out!

Google — Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Fantastic audio clarity and EQ options
  • Most advanced virtual assistant on the market
  • Elegant design and controls
  • Privacy-boosting features

Cons

  • No aux input
  • No ZigBee support

Smart Speaker Options

While Google’s smart speaker back catalog is nowhere near as phonebook-esque as Amazon’s, they’ve still had a few designs on the market over the years, but currently, they’re pushing only two.

  • Nest Audio

You can think of Nest Audio as the Google equivalent of the Echo...

  • Nest Mini

...and the Nest Mini as Google’s Echo Dot.

  • Other Options

Google also competes with the Echo Show with their Nest Hub.

Design and Controls

The Nest Audio is compact and pillow-shaped, and, In my opinion, it’s a little more neutral than the ball-shaped Amazon speakers, drawing less attention to itself.

It features a single tactile switch in the way of a mute button on the front of the enclosure, while the rest of the controls are accessed via invisible touchpads that run along the top seam and bottom end of the unit.

Tap the bottom of the unit to pause playback, the top-middle to resume playback, and the top corners to increase or decrease volume. There are also four frontal LEDs that indicate Nest’s status in a clear and pleasant manner. Overall, it’s a very elegant design.

The Nest Mini has more of a squat profile, looking sort of like a pebble that’s been smoothed by the sea. It features the same fancy invisible touch controls and LEDs as the Audio, albeit, in different locations.

Audio Quality

The Nest Audio prioritizes full-bodied mids and rounded trebles, sacrificing a small amount of bass proficiency. It’s not the best for lovers of EDM, but it does lead to more clarity than the bass-heavy Echo.

The Nest Mini offers the same kind of audio clarity but with decidedly less oomph.

My one caveat is that, unlike the Echo and Dot, the Nests do not feature an aux port, meaning you can’t hook them up to a discrete sound system.

Streaming

Google smart speakers support key streaming platforms such as Spotify, Apple Music, YouTube Music, Pandora, and Deezer.

Search

Searching is Google’s bread and butter, so it’s no surprise that Google Assistant is capable of great things in this department. It’s fast, thorough, and can even utilize machine learning to boost efficiency.

In fact, Google Assistant is the most advanced AI helper on the market. Alexa can be a little finicky when it comes to syntax, but Google Assistant has much more of a grasp on a variety of phrasings, making communicating with it far more natural.

Device Compatibility

The Google Nest line does celebrate compatibility with a lot of 3rd-party smart devices, but it lacks the ZigBee transmitter of the Echos, meaning you’re stuck with Wi-Fi for forming wireless connections.

Privacy

The mic mute button offers a robust defense against Google’s snooping, which is good, because, let’s face it, Google is always watching and listening. You can also say, “Hey, Google. Delete what I just said”, and the Nests will do so!

What Does the Google Ecosystem Have That the Others Don’t? 

  • Advanced Automatic EQ Modes

You can either fine-tune the audio mix in the Google Home app or activate Media or Ambient EQ. Media EQ automatically tailors the mix and volume to the media you’re listening to, whilst Ambient EQ adjusts the mix and volume to compete with surrounding noise.

Apple and Siri

And finally, let’s see what Apple brings to the smart tech table.

Apple — Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Amazing audio quality for the speaker size
  • Attractive design and neat controls
  • The best for connecting Apple devices

Cons

  • Siri isn’t as smart as Apple would have you believe.
  • Mostly restricts you to Apple products.

Smart Speaker Options

Apple threw their hat in the smart speaker arena with the HomePod, a rather large, rounded cylindrical affair that has since been discontinued. Presently, they’re only pushing one alternative:

  • Apple HomePod Mini

Design and Controls

The Mini is a small, spherical speaker that essentially looks like a luxury Amazon Echo. The controls are all accessed via the backlit touchpad on the top of the device, which looks amazing but can be a little tricky to figure out at first.

Tap to play audio, double-tap to pause audio, hit the “-” icon to reduce volume, hit the “+” icon to increase volume, or touch and hold the pad to summon Siri.

It’s also worth noting that there is no mute button, so if privacy is a priority, the Apple smart home system probably isn’t right for you.

Audio Quality

Just as Alexa products benefit from Amazon’s experience in e-commerce, and Google products benefit from the company’s history as a search engine, Apple's smart speaker benefits from Apple’s experience with music technology.

Considering the size of this speaker, the audio quality is absolutely phenomenal. Apple’s S5 chip allows the Mini to assess audio in real-time, optimizing clarity and maxing out volume.

However, due to the size difference, Google Nest Audio is still the most impressive when it comes to audio quality.

Streaming

Streaming is a little limited when it comes to the Apple HomePod, as the company is obviously trying to keep everyone within the Apple ecosystem, but strangely, it does support Amazon Music.

Search

Siri is objectively the least intelligent of the virtual assistants, answering both simple and complex questions correctly less than 50% of the time.

Device Compatibility

Apple’s smart system is by far the most restrictive of all, as the company is really trying to keep you in their pocket. Granted, it will work with certain 3rd-party smart accessories, but Siri compatibility really isn’t a priority for most smart tech companies.

Privacy

As I mentioned earlier, there’s no mute button on the HomePod Mini, which is a little suspect. Apple claims none of your information is sold to 3rd-party organizations, but that’s not really the point.

What Does the Google Ecosystem Have That the Others Don’t?

  • Ambient Sounds

If you find the sound of light rainfall or a crackling fire comforting, then you’ll love this feature! You can even set a timer to halt playback after you’ve drifted off to the land of nod.

Google Home vs Alexa vs Apple: Which Should You Choose?

Functionality — If you’re looking for pure functionality, Amazon’s smart speakers are the way to go. As a retailer, Amazon has its finger on the pulse of what people want, so cool accessories, features, and software updates are a given.

Quality — When it comes to structural, audio, and AI quality, Google’s Nest Audio blows the other products out the water — well worth a few extra bucks if you ask me.

Already an Apple Convert? If you’ve already outfitted your home out with Apple gadgets, then an Apple smart speaker is absolutely the way to go for you. The streamlined compatibility of Apple products far outweighs the general drawbacks of the HomeHub Mini.