Head-To-Head: Google Home Is Smarter Than Amazon Echo

Talking To Robots

After a bit of a false start with Apple's Siri, we're finally now entering the era of using voice control and machine learning to get information and get things done, as an alternative interface to the internet, smartphone apps or information stored on the cloud or on our devices. In the CRN Test Center we've spent the past week comparing the usefulness of Google Home and Amazon Echo, the two leading voice-controlled smart speakers out there. While Echo had a two-year head start, initially launching in November 2014 and adding plenty of functionality over time, Google Home has arrived with a lot to offer from the get-go. Each brings a distinct approach that's heavily influenced by the DNA of their respective companies -- Google has always been about delivering relevant information (alongside relevant ads) while Amazon has been focused on removing barriers to using its own site and services.

Both Google Assistant (which powers Home) and Alexa (which is behind Echo) come with a bit of a learning curve. But in our initial tryout, Google Home comes out ahead in terms of being able to communicate intuitively and uncover the information you're after. This shouldn't be a huge surprise, given the company's core value proposition as a search company.

In the following slides we've shared our other impressions of Google Home and Amazon Echo in terms of their usefulness for answering questions, managing your day, playing music and accomplishing other tasks.

Getting Information

Google is the champion of search engines for a reason -- the company knows how to quickly unearth what users are actually looking for. Those smarts have been built very nicely into Google Home. The device shines when it comes to pulling up answers to all manner of questions--including ones that aren't just requesting a specific fact or figure. "How early should I get to the airport for a flight" and "How often should I exercise" yield useful answers from Google Home. The same questions leave Alexa perplexed. Even somewhat obscure queries--"Who's in 'Joe Dirt 2'" -- lead to the right answers from Google Home (which served up a cast list for the movie). Alexa: "I didn't understand the question I heard."

Asking Google Home for Apple's stock price pulls up the latest price with no problem, while Alexa makes you summon a third-party skill to do that.

Other times Alexa is able to answer questions just fine, as long as you're just asking for a single piece of factual information. The device, for instance, knows the answer to "When does Star Wars Episode 8 come out?" and "How far away is Mars?" Amazon is no slouch at search, of course, but its search capabilities traditionally have been geared toward fetching information on a specific product rather than on surfacing general information.

Conversational Communication

Probably the most impressive aspect of Google Home is how conversational it's able to be. Google Home keeps track of what you're talking about and so it can answer follow-up questions without you having to restate the topic. For instance: "Who's the next president?" can be followed up with "How old is he?" and then followed by an even trickier question: "How many wives has he had?" Google Home serves up the correct answers all down the line. Amazon Echo doesn't keep the context in mind and can't answer follow-up questions in that way.

Google Home's conversation skills are useful in other ways too. For instance, asking Google Home, "Who sings 'How Bizarre'?" yields the correct answer (OMC). You can then ask, "Can you play it?" and Google Home starts up the song. Alexa will answer who sings the song – but asking the device to "play it" just yields the response, "Here's a station you might like," and launches music that's unrelated to the song.

Managing Your Day

One limitation of both devices is that they only support Google Calendar -- they don't work with Exchange and other popular calendars right now. Assuming you have your calendar details in Google Calendar, both Google Home and Amazon Echo are pretty useful. Asking either device, "What's on my calendar?" will pull up your next few entries. You can also ask, "When's my next meeting?" to get a shorter version.

One option Alexa offers is to create a to-do list by voice -- although it doesn't let you actually clear the list by voice when you're done, which is a drawback (you need to go into the Alexa app to do that). Google Home doesn't let you create a to-do list at all right now.

In terms of planning your drive to work, both devices will tell you about traffic and length of your commute once you've entered your work address into the app. And both are at the ready with the current weather and forecast. Google Home appears to be better at serving up flight information. "When's my next flight?" automatically turned up the right information with Google Home (since it was in our Google Calendar). For the same question, Alexa just read off our next four calendar entries (although there are a number of third-party flight info skills available for Echo).

Interacting With Your Calendar

One area where we were disappointed with both devices is in calendar interaction. Neither device could pull up the times of calendar events on demand -- such as, "What time is the dentist appointment?"-- which would likely be a heavily used feature. Google Home was able to find some calendar entries upon command with different phrasing --"When am I going to 'Rogue One'?" and, "When am I going to CES?" were the two successes. But for some reason, Google Home couldn't find any of our other calendar entries with that same phrasing.

Meanwhile, Amazon Echo was unable to find any calendar entries on command; instead, Alexa read off the next calendar events every time we asked for a specific event.

However, Alexa does have the ability to add new calendar entries on command, which Google Home can't do. That's a very strange omission given that it's Google's own calendar. Google appears to be aware of the issue, with Home's response worded as, "Sorry, I can't add events to your calendar yet."

Other Tasks

Both Google Home and Amazon Echo are great for setting alarms and have a number of smarthome integrations, such as turning lights on and off. Neither device is able to send emails, and neither has built-in functionality for sending texts. A number of third-party skills enable text messaging via Alexa, however. Several skills also offer the ability for Echo users to glean information from their emails -- and email search is an area we think Google Home would be smart to pursue, at least starting with Gmail users.

Not surprisingly, Echo is also geared toward easy ordering of items from Amazon, which can be accomplished right from the speaker.

Both Echo and Home can handle other duties such as summoning an Uber car, as well.


Google Home excels at finding the songs you're seeking even when you don't have all of the information. "Play that new song by The Weeknd" yields the most recent release, "Starboy," on Google Home. Amazon Echo pulls up a 2015 track by the artist.

Google Home is also good at guessing what you mean. "Play that song from 'The Breakfast Club'" pulls up the obvious choice of "Don't You (Forget About Me)" on Google Home. By contrast, Echo just brings up samples from the soundtrack.

We also like that Google Home lets you choose which streaming service you want to serve as the default -- from among YouTube Music, Spotify, Google Play Music or Pandora. By contrast, Echo forces users to have Amazon's own service, Prime Music, as the default. What that means is that if Spotify is your preferred music service, you can have Google Home serve up your song requests from Spotify automatically. But on Echo, you have to specify that you want to listen to each song "on Spotify," or else Echo will think you're requesting a song from Prime (which has a somewhat limited catalog).

Audio Books, Radio, Podcasts

One shortcoming with Google Home is that it doesn't support Audible audio books and doesn't read Kindle books. Unsurprisingly, since Audible and Kindle are both part of Amazon, the Echo works great with Audible books and can also read your Kindle titles.

Google Home and Echo both play radio stations on command--"Tune to WBUR" pulls up the NPR affiliate, for example -- while asking for the news on either device pulls up the latest radio briefings.

And, both Home and Echo allow users to play podcasts by request; asking for a podcast by name pulls up the most recent episode.

Connection To Other Devices

One cool feature of Google Home is its ability to connect to TVs over Chromecast. For one, that can make the speaker quietness less of an issue; if your TV is hooked up to decent speakers, Google Home can just send its music over to those speakers via Chromecast. It also means you can pull up videos -- for instance, on YouTube -- on your TV through a request to Google Home.

Google Home can't connect to devices over Bluetooth, while Amazon Echo can. But Echo doesn't connect to external speakers (although the smaller Echo Dot does).


Google Home is the more affordable option at $129 versus $179.99 for Amazon Echo (although as we write this it's selling on Amazon for $139.99). Echo Dot is priced at $49.99, which provides Alexa functionality with a less powerful speaker and far smaller size. (We haven't tried out the Echo Dot yet so we can't weigh in there.)

Bottom Line

Both Google Home and Amazon Echo are terrific devices, and we think either one will come in handy for just about any type of user. If nothing else, summoning the current weather, news and traffic while you're getting ready for the day can be a game-changer. In short: Pretty much everyone should have one of these.

Which one is the most ideal fit will depend a lot on your priorities. Clearly, users who want to voice-control their Audible audio books will want an Echo rather than a Google Home, for instance. Users who want to be able to crank the music without having to connect to any other speakers also will probably want to invest in the Echo.

But in terms of interacting with a virtual assistant, Google Home offers the better experience, thanks to its search chops and conversational capabilities. It's just smarter than Alexa -- which for now remains pretty closely tied to Amazon Prime member services. The third-party skills for Alexa are much touted, but users must do the work of enabling them and learning to use them one by one. Right out of the box, Google Home is a lot more useful for searches of web and music -- and hopefully that'll extend to searches of your own calendar and email soon. When that happens -- and if Alexa is unable to keep up -- Google Home could become the clear choice for many more people.