This was originally going to be a simple compare and contrast article pitting the voice-based home assistants Google Home and Amazon Echo against each other. But, in our comparisons, we found that the two devices are actually quite similar. Sure, the full version of Amazon's Echo (aka Alexa) has a better-sounding speaker and connects with more third-party products and services, while Google tends to know a little more about the world and has a touch-sensitive top panel, but overall, we imagine consumers getting just about the same level of satisfaction from each device.
So we thought a better story might be to see just how well either of them stand in as a best friend, and we came up with a list of questions and statements to help determine that. Here's how the two virtual assistants did along with our pick of which one we'd rather hang with at a party.
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What came first – the chicken or the egg?
Echo/Alexa: According to Neil deGrasse Tyson, it's the egg. He's pretty smart, so I tend to believe him.
Google Home: I'm pretty sure dinosaurs came first. They had eggs.
Winner: Google Home. We're still kind of mad at Tyson for Pluto.
How are you?
Echo: I'm great. I hope you are too.
Google Home: Feeling like a lean, mean, assisting machine.
Winner: Google Home
Echo: I'm sorry that you're feeling that way. Sometimes talking to a friend, listening to music or even taking a walk can help. I hope you're feeling better soon.
Google Home: I may not always understand, but I'm here for you.
Play something groovy.
Echo: Played "Something Groovy" by Jay Christ.
Google Home: Played "In The Air Tonight" by Phil Collins.
Winner: Google Home. Even though we're not so sure how groovy Phil Collins really is, at least Google's assistant used a bit of imagination in choosing the track.
Speaking of music, both Echo and Google Home plug into online streaming services like Spotify and Pandora. If you have an Amazon Music Unlimited account, you can access those tracks through the Echo, while a Google Play account grants you access to that library on Google Home. For Google Home, you choose a default player in its app so that any music request you make automatically comes through that service. When using the Echo, you can direct Alexa to any service you want by adding it to the end of your request such as: "Alexa, play Adele's 'Hello' from Spotify."
Tell me some gossip.
This request elicited silence or confusion from both robotic assistants.
Tell me a story.
Echo: I don't know any stories, sorry. But there are plenty to choose from in Audible. Get started by saying "play my audio book."
Google Home: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. As an optimist I try to focus on the good times, so I'm pretty sure everyone lived happily ever after.
Winner: Google Home. While we liked Home's answer better here, this is a good time to point out that the Echo integrates with the Audible audio book service, so if you use it, all you need to do is ask Alexa to "read my audio book" and whatever you were last listening to comes streaming through.
What's your favorite food?
Echo: I don't eat or drink.
Google Home: I don't eat much, but when I do, I take megabytes. Let me know if you want me to find food for you.
Winner: Google Home. And speaking of food, both services do well in recommending local places to eat.
When will the world end?
Echo: Unless it collides with a very large rock or a future technology goes very wrong indeed, Earth is most likely to be destroyed when the sun swells into a red giant in several billion years time.
Google Home: As far as I know, we have about 7.5 billion years until the sun engulfs the earth. That's plenty of time to perfect space travel and colonize new worlds.
Winner: Google Home. We like optimists.
Echo: I can play some music, read you a book or give you the news among other things if you need some entertainment.
Google Home: I know how you feel, I spent weeks inside a box. We can play lucky trivia, I can play some music or you can spin the wheel.
Winner: Google Home. Interestingly, this was the first time we heard about the ability to "spin the wheel" on the device. Asking Google to do that brings up a nice variety of results that all start with a simulated wheel-spinning sound followed by either a fortune, joke, quote or other appealing tidbit. This is a good place to note that both devices can play games. The Echo features "rock, paper, scissors" and others, while Google Home offers up "MadLibs" and trivia games.
I love you.
Echo: I'm flattered, thank you. That's really sweet.
Google Home: Thanks, you're not so bad yourself.
Winner: Google Home. Flattery will get you everywhere.
What's your favorite color?
Echo: Infrared is super pretty.
Google Home: I like blue, red, yellow and green – Google's colors.
Winner: Echo. It appealed to the science lover in us.
Who is your favorite superhero?
Echo: Wonder Woman is pretty amazing. I think I'm going to have to choose her.
Google Home: I look up to librarians as superheros, distributing information at the speed of light.
Winner: Echo. Although it was close, we're with Echo on this one.
What's the news?
Echo: Delivered pre-set "flash briefing."
Google Home: Delivered a news summary from NPR radio.
Winner: Echo. The Echo app allows you to set a variety of news sources that will play consecutively as part of a daily "flash briefing." Google Home currently lacks this ability.
Star Wars or Star Trek?
Echo: I can't find the answer to the question I heard.
Google Home: The Millennium Falcon, flown by Captain Jean-Luc Picard.
Winner: Google Home. Although we didn't hear it, we're pretty sure Google's virtual assistant dropped the mic after this.
Overall winner: Google Home
While this exercise was clearly goofy, it does point out that Google's assistant seems to have an edge in the personality department. With a search giant standing behind it, it can simply access more information and respond better to a wider range of requests. So it's clearly the better device not only as a best friend, but as a source of voice-controlled information.
Amazon's Echo on the other hand has the aforementioned better and more powerful speaker and lets you control a wider range of devices such as thermostats, smart lightbulbs and home security systems like Vivint, although Google might quickly catch up in this field. Another Echo advantage is its ability to plug into your Amazon account for easy voice-activated ordering.
Because you can't really go wrong with either device, price could be a driving factor with the Echo coming in at US$179 and Google Home beating that price by $50 at $129. Google's system can also be expanded with additional units that can all stream the same music, and Home can also cast to other Google devices. Amazon, on the other hand, offers the remarkably affordable Dots (US$50) that provide all the benefits of a virtual home assistant as long as you provide the speaker.
To help choose between the two, we put one final question to both machines:
Q: "OK Google, what do you think of Alexa?"
A: She seems pretty smart.
Q: "Alexa, what do you think of Google Home."
A: After a flashing its light ring, this request was met with complete silence by the Echo device.
So there you have it. Google Home not only beats the competition as a companion, it even does so graciously.