Google Home vs. Alexa: Which Smart Speaker Is Best For You?

Google and Amazon's AI-driven smart speakers go head to head

Google Home and Amazon's Alexa-powered Echo devices are the two leading smart speaker lines for a reason. They both come in a variety of form factors, function quite well as virtual assistants, allow you to control a variety of smart home devices, and go toe to toe right down the line with a variety of other features and functions. There are important differences, and we'll outline them for you, but making a choice between Google Home and Alexa isn't easy.

A graphic showing Google Home vs Amazon Alex/Echo

Overall Findings

Google Home
  • Uses the Google Assistant virtual assistant.

  • Lots of different devices and form factors.

  • Fantastic AI with realistic speech and a lot of accent options.

  • Growing support for third party skills.

Alexa
  • Uses Amazon's Alexa virtual assistant.

  • Wide range of devices designed for different scenarios.

  • Tied into the Amazon ecosystem, great for shopping.

  • Excellent third party skill support.

Google and Amazon's smart speakers are somewhat unique when compared to most other types of electronics, as the hardware isn't updated all that often, but the underlying software is in constant flux. These platforms are artificial intelligence (AI)-driven, with Google Assistant on one side and Alexa on the other, and the development cycle for these virtual assistants is never-ending.

Google Home and Alexa are fairly evenly matched on most points, with minor differences in hardware that aren't likely to tip the scales for most people. The AI-driven virtual assistants are what make each platform interesting, and that's where the most important differences come into play.

Alexa has historically been the one to beat in terms of skills, especially third party Alexa skills, which add additional functionality. However, Google has made up enough ground in that department that you're better off checking whether each system has the specific skills you need rather than making a choice based on how many skills each one offers.

Alexa is predictably better in terms of online shopping, since it's connected so deeply into the Amazon ecosystem, while we're more impressed overall with Google's AI technology, including their DeepMind-driven speech recognition and voice generation.

Design: Nobody's Winning Any Design Awards

Google Home
  • Multiple form factors that primarily shy away from sharp angles.

  • Flagship device features interchangeable fabric and metal bases and looks like an air freshener.

Alexa
  • Multiple form factors, tending toward cylinders and geometric shapes.

  • Flagship Echo offers removable fabric and wood covers.

Neither Google or Amazon are really physical product companies, and that tends to show through in the overall design and aesthetics of their devices. Google Home and Amazon Echo devices aren't ugly, and both companies have put forth effort to make them easier to incorporate into your homes, but the designs aren't terribly inspired on either side.

The flagship Google Home looks more like a gel-filled air freshener than a piece of high tech kit, with a rounded base, sloping conical body, and slanted top. The smaller Home Mini is significantly less complex, inhabiting a flattened spherical body with fabric on top and plastic on the bottom. Other devices in the line use similar design cues, tending to shy away from sharp angles in most cases in favor of rounded corners.

The flagship Echo started out looking like a matte-black Pringles can and eventually evolved into a stockier device with replaceable fabric and wood covers to better fit into a variety of home decors. The Echo Dot followed a similar path, starting out as a hockey puck and gaining a fabric surround to give it a slightly less angular look. Other devices in the line are similarly basic, like the mostly spherical Echo Spot and angular Echo Show.

Sound and Music: Quality Vs. Volume

Google Home
  • Fuller sound than Alexa devices.

  • Supports most online music services, but not Amazon Music or Prime Music.

  • Allows you to upload your own music to the cloud.

  • No wired inputs or outputs.

  • Bluetooth streaming available, with some nagging issues.

Alexa
  • Gets louder than Google Home devices.

  • Can play most online services, but not Google Play Music All Access.

  • Cloud music feature no longer available.

  • Some devices feature 3.5mm in/out, all include 3.5mm out.

  • Bluetooth streaming available.

Google's flagship Home and Amazon's flagship Echo are both more or less in line with middle of the road Bluetooth speakers in terms of sound quality, or about what you might expect out of a decent built-in television speaker. The Google Home sounds fuller and more realistic than the Echo, but the Alexa-powered Echo can be turned up louder.

The overall question of sound quality is more complicated than that, with the Home Max providing better bass response and less vibration than the Echo Studio, and the Echo Dot sounding a bit better than the Google Home Mini.

In terms of compatibility with online streaming services, it's a wash. Both ecosystems provide wide compatibility, except with each others own services. That is to say you can't stream Prime Music on a Home and you can't stream Google's All Access on an Echo.

Alexa devices win, hands down, in terms of wired connectivity, with 3.5mm jacks present on each device in the lineup. That isn't a big deal if you prefer wireless connections, but it is an option that the Home devices just don't have.

Voice Controls and Skills: Google Is Closing in Fast

Google Home
  • "Okay Google" and "Hey, Google" only wake-word choices.

  • Lots of voice and accent options, some sound better than others.

  • Has lagged behind in skills, but is closing the gap.

  • Draws on Google's extensive Knowledge Graph and powerful AI technology.

Alexa
  • Choose from four wake words: Alexa, Echo, Amazon, and computer.

  • Alexa has only one voice, but it sounds fairly natural.

  • Has historically led in third party skills.

  • Getting better at general knowledge, but still better at shopping.

Google Home and Amazon Alexa both operate quite well as virtual assistants, with natural-sounding voices and decent speech recognition. One big difference is that Home devices only answer to two very similar wake words: "Okay, Google" and "Hey, Google." Echo devices, in comparison, can be set to wake up when you say Alexa, Echo, Amazon, or computer. Neither is ideal, as it would be nice to set custom wake words, but Alexa is definitely the more flexible system.

In terms of voice options, Google Home wins out. Alexa is locked in to a single voice that sounds pretty good, but Google Home gives you a lot of different options if you want to mix things up.

Both systems offer good speech recognition, although the Google Assistant-driven Home is better at answering general knowledge questions and parsing web-based queries. Alexa gets stuck if you don't use specific wording, and it also relies on Wikipedia a lot more than Home does. For some questions, you need to add a skill as Alexa simply can't answer them alone.

In terms of third party skills that provide additional functionality, Alexa has held the lead historically. However, Google has closed the gap to the point where the distinction is no longer as important. If you need your virtual assistant to interface with a specific device or technology, or perform a specific function, check to see which platform has the appropriate skill before you choose a platform, as it's no longer safe to assume Alexa will and Home won't.

Smart Home Integration and Connectivity:

Google Home
  • Decent compatibility with smart home devices, uses Nest Hub and compatible with other hubs.

  • Compatible with Chromecast.

  • No Home-to-Home inter-device calling.

  • Can make phone calls using VoIP.

  • Slightly weaker Wi-Fi connectivity.

Alexa
  • Excellent compatibility with smart home devices, uses Echo Plus hub, and compatible with other hubs.

  • Compatible with Fire TV.

  • Can make "drop in" calls to other Echo devices.

  • Can make calls over a land-line with an adapter.

  • Slightly stronger Wi-Fi connectivity.

Google Home and Amazon's Alexa devices are both great at forming the backbone of a smart home. Alexa has compatibility with more devices without a lot of complicated tweaking, but the difference isn't that great.

It's worth checking to see if your existing smart home devices are compatible with Google Home before investing in a bunch of Home and Home Mini devices, but Home can do pretty much everything Alexa can do in terms of controlling lights, thermostats, garage doors, and other smart home tech.

There are a few notable differences, like the fact that Home works out of the box with Chromecast, while Fire TV is built to work with Alexa, so it's worth keeping that in mind if you've invested in either Google or Amazon's television streaming hardware.

There are also some differences in the way that Home and Alexa devices handle voice calling, and video calling in the case of the Echo Show. Home devices are capable of placing phone calls using voice over IP (VoIP), meaning you can use your Google Home to call a cellphone or landline using your internet connection.

Echo devices can also make VoIP calls, but only using the Skype skill and the Skype to Phone service. You can also turn an Echo into a voice-controller speakerphone if you have a landline and use the Echo Connect peripheral.

Echo devices also support drop-in calling, which Home devices don't. This feature allows you to use your Echo device to call a friend or family member's echo directly. This feature, while handy, can be disabled if you don't want people dropping in on you unannounced.

In terms of raw connectivity, Google Home and Amazon Echo devices both connect to your home Wi-Fi. We've found that Echo devices tend to provide a slightly more robust connection, and work in places and at distances where Google Home devices don't, but the difference isn't that great.

Final Verdict: Primarily a Question of Which Ecosystem You’d Rather Get Stuck In

Google Home and Amazon's Alexa devices are both in a pretty good place, with decent hardware and software that's constantly expanding and being improved upon. Alexa pulled out to an early lead with better speech recognition and more third party skill support, but Google has closed that gap to the point where the difference isn't big enough to recommend one over the other.

Google Assistant is a slightly better, and smarter, virtual assistant, while Alexa works well enough in general purpose settings and really excels in terms of integration with Amazon's online shopping experience.

When making the decision to choose between Google Home and Alexa, the most important question to ask is whether you're more deeply entrenched in the Google or Amazon ecosystem, as the most important differences between these two assistants come down to how well they work with Google and Amazon exclusive devices and services.

If you're totally new to smart homes and virtual assistants, but you shop at Amazon and have an Amazon Prime subscription, then Alexa is a safe choice. Otherwise you'll have to decide if you prefer the slightly better sound quality of the Home, the better connectivity of the Echo, or if any of the other features we've highlighted help shift the scales one way or the other.