Tech Corner: The Battle of the Smart Home Speakers!

July 12th. 2017

There is about to be a new smart home speaker in town! Apple announced and unveiled its own smart speaker at the WWDC, HomePod, which is coming out later this year and will cost $349. While Amazon Echo might have been the original smart speaker on the market, the OG, it has now joined the ranks alongside the Google Home and the, soon to be, Apple Homepod. So, what we want to know is which of these speakers will make the best fit for our homes? Let’s break it down!

You are not alone if you feel foolish talking to your phone’s AI assistant in public. However, that feeling does not typically exist when you do it in the privacy of your own home. There is a weird comfortability in talking to a robotic voice through a home speaker.

Google has made some advancements invoice automation, but it was Amazon who was the first to build a voice assistant into a home speaker. Google followed with their own two years after Amazon, and shortly, we'll be seeing Apple’s hit the market just over a year after Google’s did. While Amazon did have an early lead, we cannot underestimate Google or Apple, who both have been steadily developing their voice assistant on phones for years now. So, which one should you buy?

Round One: The Hardware

The Google Home and the Apple HomePod are very similar looking; they both have an air freshener-shape and short in size. The Amazon Echo is taller and thinner than the other two, with a cylinder shape and blue LEDs along the top rim, now available in both black and white.

Of all three of the speakers, the Google Home offers the most variety, allowing you to match its presence to the room with the multitude of colored bases. However, while the Echo does not allow customization, it does come with a remote with a built-in microphone, just in case you are out of earshot from Alexia.

The HomePod will be 7-inches high, making it a little taller than the Google Home but shorter than the Amazon Echo. It will though have a bit larger of a circumference than either as well.

As specs go, it seems like the Apple HomePod will have the best sound quality; it has a 7-beamforming tweeter array and hefty subwoofer on its underside: The Echo only has a built-in 2.0-inch tweeter and built-in 2.5-inch woofer and the Google Home has a 2-inch driver and dual 2-inch passive radiators. Based on the hardware, Apple might win out of the other two. However, this is only on print and won’t be for certain until we can hear and see it for ourselves come December.

Yet, the hardware is not all we look for in a speaker, especially since these are smart speakers and can do so much more! Apple may have won Round One, but let’s move on to Round Two!

Round Two: Features

At the moment, all of the speakers seem the same on paper, but Google Home and Apple’s HomePod have the potential to blow Amazon out of the ranks with their massive library of existing services they have at their disposal.

While they seem about the same on paper at this snapshot in time, Google and Apple have the potential to blow Amazon out of the water thanks to the massive library of existing services they have at their disposal.

  • Music and Video Playback: Apple has only announced that the speaker will integrate with Apple Music, however, more than likely it will also work with most of the other streaming services. Amazon has Prime Music and Google has his own music streaming service, but Google’s speaker includes Google Cast, allowing you to play anything from your cloud. In addition, only Google Home has the ability to send music and videos to your TV, as long as you have a Chromecast. This feature also works by easily playing Netflix, YouTube, and other supported apps using just your voice. While you cannot tell it to play specific episodes, it is still a bonus over the rest.

  • Productivity: The Google Home integrates with Google’s other services, such as Google Maps, Google Calendar, Google translate, and more. The potential for this feature could be endless, but there are still things Google Home cannot handle, such as setting simple reminders, public transportation routes and times, and reading an email. Meanwhile, Amazon has a list of growing compatible apps, including Domino's Pizza and Uber.

  • Smart Home: The biggest feature, and possibly one of the most helpful, is the smart home capabilities the speakers provide. You are going to want a smart assistant who can help you control and operate the smart appliances making their way into your home. Amazon has taken a partnership with Samsung to integrate SmartThings control into the Echo. Both Google and Amazon work with Philips’ Hue Lighting System. Google also owns the Nest so it works there, but also works with the Echo. And Apple has its HomeKit program which means it will have dozens of devices working for the HomePod.

To summarize, there is a number of third-party devices that will work with all three of the Smart Speakers, making no clear winner here. We suggest just clarifying that the speaker you gear towards buying works with your already existing smart appliances.

Round Three: Multiple Users

Both the Google Home and the Amazon Echo support multiple users, which is an important feature if you have more than one person in your household. However, how the two speakers handle multiple accounts is slightly different.

With Amazon Echo, you have to manually switch between users by saying “Alexa, switch accounts”, or “Alexa, switch to [name]’s profile”. The Google Home is slightly simpler and clever in a way being able to recognize the different users by the sound of their voice. You just have to train the speaker to recognize each person’s voice by saying “Okay Google” or “Hey Google” a couple of times during setup.

As for the Apple HomePod...time will tell.

Final Round: Intelligence

We are yet living in a world like Iron Man, where our AI assistants understand our every command, but it is a start. Alexa has advanced since it first launched and its continuing software development keeps improving to better help us. While Amazon has had a strong track record on the market alone, it is now joined by Google, a company that has a strong track record in information parsing for over two decades.

Google Assistant, the software powering the Google Home, is a new technology, it is based on the work Google has already put into its Google Now voice search function. With Google’s search abilities, this means the speaker has a lot of the information at its disposal.

Both speakers are a work-in-progress, with updates coming out all the time, but the Amazon Echo seems better at hearing your commands and answering your questions.

AND THE WINNER IS….

Amazon Echo’s functionality has proven and keeps refining the course of its first release. It is definitely on a successful trajectory that will make the Amazon Echo a mainstream commodity, as long as it keeps on this track.

Then, there is the Google Home. Google’s existing services are already heavily integrated into a number of different external apps and functions. However, until the search giant plans on making full use of its existing services, the integration into the Home is not perfect just yet.

Finally, there is our wildcard, Apple’s HomePod. It has so much potential, especially being a part of the brand most people want in their homes. The biggest downside is this speaker is the most expensive of the two speakers, ranging in at $349 (Google Home is $129, but always running sales, and the Amazon Echo is $89.99). However, we do hope it morphs into the Sonos-meets-smart assistant we are hoping this product will be.

We are excited for the future of these products and will continually update when they grow and evolve! But, until then, which smart speaker do you have? Which one do you want to purchase for your home? What features do you think are missing?

Join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter! Make your comment or ask your question and Mandy, or one of our Staff Team members will discuss this with you!


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