AI voice-activated assistants have been available since Siri took the world by storm in April of 2011. Hot on her heels was Google’s Google Now, Microsoft’s Cortana, and finally Amazon’s Alexa in late 2014. While there were a good number of early adopters who hit the ground running when Siri first debuted and several more who have done so on the other platforms since then, there are plenty of smart tech users who don’t use voice-activated functions.
Recent innovations in voice-activated smart speakers mean that homeowners can sync their AI assistants to their refrigerators, thermostats, home alarm systems, and even their lighting inside and outside the home. While the butler robots many of us would hope for are still quite a ways off, smart speakers are a convenient, hands-free way to make life a little easier.
This article, then, is for those of you who are currently trying to decide which AI voice assistant will meet your needs. While there is no single “best” home tech assistant, there is probably one that is best for you and your family, so read on to get our full take on the current state of the home tech wars.
(Please note: because each of these AI assistants were created with different purposes in mind, it’s no surprise that they excel in different areas. We’ve done our best to fairly report the most significant strengths and weaknesses of each platform, but with literally thousands of functions between them, this is necessarily a very surface assessment.)
We were slightly stunned to learn that HomePod’s Siri won’t assist you with making or receiving phone calls, but functions solely as a speakerphone instead. You’ll have to place or take calls on your iPhone and connect HomePod to the call via your Audio button on the call screen.
Both Google Assistant and Alexa can place phone calls using voice commands, but it gets a little complicated: Alexa only takes calls from other Alexa-enabled devices but doesn’t support regular cell phone or landline calls, and Google Assistant can’t receive calls at all.
You can use any of these AI speakers to send messages, but the phone call limitations of each device are worth considering.
Handling Music Requests
This category is highly variable depending on both the assistant and the specific audio service. Where certain audio services may mesh very well with one or the other smart speaker, other combinations are disastrous. We’ll mention a few results here, but you’ll probably need to do some additional research to see how people are faring with the smart speaker you’re interested in and the music services you use most.
Alexa and Google Assistant both play nicely with Spotify, but couldn’t perform even moderately well with either Google Play Music or Apple Music.
While Siri can only respond to voice commands asking her to play music from Apple-approved services, you can use your phone to send music to your speaker.
Google Assistant and Siri will open a movie or video on the phone you’ve connected to them, and Google Assistant will beam content to your Chromecast.
Alexa is capable of launching an app and playing a movie or television show, but your Amazon smart speaker will need to be networked with a Fire TV module in the home.
If you want to experience the fun and novelty of an interactive speaker, by all means, choose the model that seems best suited for your lifestyle. We don’t recommend HomePod at this time due to the high cost and limited functions Siri can perform in this medium.