Home Tech | Smart Speakers Showdown (Alexa vs. Apple vs. Google Assistant)

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.) 

 



Hardware Availability and Compatibility 
 
Because this article is focused on AI tech for the home, Amazon’s Alexa takes this category because users can choose the style of voice assistant module that they prefer; the official lineup includes the Spot, Dot, Echo, Echo Plus, and Echo Show. Additionally, third-party partners make affordable speakers for Alexa, so expanding your Amazon smart speaker network throughout your home is simple and customizable. There are several phones that support Alexa, too; this year the Sonos One is the top phone to do so.
 
While Google currently only has Home available, the less expensive Mini is coming soon along with the Max, which will feature better sound quality. Google’s is the most widely-available AI assistant, so Home, Mini, and Max will all work alongside virtually any smart device.
 
Similarly, Siri is available on iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, Mac, and Apple TV, but the only smart speaker Apple produces for the home is HomePod. Unfortunately, because Siri works on a closed system, HomePod suffers limitations (more on this in a moment) that prevent Apple from successfully competing against Alexa. 
 
However, if you are already on the Apple system and do not use Amazon Prime, HomePod may still be the better choice.

 


Accuracy of Speech Recognition
 
First, it’s important to note that smart speakers generally can’t hear you once they’re performing a sound-related task like playing music or reading you the news. That means you may have to shout while standing very close to the device or (more likely) manually stop it mid-task to execute further commands, which negates the benefits of having a hands-free device. Ultimately this may be the biggest speech recognition issue, regardless of individual flaws we noticed from AI to AI.
 
Amazon and Google’s smart speakers learn your speech patterns over time. This means that even though they may hardly understand you right out of the box, there’s a good possibility they’ll be mostly in sync with you before long. This voice training will allow each user to program customized actions or responses. 
 
Siri on HomePod doesn’t learn your voice at all, though, so while anyone can use the AI, it won’t improve over time. Sadly, HomePod really needs to improve. 
 
At this time, we have to give this category to Alexa and Google Assistant, though we should point out that you may be very frustrated during the “voice training” stage, and slightly more so for Alexa.

 


Placing and Receiving Phone Calls

 

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.

 


Entertainment

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. 

 



Online Shopping
 
Google Assistant and Alexa are both fully capable of placing orders online, with our experience being fun and simple. Whether Amazon or Google is a better choice for your shopping has more to do with where you tend to shop than the performance of either AI.
 
Because Siri is a closed system, especially on HomePod, Siri can’t place orders online. Instead, HomePod will essentially Google nearby physical locations where you can shop for the items you’re requesting to purchase.
 

 


The Takeaway

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.

Amazon Prime users who use Amazon Music, Amazon Video, and shop on Amazon frequently will certainly get more use out of one of the Echo, Dot, or Spot models, whereas those who use Google Play Music, etc, will probably enjoy Google Assistant more. 
None of the models we reviewed were perfect yet, so it might be in your best interest to wait a bit and see if there are any significant improvements in the technology in the near future that will spur you to make the leap. 

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