Who is the Better Assistant?
The top dog Amazon Echo is facing competition from America's largest search engine provider The Google Assistant. When it comes to equipment, the two (large) voice assistants do not do anything: Both have Wi-Fi, several microphones and relatively good speakers. The focus of the comparison should therefore be on three much more important points: setup, speech recognition and functionality.
Setup: Smart home can be that simple
Connect the voice assistant to the power supply, download the associated app, connect via Wi-Fi and let the assistant guide you - these are the essential steps in setting up the Amazon Echo and Google Home. That should not cause any problems even for beginners in the smart home universe.
After the initial configuration, both devices are operated almost exclusively by voice input. The buttons of the Amazon Echo or the touch surface of Google Home are then only required to adjust the volume and to switch off the microphone.
Speech recognition: Alexa has the better ears, Google the better mind
The two voice assistants look rather good as flashing plastic pillars, but the result is of course the voice recognition that counts. Both systems listen continuously and activate themselves when a certain keyword is entered. With the Amazon Echo this is "Alexa", with Google Home the somewhat bulky "OK Google" or "Hey, Google"
The actual speech recognition of one's own voice works amazingly well with Alexa - the friendly and natural-sounding computer assistant understands every word even from a greater distance and with ambient noises such as loud music. Google Home plays the diva in this area and answers somewhat more often with a clumsy "Unfortunately I did not understand" - especially when there are several people in the room, or the ambient noise is loud. Both devices have certain problems with strong dialects, whereby they should learn over time and thus be able to better understand language characteristics.
The great strength of Google Home is not the auditory understanding, but the almost natural understanding of the questions. Regardless of whether you ask about upcoming concerts, nearby supermarkets or a song on Spotify - the Google Assistant responds promptly and takes the desired action. This is mainly thanks to the information from the Google search in the background, which often works more precisely than the Bing search of the Amazon Echo. It has particularly good context recognition. For example, ask Google Home "How old is Donald Trump?" and then "How long has he been President?" you should receive the correct answer. If you try to speak to Amazon's Alexa in the same way, you only get the answer that she does not know what is meant by this question. The Amazon service lacks reference here. This point therefore clearly goes to Google.
The pre-installed functions of both devices are remarkably similar. Both can be used to create to-do lists, call up messages and calendar entries, and conduct Internet searches. Google is currently still missing some standard functions such as calling up the current cinema program or explaining directions. Alexa is a bit more grown up here, although still lags behind.
On the other hand, the integration of other services with Google works much better than the Amazon services with the Echo. For example, the Google Assistant recognizes all Chromecast devices in the same network without any major configuration and can search films and series directly on its own TVs. Amazon offers a similar platform Fire TV, but when Alexa was asked whether she could play the latest Lucifer season on the TV, the TV screen remained black.
But that could change quickly. The range of functions on Amazon can be expanded through small "skills". New third-party apps are added every day that make Alexa even smarter. Although other features can also be retrofitted with Google via the Home app, this is much more cumbersome than with Alexa and the offer is currently rather poor. In the future, however, both systems should learn significantly more, especially since the smart home area is becoming more and more interesting for developers.
Both devices work with the voice control of smart home devices such as Philips Hue lamps, Netatmo Energy thermostats and the Honeywell Evohome. Although Alexa has been around longer and the connection to third-party devices could be continuously expanded, Google Home does not have any significant disadvantage in this area. For example, we were able to control our Philips Hue lamps perfectly with Google Home. If you ignore the fact that the Google Assistant cannot control any other Bluetooth boxes directly, the list of compatible smart home devices is as long as the Echo. Both also support the web service IFTTT, which connects many smart devices that normally cannot communicate directly with each other.
Thanks to the extensive skills database with many additional commands, Amazon Alexa is currently ahead in terms of functionality. But Google Home is already a serious competitor, which is particularly impressive due to the extensive Google services behind it. Here everyone must decide for themselves what is more important to them. In addition, it should not be long before both providers come up trumps with new, even larger functions - competition is known to stimulate business. Perhaps a war of faith will break out in the new market for voice assistants, as is the case with smartphones - instead of Apple versus Samsung, it is Google versus Amazon. But Alexa and the Google Assistant will not be able to enjoy themselves alone for long. As other manufacturers are working hard on corresponding systems. We can expect a lot here in the future.