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Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa are two of the most popular digital assistants, but which is the best? Our Google Assistant vs Amazon Alexa guide reveals all.
Comparing Digital Assistants: Google Assistant, Alexa, And Siri On Android Devices.
Yes, Google and Amazon are actively at war in 2019, vying for control of your living room, kitchen, and (least terrifyingly) bedroom with the help of their AI assistants. The big question is, whose side are you on?
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Let’s start with the real basics to avoid confusion as this is an area where some technical terms overlap. Google Assistant is an artificial intelligence software that you talk to when you use the Google Home speaker or long press the home button on the latest Android phones. It’s Google’s Siri, if you will.
Alexa is Amazon’s technology equivalent of what you talk to when you use your Amazon Echo smart speaker or Fire TV remote.
Whether you want to dim the lights with a voice command or get traffic information, you often have a choice of which assistant you want to use. Both are supported by a wide range of third-party smart home and speaker products.
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Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa are getting better every day. However, I find it more natural to use the Assistant.
While Alexa has gotten better recently by being able to interpret your questions based on the ones you’ve already asked, the assistant now knows more thanks to Google owning the internet search space for what seems like forever. Asking an assistant is less likely to be answered with “Sorry, I don’t know that,” which can quickly dispel the illusion that you’re dealing with something intelligent.
For example, Google Assistant doesn’t fail when asked “When is tax due in the UK?”, but Alexa does. Likewise, say “I don’t like this one” while a Spotify song is playing and the Assistant will skip to another song. Alexa, on the other hand, tells you, “Thumbs up and thumbs down are not supported on Spotify.” Thank you, this is very convenient!
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If you’re looking for a digital assistant like those depicted in popular sci-fi movies, Google Assistant is clearly ahead at the moment.
However, Alexa is ahead in subtle but unfortunately important aspects. Alexa’s “wake word,” which you say to get the smart speaker to start listening, is less verbose than Google’s. “Alexa” is simply easier to say than “OK, Google,” which is a loud salad.
Alexa has more capabilities with “skills”. Essentially, these are apps for your smart speaker that allow you to do more with your device than it can do right out of the box.
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Recipe books and guided meditations are particularly useful, or you can play radio stations with Radioplayer. There are tens of thousands of these abilities, some very specific. A variety of skills are available just so you know the value of resistors and what they mean, to give one example of how niche things can get. Other skills let you control your smart home devices, robot vacuum, or Plex setup with your voice.
Google Assistant offers something similar in the form of “actions”, but there are far fewer of them. The total is in the hundreds, not the thousands, and you still can’t use Google Assistant to tell you the value of a resistor when you’re trying to fix a broken gadget.
But while Alexa lets you interact with many other smart home devices, apps, and other useful services, the basics of Google Assistant still seem more appealing. Again, it all depends on the natural way he reacts.
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For example, you can ask either system to “play This American Life” and both will find the latest episode of this popular podcast. But the results will be different if you ask for a replay of the lesser-known political podcast Reasons to Be Happy.
Say “play Reasons to be Cheerful” and both systems will predictably play the song of the same name by Ian Drury and the Blockheads. Add “podcast” to the end of that query and Google Assistant will find the podcast you want, but Alexa fails again, creating a dead end.
Alexa skills can also feel a bit modular, as some things can’t be loaded just by asking for the right type of content. You must name the skill’s actual name, which can be awkward and unfriendly.
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Because these AI systems are changing so quickly, we can’t say what they will be like six months from now. But Google Assistant’s approach—with tightly integrated capabilities rather than a sea of things activated by precise commands—is generally more appealing.
There is also the phone side of things to consider. Alexa is primarily an assistant for Amazon Echo speakers, Fire TV devices and, to a lesser extent, Fire tablets. Google Assistant is available for iPhone and Android phones and is built into almost all new Android phones.
You can download Alexa for Android and iPhone, but the app doesn’t really give you full access to how Alexa works, just the control panel.
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Each side also has some idiosyncrasies to consider. For Google Assistant, Chromecast lets you take content from your phone and stream it to your TV. Chromecast is an inexpensive media device that plugs into a TV’s HDMI port. There’s also one for audio called Chromecast Audio.
This is great if you want to turn your old, but still great sounding, “dumb” hi-tech system into a smart controlled system. However, Chromecast doesn’t have a full interface – it’s just an intermediary that brings old and new technologies together.
Amazon’s alternatives include the Fire TV Stick and the more powerful new 4K Amazon Fire TV. These are ordinary TVs with a full-screen interface and a remote control. They let you stream Netflix, play games, and download tons of apps—the Fire TV family is based on Android, so it has access to a pretty huge ecosystem.
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Alexa is coming into play with the new Fire TV remotes. The included plastic tube has a microphone where you can request content using a voice command. We tend to recommend the Fire TV stick for people who want to stream all the latest services on their smart TVs or those with older smart interfaces.
Chromecast, however, boasts a much tighter integration with your phone, and while it’s less affordable, it might appeal to the more tech-savvy among you.
The most common way to interact with Google Assistant or Alexa is through a smart speaker. The assistant may be more accessible on phones, but in our experience, you won’t use your digital assistant as much on the road as you would at home.
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Third-party speakers and other gadgets are starting to integrate both digital assistants, but most smart home buyers will likely buy a Google or Amazon speaker first. Here’s an overview of what’s out there. Note that we’ve left out Amazon’s newest device, the Echo Spot, because we’ve yet to fully test it. But you can get an idea of where it fits by reading our Echo Spot hands-on review.
The cheapest way to connect to Alexa is the Echo Dot 2, a puck-shaped speaker with an LED ring on top. It comes in white or black, but it’s not the coolest gadget out there. That said, the overhead light looks great. The microphone is great, although the sound quality is poor. Don’t rely on it for heavy music.
The small Google Home speaker looks better than Amazon’s device, with a top grill available in gray (“chalk”), charcoal, or coral pink. Its LEDs are hidden behind a grille for added sophistication. This speaker sounds better than Amazon’s Echo Dot 2, with fuller bass. You can guess that the driver is shooting up from the structure; it’s really disappointing.
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The Echo 2 bridges the price gap between the original (discontinued) Echo and the Dot. So far, there is nothing from Google at this price. The sound quality is much better than the Dot, but not on the same level as the Sonos One. We wouldn’t recommend it to audiophiles looking for a speaker for everyday music, but it will do the job as a next-generation bedside or kitchen radio.
The original Google speaker is already at home. It is a flexible block with a wedge cut into the top. Remove the lower grille and you’ll find a 5cm drive and two passive radiators. The sound doesn’t compare to the best wireless speakers on the market, where the clarity is just okay and the bass isn’t as well controlled or snappy. It’s pretty fun to listen to though.
Arguably the best-sounding first-party smart speaker available as of January 2018, the Echo Plus takes the design of the discontinued original Echo and tweaks it a bit. There is decent detailing and sound projection. Place it on a table or coffee table and it makes a good speaker for casual music. However, the Sonos One still beats it by some margin in sound quality.
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