The battle of the smart speakers is afoot: will Google Home, Amazon Echo or Apple HomePod be crowned victorious?
Personal digital assistants are all the rage. These AI companions are everything you want in a helpful little butler – they’ll tell you the best route to work, let you know whether you’ll need an umbrella on your travels, and tell you a cheesy joke to cheer you up. They’re an essential part of the modern household; with Google Home, Amazon Echo and Apple’s HomePod being the most popular. But which is the best smart speaker for you?
Google Home vs Amazon Echo 2 vs Apple HomePod: Design
For a bunch of products that – essentially – all do the same thing, their looks couldn’t be more different.
Amazon’s Echo used to look like a big black monolith – but it’s become a bit shorter and fatter in its second iteration. It still lights up when you speak to it, but it’s become a lot less conspicuous. You can still get it in a metallic finish if you miss the 2001: A Space Odyssey look, though.
There’s also the Echo Plus variant to contend with. While it doesn’t do anything particularly special over its original counterpart – namely a few more smart home features and improved audio – it looks a lot more like the original Echo once did. Again, it’s a big, black monolith of a speaker.
Google Home blends in nicely with your home decor. It looks like one of those motion-activated air fresheners and looks great in any room you put it. You can also pick up different coloured bases for an extra fee – in either fabric or metal finishes– to blend it into your family home even more.
HomePod looks like an Apple-fied version of the UE WonderBoom Bluetooth speaker we reviewed last year. Its mesh-covered exterior is perhaps a touch bland but it is in keeping with Apple’s minimalism.
Winner: Amazon Echo
Google Home vs Amazon Echo vs Apple HomePod: Features
The best thing about these cloud-based digital butlers is that they’re constantly learning. Voice recognition is always getting better, and I’ve found Google Home to be much more adept than the Echo at picking up my thick Lincolnshire accent. Google Assistant accurately played any song I asked her to, while Alexa would often take a few goes to get it right. Even with the Echo Plus, which supposedly has a better far-field microphone, it just wasn’t quite as good as picking up my orders.
I’m also very impressed with the HomePod’s far-field microphone array. It can pick up the “Hey Siri” wake phrase when spoken at normal volume from several metres away while music is playing at moderate volume; in tests against the Google Home, it was just as good.
Google Home also – obviously – has Google’s own search engine at its metaphorical fingertips. For example, ask it what the best budget smartphone is and it will read out all entries in our best budget phone list. The Echo isn’t quite as swish, and is more frequently stumped by the most basic of questions.
Winner: Google Home
Google Home vs Amazon Echo vs Apple HomePod: Price
The most important thing – and one I bet you haven’t overlooked – is the price of each of these devices. But a comparison isn’t quite as straightforward as you might think.
Apple’s HomePod is the most expensive of the lot. Initially launching for $349 in the US, it costs £319 in the UK, which is £120 more expensive than Amazon’s most expensive Echo – the Echo Show.
Google and Amazon, meanwhile, undercut each other in different ways at different points. While the original Echo launched for £150, the newer Echo comes in at £90 – making it a good £40 cheaper than the £130 Google Home.
Then there are the smaller versions to consider with the Echo Dot and Google Home Mini both retailing for £50. Overall, the victory on value, and choice, goes to Amazon.
Winner: Amazon Echo
Google Home vs Amazon Echo 2 vs Apple HomePod: Services
All these smart speakers have a long list of services to take advantage of – and that list is constantly growing. The Echo is your best bet if you’re an Amazon Prime subscriber, for instance, as you can order stuff directly and listen to your favourite tunes on Amazon Music Unlimited.
Likewise, if you’re a Google fan, Google Home will be right up your street. It can be paired with your Chromecast so you can order it to play specific YouTube videos or kick off your Netflix binges. If you’ve purchased films via Google Play, or subscribe to Google Play Music, you can play those as well.
Oh, and just like Apple’s HomePod, both speakers include IFTTT support, perfect for tying all your smart home devices together and getting them to talk to each other.
Winner: Google Home
Google Home vs Amazon Echo 2 vs Apple HomePod: Sound quality
Now that I’ve properly tested the HomePod, and received a full audition, it’s Apple’s own smart speaker that walks away with the sound-quality crown. It produces masses of bass, but never too much, and it’s always in control. The mids and treble are balanced, well separated and strike the perfect balance between clarity and warmth.
Other than that, it’s the Amazon Echo – specifically the Plus – that ever-so-slightly lags behind. Google Home is just a little too bass-heavy for my tastes, offering a duller and less clear sound overall. The Echo 2 strikes the perfect balance – it’s neither too warm or too boomy in rock and pop songs, voices are clear and intelligible, and music sounds pleasingly crisp.
It’s worth mentioning too, that while Echo 2 can be paired with any Apple or Android smartphone and can also connect receive and send via Bluetooth, Google Home cannot. Sure, you can stream from Google Home to a Chromecast Audio, but the Echo is just that little bit more flexible.
Winner: Apple HomePod
Google Home vs Amazon Echo 2 vs Apple HomePod: Easter eggs
Okay, so you’ve heard how impressive these little butlers are, but there’s one thing you’re still asking about: what silly things do they do?
Well, both Google Home and Amazon Echo have their own little quirky features; order them to tell you a joke, and they’ll likely tell you the cheesiest joke in their library. Google Home’s Easter eggs are slightly more wide-ranging, though.
Siri meanwhile, well, she’s a bit more stern. She failed to tell me a joke on four separate occasions, so she’s possibly not one to pick up for quirky extra features. Obviously, Siri is constantly being updated, so this may change in the future. If it does, I’ll update this article.
Winner: Google Home
Google Home vs Amazon Echo 2 vs Apple HomePod: Verdict
Tallying up the scores, it’s Google Home that comes out on top. While the HomePod is top dog when it comes to audio quality, and the Echo offers the best choice when it comes to buying your smart speaker, the Google Home nudges slightly ahead in terms of services, features and easter eggs.
But in the end, the smart speaker that’s best for you largely boils down to personal preference and which service or services you’re already paying for. All things being equal, Google Home just edges it but, for most people, the smart speaker to buy will be the one that fits in with the tools you’re already using, be that Google’s suite of apps, Apple’s own App Store or Amazon Prime.