The Best Smart Speakers (Head-to-Head)

The Best Smart Speakers (Head-to-Head)

The Amazon Echo and Google Home have taken up residence in homes around the country, alongside the most recent smart speaker on the scene - the Apple HomePod.

Smart speakers offer ever more convenient ways to order taxis and food, find out about the news and weather, call friends and even control smart home appliances – all through simple voice commands.

But how do they all compare? Let’s find out and go head to head:

Amazon Echo vs Google Home vs Apple HomePod

Price comparison (correct at time of writing):

Amazon - Echo 2nd Gen: £89.99 , Echo Dot 2nd Gen: £49.99
Google - Google Home: £129, Google Home Mini: £49
Apple - Homepod: £319

The Amazon Echo is the cheapest device, comfortably beating the Google Home on RRP. Meanwhile, Apple is marketing the HomePod as a premium smart speaker, and as such it’s priced a cut above the rest.

Smart Speaker Design

Both the Echo and Home feature sleek, unobtrusive design and are available in a range of colours to suit your home’s décor. With the second-generation Echo, you can also opt for wooden, fabric or metal finishes to help it blend seamlessly into your home. Meanwhile, you can get the HomePod in the Apple classics of White or Space Grey.

The HomePod's a little different, following a similar cylindrical design to its Amazon and Google cousins, although its rounded edges give it more of a pill shape. It’s almost totally covered in speaker mesh, with a touchpad at the top showing Siri’s trademark waveform.

The Google Home has a touch-sensitive surface that you can use to control things like volume, playback and alarms, while the Echo uses a combination of buttons and a volume ring. The Echo has seven built-in mics compared to only two in the Home, giving it the edge over Google’s device in noisy environments.

There’s a six-microphone array in the HomePod, however, putting its listening abilities on a par with the Echo’s. In fact, Apple says its “beamforming” mics lets its speaker hear you over the music, even from across the room.

If you want a touchscreen on your smart speaker, the Echo Show has that market cornered for now – although Lenovo’s Smart Display, unveiled at CES 2018, will soon offer a Google-powered competitor.

Smart Speaker Apps

As you might expect, each device is most comfortable in its own ecosystem. The Echo has the best support for Amazon services such as Prime, Shopping and Music and the Home excels at Google features like Calendar, Gmail, Maps and ChromeCast.

Apple’s HomePod, meanwhile, is to designed primarily around the company’s Music service, with the company talking up its ability to intelligently find songs and respond to individual tastes.

But just like other smart speakers, it can also search the web, control your smart home appliances and help with everyday tasks via voice commands.

The Echo’s digital assistant, Alexa, has an ever-growing list of voice-activated “skills”, many tied to particular brands or organisations. For instance, you can get the weather from the Met Office, order an Uber or a Just Eat, or find out where NASA’s Curiosity rover is right now.

Smart Speaker Features

When it comes to raw intelligence, Google is king. Multiple tests have confidently declared Google Assistant smarter than both Alexa and Siri, with one agency finding that Home is six times more likely to give accurate answers to questions than Amazon’s offering.

The Echo and Home both feature individual voice recognition, however, so telling them to “call Mum” shouldn’t lead to embarrassing mix-ups if both you and your housemate have Mum saved to the same device.

The Echo and HomePod use Microsoft’s Bing to search the web, and while that’s not a bad thing by any means, there’s no denying Google is the world’s favourite search engine. Google's device also features built-in contextual awareness - taking your previous inquiries into consideration when figuring out what your questions mean.

All three feature support for smart appliances. The HomePod integrates seamlessly with Apple’s HomeKit accessories and app, and since dozens of brands have signed up to the HomeKit framework, that means a wide coverage of compatible devices.

However, having been around the longest, the Echo works seamlessly with the widest range of smart devices – although there’s every reason to think the other two could catch up in future. If you’re building a switched-on smart home where you control your lights, thermostat and appliances by voice command, the Echo is the device to choose for the moment.

Smart Speaker Sound Quality

The Google Home and Amazon Echo both pack good-quality Bluetooth speakers that are great for everyday music, podcasts and news reports – but are slightly out-performed by Apple’s HomePod in the sound quality stakes.

Apple is positioning the HomePod as a music device first and foremost, and the sound quality is great. Featuring a high-excursion woofer and an array of seven separate tweeters, there’s also bass equalisation and an integrated A8 chip behind its dynamic audio modelling. This means it automatically adjusts the sound according to the environment.

What’s more, if you put two HomePods in a room together, they’ll auto-detect one another and work together for an even better sound experience.

The two are pretty evenly matched quality-wise: the Echo can go louder before you notice any distortion, but the Home offers slightly better low-to-medium-volume fidelity. For daily listening, though, it’s unlikely you’ll notice a big difference between them.

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