If you’re thinking of setting up a smart home ecosystem, consider using it in tandem with some of the best smart speakers on the market. Alexa and Google Assistant dominate it with Echo and Nest devices. However, if this is your first time using a smart speaker, you may not be sure which one is best for you.
In 2016, I went with Google Home speakers since I used Assistant on my phone and had a Chromecast. The selection sounded natural, and I was pleased with the speakers. I’ve purchased several Google and Nest products, including the Home Max, Nest Audio, Nest Mini, and two Nest Hubs.
However, it was starting to grow old for me, not only because they periodically decided not to understand anything I said to them at all, but also because Amazon was doubling down on Alexa capabilities and working on a truckload of new features for it.
After trying it out, I decided to switch to Alexa for several reasons. While I think Google Assistant is amazing, there are some shortcomings with Alexa. So you will have to measure which option works best with your ecosystem.
Smart home integration
While one assistant had an advantage over the other in its early days, Google Assistant and Alexa are now compatible with a surprising number of devices and services. There is no real winner here. Because Google and Amazon aren’t exactly friends, their products don’t always work with the competitor’s digital assistant. For example, Ring and Blink cameras and doorbells are not supported on Nest Hubs and Chromecasts. Likewise, you can’t ask the Echo speaker to cast something to the Chromecast. Besides, both ecosystems are compatible with many third-party vendors and can work with some tinkering.
There are some differences when using them with your smart home devices.
If you run by the kitchen to grab a spoon when it’s dark and ask Google Assistant to turn on the light, you might have time to go into the kitchen and grab what will eventually become a fork, or trip over something, and drop face-down before the light turns on.
Things are faster with Alexa, because it does what you ask in a split second. Even with Wi-Fi lights, which are known to be a bit less interactive than Zigbee lights, Alexa controls them instantly without having to wait for that to happen. Additionally, the difference between the two is that the Assistant often confirms an action before starting to do it, while Alexa says “OK” after it completes the action.
Speaking of Zigbee lights, Amazon has included the Zigbee hub in many of its smart home devices, including some Eero routers and Echo speakers. Thanks to this, you can connect compatible devices to your amplifier without purchasing an additional hub. If you take the Hue lights example, this is particularly interesting, because it saves you money and space because you don’t need the bridge.
Google does not offer built-in Zigbee connectivity with its devices, so you need to purchase a third-party hub and connect it to your Google account. This may change in the near future with Matter.
Alexa and the Assistant offer routines that allow you to automate many things in the home by creating rules, triggers, and scenarios. Although Google Home allows for a decent level of automation, its routines aren’t as efficient as Alexa’s.
Alexa allows you to create customizable actions that can be combined with IFTTT for amazing results. For example, it can automatically detect when the contact sensor on the window is open to pause heating and restart it when closed. Likewise, it’s more accurate and reliable than Google Assistant if you want to secure your home when you’re away, with smart home device-based triggers, timers, and complex actions.
Alexa and Google Assistant can integrate with various sensors to monitor your home’s temperature, humidity, oxygen, and carbon monoxide levels. These usually come from third-party hardware, which means you have to buy and set them up. However, just like the Blink cameras, Amazon recently equipped the fifth generation Echo Dot with a built-in thermometer. This prevents you from buying an outdoor sensor, which can save some dollars if you have multiple monitoring rooms.
In addition to monitoring the indoor temperature from anywhere, having a built-in sensor allows you to create complex Alexa routines based on the indoor temperature. For example, you can automatically turn on the heater when it’s too cold or automatically close the blinds and open the windows if it’s warm.
Amazon’s Eero routers are among the most recommended due to their excellent performance and ease of use. Although they are relatively affordable, purchasing additional routers to complete your mesh network can be costly. However, Amazon has integrated the mesh satellite Eero into its new Echo speakers, which means it can extend its mesh Wi-Fi network at no additional cost, as long as you have an Eero router. Existing fourth-generation speakers will be updated to provide the feature, which shows Amazon isn’t neglecting its existing customers.
On the other hand, Google preferred to remove the built-in Nest Mini from the latest Nest WiFi Pro router, even though the previous generation Nest WiFi offered this kit.
Through thick and thin
Compared to the Assistant, things are better with Alexa, mainly because Amazon has worked hard on adding new features over time, while Google hasn’t done much. The main difference is that Amazon has worked on hardware improvements, frequently launching new hardware, while Google has focused mainly on software improvements. Who knows how the math will change once the Matter smart home standard becomes more popular, but I’m ready to be Amazon will maintain its edge.
Amazon’s anti-Google policy means its devices don’t work with Assistant, YouTube, Chromecast, and other Google services. This means that you cannot use Google services on Echo devices or cast from an Echo device to a Chromecast device. You can still use Fire TV natively with Alexa, but I find Google TV and Chromecast to be superior in this area.
Alexa doesn’t look as good on mobile, and Google’s app is more intuitive, so consider these items before making the switch, as well as the price it will cost you. Alternatively, you can use a smart speaker that supports Google Assistant and Alexa to see if you like it. You won’t take advantage of the hardware options, but it’s a great way to make a simple transition.
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