Updates since November 15, 2017
- IFTTT for Google Assistant (which includes GH of course) Create custom voice commands for your Google Assistant. Available on Android, iOS and Google Home devices. If you at all interested in doing a little simple programming. IFTTT stands for "If this then that."
- How to find and listen to podcasts in 2017 - a recent (11/17/17) YouTube video
Includes mention of the Anypod Skill (for Alexa) which will enable you to choose a particular episode of a podcast to play. Anypod manual here. You can even subscribe to a podcast using Anypod. However, when I tried it today (12/9/17) it could not find my favorite - "The History of Philosophy" podcast. It said it would look for it.
- Life with Google Home - a recent YouTube video
- An Echo/Google Home/Smart Speaker Sceptic
- You can now string two Google Home commands together
- Google Assistant can now connect you with local home services [like a plumber]
- Google Assistant now recommends a plumber or locksmith, and it’s a disaster in the making
- Amazon Echo: 17 Best New Features
0. What is a voice controlled assistant and how does it work?
- All so called voice controlled assistants work in the same way. They require 1) a microphone to pick up commands, 2) the hardware to recognize the wake word(s), and transmit the command to a server in their respective Internet clouds, 3) an Internet connection, either WiFi or cellular to transmit the command, 4) servers with software (this is where voice recognition and AI come in) and databases to interpret the commands and return results, and, finally, 5) a speaker complex to render the results audibly. The hardware in the device need not be terribly powerful as the heavy lifting (voice recognition/AI/database lookup) is done in the cloud. Here are a selection of articles about this subject in general.
- Appliance Science: Alexa, how does Alexa work? The science of the Amazon Echo
- Alexa: Amazon's Operating System
- Amazon is building the next important OS, and Google can't keep up
- Amazon Echo: The four hard problems Amazon had to solve to make it work
- The Future of Alexa
- What is Google Assistant, how does it work, and which devices offer it?
- All Google Home Features in one Place
- Google Home review: A better voice assistant than Amazon Echo?
- CNET's Google Home review
- Voice as the user interface – a new era in speech processing
- A game about AI making paperclips
1. Hardware specs
- Amazon Echo 1 (2014) Tear Down and hardware specs
- 2.5" woofer, with a reflex port to drop a little extra bass, 2.0" tweeter
- 7 Far-field microphones
- Rotating light ring (light ring illuminates when it hears its wake word) volume adjustment, mute, setup buttons on top.
- Dual-band Wi-Fi (2.4/5 GHz), 802.11a/b/g/n (no ac support)
- Originally shipped with a remote control, then Amazon pulled it out as a separate product when it reduced the price from the original $199 to $179 (a common Amazon tactic).
- Original Echo no longer available, replaced by Echo 2 (shipping as of October 31, 2017). Original Echo may be available on Ebay or some other third party reseller.
- Amazon Echo (2nd gen) review: smaller and cheaper, but mostly the same
- Google Home is essentially a Google Chromecast combined with microphones, speakers, and touch controls/indicators on top of device.
Google Home official specifications
IFixit's Teardown of Google Home
- High excursion speaker with 2” driver + dual 2” passive radiators
- Two Far-field microphones
- Customizable base (containing speakers)
- Dual-band Wi-Fi (2.4/5 GHz), 802.11a/b/g/n/ac
- "Touch surface" controls and indicators, mute button on back.
- Speaker comparison: Echo 1 is definitely louder than the GH at the same volume setting, although GH has a somewhat deeper bass. Echo 2 appears to have about the same loudness as the Echo 1, but with a bass response similar to the GH.
- Microphone comparison: Since Echo (1 and 2) has 7 mics, it is more sensitive, as GH only has 2, although GH sometimes is more responsive when moderately loud music is playing, probably owing to better acoustic algorithms. Neither is responsive to commands when music is loud. You will need to reduce the sound manually to give it a command.
- Voice recognition: GH seems to have the edge here. See discussion below: 9. Getting other information
2. Setup and customization via their respective apps
- There are apps for Alexa and Google Home in the Google Play Store and Apple Appstore. Their use is essential in getting the devices setup (connecting to WiFi), creating groups for multi-room playback, etc.
- On GH you can change the voice GH uses (male or female) using your voice.
Say, "OK Google, female/male voice"
Then confirm, when GH says, "Here's an example of my other voice, would you like me to use this one?" with "Yes."
Echo doesn't have that functionality (as yet).
- You can change the wake word on Echo to any of the following: Alexa (the default), Amazon, Echo, Computer
- There is no option to change the wake word/phrase on GH (as yet), it's either "Ok, Google" or "Hey, Google." (In my experience "Ok, Google" works best.)
3. Amazon Echo's (Alexa) and Google Home's Current Command sets
- Helpful Alexa Commands
- Alexa Voice Command Cheat Sheet
- The complete list of Alexa commands so far (Sept. 10, 2017)
- Everything Google Home can do (Nov. 3, 2017)
- Google Home Voice Command Cheat Sheet
- The Total Beginner’s Guide to Using Google Home Like a Pro
4. Using Echo and Home to play music and audiobooks/podcasts
- Audio playback:
- Google Music Free Stations vs Amazon Prime Music
- Google Music (catalog of 40 million songs - $9.99/mo, normally 1 mo free trial, but for the moment offering 90 day free trial) vs Amazon Music Unlimited (catalog of 29 million songs - Prime Members get access to a selection of over 2 million songs from their catalog, Unlimited access is $7.99/mo for Prime members, Non-Prime price is $9.99/mo)
- Google Play Music Personal Library. You can upload up to 50,000 songs, with a file size limit of 300 meg each - thus giving up to 15 gb free storage for your music and/or audiobooks. This does not affect your free Google file storage of 15 gigabytes that includes Gmail + Google Drive + Google Photos.
- Amazon only allows 250 songs to be uploaded, but if you are a Amazon Music subscriber that jumps to 250,000 songs!
- Here are the various music related commands for Echo.
- Here are the various music related commands for GH.
- GH has a good selection of podcasts (Google PlayMusic, Spotify and TuneIn)
- Echo has limited access to podcasts natively, requires enabling a skill for more robust assortment.
- How to Listen to Podcasts on Your Amazon Echo
- Example 1: "Science Friday podcast." Both play, but oddly each service starts at a different point of the podcast.
- Example 2: "History of Philosophy podcast." Echo just beeps, GH picks up where I left off listening.
- Example 3: "History of Rome podcast." Ditto Echo just beeps, GH picks up where I left off listening.
- Currently, in neither platform can you play a particular podcast - they start with the current podcast and you have to request the previous, etc. if there are hundreds of podcasts in a series, and you want to start at epidode 1 or 63, then ... Bother! ... you have to resort to a tablet or phone and use bluetooth.
It is devoutly to be hoped that both platforms will introduce the ability to request podcasts by episode number in the not too distant future.
- Amazon Prime Audible has Free "Channels" (Channels are generally short podcasts, and some full-length audiobooks).
- Echo can play music/audiobooks on as many Echo devices as you wish, but only one stream is allowed at a time if you are a Prime member or are enrolled as an individual. Family plans are available for Amazon Music Unlimited.
- Google does not have audiobooks as yet. But you can add any audiobooks you own in mp3 format to your Google Play Music Library.
- Multi-room audio on Echo
- Multi-room audio on Google Home using Chromecast (Groups)
- How to setup multiroom music with Chromecast. Like Echo it requires the setting up of a group in the app.
- Ambient Sounds. Both Echo and GH can play some ambient sounds, as for example: "Thunderstorm sounds" that might help some people fall asleep.
By default they will play for an hour, although you can set a sleep timer for less. Amazon says: "By default the sound will play for 1 hour. To loop the sound until you say 'Alexa, stop,' just say 'Alexa, loop' while the sound is playing. The skill will remember your preferred looping setting for all future uses so you don’t have to say it again." Same commands work for GH.
5. Using Echo and Home to get news, weather, setting alarms, sleep timers, check your calendar, add/edit a shopping/or other list
Google Home vs Amazon Echo can both be configured to select news sources for "flash briefings" - this must be done via their respective apps.
GH lets you request a category of news, like "OK, Google, tech news" or for a particular news source, as "OK, Google, CNN news."
Echo responds to category news requests by giving you your entire news briefing. Echo does give you some particular news source, as "Alexa, CNN news,"
but can't understand requests for others, such as "BBC News," that despite BBC News being one of the news sources for Flash Briefing. Curious.
- Examples: "What will the low temperature tonight?" Alexa gives you the weather report, Google answers the question.
- Both can easily set alarms and timers, including sleep timers
- Both can check your calendar, e.g., "What's on my calendar for Wednesday"
- How to Create and Manage Lists with Alexa
- Creating, managing a shopping list on GH
6. Amazon Echo and Google Home Calling Features
- Amazon Echo has been able to place calls to other Echo devices or other devices with the Alexa app installed (devices must be each configured to enable this feature) for months. But since September 28, 2017 you can also make calls like Google Home to any number (excluding 900's) in the US, Canada, Mexico (and not 911) by using a contact's name or by specifying the number.
- Echo has true intercom functionality - you can have a conversation using Echo devices.
- How-To: Alexa Calling, Messaging & Drop-In on Amazon Echo
- YouTube Video - Make Calls & Send Texts on the Amazon Echo
- How to use "Drop In" with your Amazon Echo speakers
- How to Use Amazon Alexa’s Drop In Feature
Google Home can call any non-900 number in the US or Canada (and not 911) by using a contact's name or by specifying the number.
- Echo seems to possess the edge in area of calling at the moment. In my experience, calling on the Echo has always been problem free and clear every time I have tried it. GH calling works well most of time but occasionally you may need to make the call more than once on account of static or dropped connections.
- Intercom: Echos can work as a full-feature intercoms - you can even call your Echo devices at home from your remotely located phone or Echo. GH's intercom feature at present only allows one-way "broadcasting."
- Find your phone: Both GH and Echo can ring your phone for you. GH will respond immediately, asking by device name if you want to ring your phone. I have had a number of Android phones so it prompts me by device name. And it rings regardless of the mute setting. Echo requires you invoke a skill, but that is simple as you will be prompted to enable a skill when you ask "Alexa, where's my phone." Echo cannot ring your phone if it is muted, but it will vibrate.
7. Bluetooth and Casting
- Amazon Echo can be used as a ordinary Bluetooth wireless speaker.
- Google Home can also be used as a ordinary Bluetooth wireless speaker and can also make use of Chromecasting (naturally).
8. Third Party Skills on Echo - bulit-in skills on GH
- Amazon Echo is extensible through the enabling of third-party skills, of which there are many hundreds, example: Jeopardy, OurRecipes.
Google Home builds any "skills" into the software itself, making it easier to use, but it has not got the benefit of thousands of third-party developers creating what are essentially "apps" for it.
- GH keeps adding functionality like games.
- An example of an extra "skill" for GH: Lucky Trivia (roughly equivalent to Jeopardy)
9. Getting other information (search results and Wikipedia citations)
- Amazon Echo is very limited in this respect because Amazon doesn't own a search engine. Echo can fetch short Wikipedia results.
Google Home uses Google search (naturally) and Wikipedia.
- Although in general GH gives more specific answers to questions, this is not always the case. Both make use of Wikipedia
- Example 1: "What is BPPV vertigo?"
Here, Alexa uses wikipedia, GH uses MayoClinic.org.
- Example 2: "Does smoking contribute to stroke risk?"
Echo cannot answer such a complex question (at present).
GH answers: "On the web site stroke.org.uk they say ..." - you get a definte and accurate answer from Google search results.
- Example 3: "What is the difference between differential and integral calculus?"
Echo says, "Sorry, I don't know that."
GH says, "On the web site Quora they say ..." - you get a definite and accurate answer from Google search results, although I doubt one would understand the answer unless one already knew about these topics.
- Example 4: "Why are leaves green?"
Echo correctly and succintly answers the question.
GH quotes a web site and gives a more complex and less comprehensible answer.
- Example 5: "What sound does a loon make"
Echo says, "I still learning certain sounds..."
GH plays a brief sound clip.
- If you word the question slightly differently as, "What does a loon sound like"
Echo says "Sorry, I'm not sure."
GH answers this question with the same recorded sound.
- Example 6: If you ask Echo "Tell me about the Swedish TV series Blue Eyes."
Oddly, Echo gives infomation about the Swedish TV series "Real Humans."
That was a few days ago. Now Echo responds, "Sorry, I don't know that one."
A few weeks ago it gave the correct answer from IMDB (an Amazon owned property).
If you ask Echo "Tell me about the Swedish TV series Real Humans."
Echo responds "Sorry, I'm not sure" or "I don't know that."
If you ask GH "Tell me about the TV series Blue Eyes" (you have to drop "Swedish")
GH responds (correctly) "Here's some information about Blue Eyes....," - a brief correct response.
If you ask GH "Tell me about the TV series Real Humans."
It responds "Here's some information about Real Humans....," - again, a brief correct response.
What this suggests to me is that at the moment Google has the lead in voice recogition and in getting info from its search engine.
Here are two relevant articles on this subject:
- Google Home Vs. Amazon's Alexa: 54 Questions, 1 Clear Winner (UK)
- Google Assistant is smarter than Alexa. Does it matter?
10. Ordering from Amazon using Echo, ordering using GH
- You can ask Alexa to place orders for Prime-eligible physical products.
- How to use Google Express for voice orders.
A few of the stores you can order from in the US (except Alaska and Hawaii) with Google Home: Costco, Kohl's, PetSmart, Target, Walmart
11. Other devices that are Alexa or Google Home enabled
- Amazon Echo (ala Alexa) is available on any newer Fire tablet by pressing and holding the Home symbol. The new Fire HD 10 tablet (released Oct. 11) has the ability to actively listen (or not, if you wish - it's just a configuration setting - swipe down from the top right and you will see it).
- Comparing all 8 Amazon Echos
- Google Assistant has been available for a long time on Android devices. It is being embedded in many new "smart" devices. It is now available in the Google Play Store as an app for any compatible Android device.
- Google, with new Pixel and camera, is serious about devices
- Google Home Mini and Google's Home Max vs. Apple's HomePod vs. Amazon's Echo Plus.
Google Home Max coming in December
Here is the Best Buy link for Google Home Max
Brief video overview of Max and Mini
- Sonos One speaker blends Alexa, Google Assistant and Siri for $199. Mixed reviews on Amazon - good sound quality, poor implementtion of Alexa.
- Sony LF-S50G Smart Speaker (with Google Assistant Built-in) for $199
- A surprising new Alexa enabled speaker called Fabriq Chorus is like the new Echo 2, except it looks and sounds better and costs the same. And you can even buy it at Amazon!
On the other end of the price/performance scale:
- Big Lots - iLive Platinum Concierge (Portable) Speaker with Amazon Alexa for $65.00
- YouTube video review of iLive Platinum Concierge
And this product from Best Buy that has remarkably good reviews considering its price:
- Insignia™ (Best Buy) Voice™ Smart Bluetooth Speaker with the Google Assistant built in
- YouTube video review of Insignia™ (Best Buy) Voice™ Smart Bluetooth Speaker
- Third-party Alexa devices Roundup
12. Security issues in using Echo and Google Home
- Know the risks of Amazon Alexa and Google Home
- The Google Mini touch disaster
- How to Lock Down Your Privacy on the Amazon Echo and Google Home