Amazon Echo vs Google Home UK: which one is right for you?

Updated 28/3: Google Home is heading to the UK to take on the Amazon Echo. Which one deserves your cash?

Updated 28/3/17: We've updated this face-off to include all of Google Home's new talents ahead of its UK launch on 6 April. Read on to find out whether it's ready to dethrone the Echo as the voice-controlled brain of our house...

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We live in a time where you can stumble home at 4am, buy a gallon of peanut butter online, then order an Uber back to the bar after realising you've left your significant other behind - all accomplished with nothing but the sound of your very own voice.

That's right folks, the age of the smart speaker is upon us. And with the arrival of Google Home in the UK from 6 April, that age is quickly becoming a golden one.

Can the Home's new UK-specific talents and voice topple the Amazon Echo, with its flashy volume dial and promises of voice-controlled Sonos?

Both look great. Both promise the world. But which one should you have in our house? 

We've spent some time auditioning them in the UK and talking to ourselves, to find out:

Amazon Echo vs Google Home: Smart Home

One of the biggest selling points of a smart speaker like the Echo or Home, is their ability to act as a central voice-controlled hub for your entire house.

The future is here - we have the ability to control our lights, our heating, and appliances, with nothing but our voices, and smart speakers are at the heart of it all.

Google Home has recently upped its smart home game in a big way. In the UK it supports smart lighting from Philips Hue and LIFX, smart heating from Nest and Honeywell, hubs including Samsung's SmartThings and Wink, security devices from Ring anf August, plus an array of plugs and switches from WeMo, TP-Link and Insignia Connect. Tado's smart heating and radiator thermostats will also arrive in summer 2017. 

The one service in which the Echo has Google truly beat though, is Hive smart heating. It's a surprise omission from Google Home, particularly as Hive supports smart bulbs and plugs not too. But with British Gas recently stating that it's "closely watching" Google Home, this is surely only an update away. 

Otherwise, the two are now very evenly matched. Both let you control robot vacuums with your voice (they each support Neato Botvac Connected, with Alexa also playing nice with iRobot Roomba's range). This is truly the pinnacle of human laziness. Marvelous.

Both Google Home and the Echo support custom commands though IFTT, and while SmartThings can get most things done on Google Home, if you’re after a little more flexibility (or are a Hive user in the UK), then Alexa on the Echo is the best choice for smart homes (but only just).

Winner: Amazon Echo (just) - Amazon's speaker plays nice with a few more devices and services, but it's very close

Amazon Echo vs Google Home: Entertainment

This is where both the Echo and Home simultaneously pronounce "say hello to my little friend" - or more specifically, the Amazon Fire TV Stick and Google Chromecast.

Google Home used to have voice-controlled telly sewn up thanks to its Chromecast smarts. With a Chromecast plugged into your TV, you can tell Home to play the new Power Rangers movie trailer on your TV, and it'll fire up the YouTube app on your Chromecast, playing the trailer on the big screen. 

It's impressive stuff, especially as it's normally clever enough to understand what you want to watch even if you don't know the full name. Asking it to play the new Scorsese film trailer, for example, will correctly bring up Silence.

The functionality works with the likes of Netflix too. It's not quite good enough yet to fully replace your remote yet - you can ask it to play Stranger Things, but not episode 9 from the first season of Stranger Things - but it's definitely getting there.

The trouble for Google is, so is Amazon's new Fire TV Stick. It now has voice control and built-in Amazon Alexa, which gives it similar functionality to the Chromecast (albeit in a very different technical way). You have access to most of the same services on both, bar the obvious exclusives - Amazon Instant Video on Fire TV, and both YouTube and Google Play Movies on the Chromecast.

And yet, unlike Chromecast, Amazon's Fire TV Stick is strangely an independent island - it can't yet talk to an Echo Dot, or vice versa. Which means this round again just goes to Google Home.

Winner: Google Home - but Amazon's Fire is spreading fast

Amazon Echo vs Google Home: Organisation

While both speakers can tell you your upcoming appointments, Google Home fails pretty hard at actually helping you organise anything, as you can’t use it to make new appointments.

The Echo, on the other hand, lets you create appointments easily, though you have to set the default appointment calendar on the app if you have more than one calendar.

Google Home can’t do reminders either, which seems insane.

Both speakers do, at least, let you set alarms and timers with ease, which can be incredibly useful when you’ve flung yourself in bed, or are timing something in the oven.

Winner: Amazon Echo - its ability to add calendar entries and reminders gives the Echo the edge

Amazon Echo vs Google Home: Apps and services

In terms of quantity, the Echo has way more connected apps and services compared to Google Home. It has over 10,000 'skills'; we counted less than 200 equivalents in the Google Home app.

The Alexa app lets you easily browse, search and enable a plethora of services for the Echo, making it much more flexible and useful than Google's offering. Bizarrely, it doesn't even have a search function for its add-on services yet, making you scroll through a list.

And yet, Alexa's skills do remind us of the early days of mobile app stores, and you have to sift through quite a lot of rubbish before finding genuinely useful, polished services.

Still, there are some handy ones. The National Rail service lets you ask Alexa for your regular commute train times, or you can plan a different journey from scratch. You can also order takeaways from Just Eat, or get directions for a quick 7-minute workout. 

Google Home, however, offers no such services, and will act dumb if you ask it about public transport. While it offers very basic car directions, it'll only tell you how far away a destination is, as opposed to how to actually get there.

It's now something of a tie when it comes news though, as Google Home has beefed up its offerings in time for its UK launch. Both the Echo and Home now offer pre-recorded clips from the likes of The Guardian, The Telegraph, BBC, The Financial Times and Sky News. It's a fantastic way to quickly catch up on headlines while you get dressed/feed the cat/brush your teeth.

Winner: Amazon Echo - the Echo still has the edge on flexibility, despite Google Home's big UK push

Amazon Echo vs Google Home: Shopping

The Echo wins hands down in the shopping department, as it's the only smart speaker which actually lets you order things online in the UK (on Amazon, of course), using nothing but your own voice.

When we asked Alexa to order an umbrella from Amazon, it checked our previous order history, found an umbrella we'd previously purchased, and asked if we wanted to re-order it. We said yes, and just like that, we had a brand new umbrella in our hands the very next day. Magic.

If you haven't previously ordered anything before, Alexa will give you a list of the top few search results on Amazon, asking you if you want to buy any of them. It's one of the most futuristic things we've done in a while, and you can set a verbal pin number to prevent your mates from ordering you a MacBook Pro every few seconds as a prank.

Google Home recently started supported shopping in the US, thanks to integration with Google Express stores like Costco and Walgreens. Naturally, it can't yet match Amazon's scope and there are no shopping services available yet in the UK. 

Winner: Amazon Echo - ordering triple-ply toilet paper with nothing but your voice? The Echo is the future.

Overall Winner: Amazon Echo

Only six months ago, the Echo was such a clear winner in the UK smart speaker battle, it was like watching Shadow from Gladiators destroy someone with a pugil stick. Our imported Google Home just couldn't compete, despite its superior voice search skills.

That's no longer the case. The UK launch of the Google Home has seen it fill some (if not all) of its functionality gaps, which means your decision is very much down to what you're looking a smart speaker to do.

If it's voice-controlled shopping and all-round versatility you're after, the Echo still has the edge. Its standalone sound quality is slightly better, it's got Sonos integration coming later in 2017, and it's simply had more time to integrate with UK-specific services like National Rail and Just Eat.

But Home is catching fast, and is the better voice assistant in some areas. As you'd expect from Google, Home's ability to answer virtually any question you can think of is unrivalled outside of the University Challenge studio, and it Chromecast skills mean it's currently the best way to get voice-controlled, multi-room audio. At least until Sonos and Alexa's tech wedding of the year.

It's the small things that just give the Echo the edge (and let Google Home down). It's the only one to support Hive, read you audiobooks or let you set reminders. Quite why Google Home doesn't let you add events to your calendar or set a radio alarm (rather than just a standard alarm) we're not sure, but they're not difficult things to fix. And if Home's recent splurge of new services is anything to go by, they won't remain broken for long.

If you're knee-deep in the Google ecosystem, we'd even go as far as to say that Home has the greater potential. But right now the Echo holds onto its title.

As Amazon and Google improve and perfect their respective AIs, we'll all be treated to bigger and better things like voice calling and messaging, and we can't wait to see what they'll be capable of.

Buy the Echo here from Amazon

Buy Google Home from here (due 6 April)

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