Neil Turner's Blog

Blogging about technology and randomness since 2002

Comparing smart speakers

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Yesterday, I reviewed our (relatively) new Google Home Mini. Today, I’m going to focus on why we chose to go with Google, and not an Amazon Echo or Apple Homepod.

Ecosystems

When you choose a smart speaker, I would take some time to decide which one works with the apps, services and devices that you already use. Apple’s HomePod only works with iOS devices for example; that’s fine for me, but not much use for my wife who has an Android phone. The Verge’s review seems to focus on the HomePod’s locked-in nature.

Similarly, Amazon’s Echo devices work well if you have Amazon Prime and one of its Fire TV devices, but we’re a Netflix household and have a Google Chromecast. I gather that Netflix support on Alexa isn’t that great, whereas it works well with a Google Home.

Price

We got our Google Home Mini free as part of a deal with Nest, which was probably the biggest reason for us choosing it over its rivals. As I write this, both the Amazon Echo Dot and the Google Home Mini are £39, and normally sell for about £50, and even the more expensive models are under £200. Apple is selling the HomePod for £319. For that, you could buy six Google Home Minis and cover your house, and have some change left over.

Sound quality

One reason for the HomePod’s higher price is its focus on high quality sound for playing music. Arguably, it’s trying to compete more with the Sonos range of wireless speakers, some of which now include Alexa as well.

The larger and more expensive Google Home and Amazon Echo models have better speakers than the smaller ones, but I was still reasonably impressed with the little speaker in the Google Home. Audiophiles would probably be disappointed with all but the most expensive models but for most people, even the smallest and cheapest models will do.

Third party services

Amazon’s Alexa devices have a range of third-party ‘skills’ available, which massively expand its abilities and integration with other services. Google Home is somewhere in the middle; it supports a lot of internet of things devices, but not much else. That is changing but some things, like being able to order a pizza from Domino’s, are US-only for now.

As for the HomePod, it’s Apple all the way down. If you have smart devices that support HomeKit, great. But that’s a bit useless if you have a Nest thermostat, for example. It can only play music from Apple Music, and not Spotify or any other third party streaming service.

In summary

If you like good quality audio, have only Apple or HomeKit-supporting devices and money to burn, then by all means, buy a HomePod. Amazon and Google offer much better value speakers that work with a wider variety of third-party devices and services, and the choice you make will reflect what you already own.

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