Google Home vs Amazon Alexa

dillyhammer

Administrator
Staff member
In the past few months I decided to throw caution to the wind and do away with any notion that anything I'm doing these days is private. What I'm doing, who I'm doing it with, when and where, is just... "out there".

Might as well enjoy the convenience too.

Google Home

I first acquired a Google Home device, standard version instead of the max or mini. I've had a Google/Gmail account since they were in beta (believe it, 8 digit limit to the username), so getting this set up to start with was a breeze. I did buy it with ulterior motives. I had already replaced my decrepit, deprecated (Android-4.4, Kodi 15) chinese box with an Nvidia Shield (review forthcoming) and already knew that I could control the Shield with Google Home.

I also understood that I could control lighting, so when the Google Home came home, so did 2 full colour LIFX bulbs that promptly went into our 2 living room lamps. Setting those up was also a breeze, and I preferred the LIFX bulbs because they required no hub. I installed their app on my iPad and 5 minutes later the bulbs were responding to both the app and Google Home.

Playing anything other than random songs from selected genres requires paid subscriptions to any of the music services, Google Play, Spotify and so on. Without a subscription you can play music channels, and since I'm stuck in the 60's and 70's that works just fine for me.

Controlling the shield is terrific with Google Home. Google has direct access to our Netflix account and my YouTube account so requesting damn near anything with result in something being played or searched, it's that intuitive. Controlling Kodi is a bit more basic, just pause and resume, volume and so on. But fine for my needs. There was an outage on Shield control that lasted about a month due to a security issue they weren't able to diagnose quickly. Normally it would bother me, but Google's "better be safe and disable it until we figure it out" was the right thing to do, so rather than alienate it endeared me a wee bit.

Then we started asking Google the same questions we'd ask via browser, and then some. Shopping lists. Reminders. Alarms. At the end of the day, all we had hopes for and more by quite a lot. The Google Home app on the iPad works very well.

So I was happy overall with the purchase. Got the Google Home on sale for $129. Bulbs set me back $40 a piece, but worth every penny. Coupled with Google, a phenomenal experience.

Then I started thinking... did I miss out on something with Amazon?

Amazon Alexa

The Amazon Alexa Dots went on sale at BestBuy, bundled with a colour LIFX bulb. I was planning on grabbing 2 more anyway, and with the bundle savings grabbed 2 Alexa Dots and 2 bulbs with a $40 savings. Our lighting was becoming something we really enjoyed and wanted to enhance it. Two more bulbs did the trick.

I've been a long time Amazon user as well, so hooking them up to my Amazon account was also super easy.

While Alexa is nice, it ain't Google. Nothing is close to Google. A lot of the questions we ask Google totally befuddle Alexa. But she does have some advantages. She has what's called "skills". Features that are listed that can be viewed and installed via the Alexa app, which works great. Those skills include music channels similar to Google, the LIFX skill enabling our lighting control, and others.

Then came the shocker. Amazon Alexa advertises Nvidia Shield Control. What they don't advertise is that that skill is only available in the US. I have spoken to support at both Amazon and Nvidia, and neither will admit why. I suspect it's payola - someone wants someone to pay something and the answer was no. Pathetic.

It does have one skill its really good at - sleep sounds. I use a variety of noise to help me sleep at night. Alexa has a whole library of sleep sounds devoted to just that. Heavy Rain. Distant Thunderstorms. Waterfalls. White noise. Pink noise. Brown noise. You name it. The dot in the bedroom gets used every day religiously.

Shame about the Nvidia skill.

Differences, Likes & Like Nots

Google talks too way much. Alexa has a "less verbose" setting. So when I say "dim the lights", Alexa dims the lights silently, while Google says "Okay, dimming the lights". Pretty huge. The latter is aggravating after a while.

Both have a "follow up" mode, so that once they're done executing one voice command they'll wait for additional commands before dropping down. The differences in their respective follow up modes are subtle. It must be far more difficult to implement than I think because neither of them got it right. Both miss about 50% of our follow ups.

Another subtle difference, and you'll love this, is their handling of profanity. To keep things simple I used George Carlin's 7 words you can't say on television. I won't repeat them here, but let's just say Alexa way more of a prude than Google - way more "beeeeeeeeep"s.

Neither it seems has a simple option to change voices. I don't think the option exists.

Update July 8th 2019

I've added an LG air conditioner to the smart home mix. Setting it up on the wireless and getting it hooked up to Google and Alexa was easy. I can issue voice commands for fan speed, mode, and temperature, as well as powering on and off. Google handles this much better, as there is a bit of a lag between voice commands and execution. Alexa bitches and moans about the device not responding just as it does.


Final Thoughts

We enjoy both units. We use Alexa more for lighting control, reminders and alarms, Google for Shield control and day-to-day queries like traffic conditions and travel times, weather conditions and forecast, and theirs also some games on Google we like, Song Quiz one of them. If we were forced to rid ourselves of one we'd ditch Alexa, simply because of the Shield control - it's a huge hole in an otherwise fine product.

We've added 4 more bulbs for a total of 8 - living room kitchen and dining room lights all controllable, 4 living room bulbs all colour and the rest white only.

In terms of the whole privacy thing... who cares man. At my age and station in life all I have to say is this. If anyone wants to pretend to be me, good luck. If you want to listen in on my conversations prepare to be bored to death and have at it. Dim the lights and play Hit Music 70's while you're at it.

Me: "Hey Google, play Birdbox on Netflix."
Google: "Okay, playing Birdbox on Netflix".

Heh.


Mike
 
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