Rarely lost for words, Google, Apple and Amazon’s talkative smart speakers are auditioning for the role of all-knowing oracle in Aussie homes. But which version should rule your aboad?
We compare the Amazon Echo, Google Home and Apple Homepod at playing music, helping around the house, doing stuff online and actually understanding your requests. Here’s how each unit fared.
Apple’s HomePod ($899) now sits alongside Amazon’s Echo ($149), Echo Dot ($79) and Echo Plus ($229) on Australian store shelves, joining Google offerings Home ($199) and Home Mini ($79), which have been around locally for a while.
With Google, Apple and Amazon all competing in the home device race, whose product comes out on top? Technology reporter Adam Turner gives the lowdown.
And while your decision on which to get might be informed by your exisiting tech allegiences, how do they fare head-to-head?
Apple’s HomePod is the clear winner on audio fidelity, at least until the Google Home Max arrives in Australia. Alternatively the Sonos One is no slouch when it comes to sound quality, and the company is promising an update supporting Google and Amazon assistants to make the speaker smart.
Amazon Echo review: missing features make smart speakers tough to recommend The HomePod offers a wide soundstage to fill the room and tunes itself to match the acoustics. The downside is that, unlike its rivals, the HomePod doesn’t support multi-room audio. The ability to play the same song on different HomePods throughout your house is coming with the AirPlay 2 update later this year.
Of the entry-level speakers, the Google Home Mini sounds much better than the Amazon Echo Dot but both are better-suited to spoken word content than loud music.
Unfortunately the HomePod locks you into Apple Music, while the others support their own streaming services along with alternatives like Spotify, TuneIn and iHeartRadio. Apple’s speaker is so iCentric that you can’t even set it up without an iOS device at hand.
Helping around the house
All three are handy in the kitchen, letting you set timers, create reminders, add things to your shopping list and ask for basic conversions.
HomePod links to your iPhone so you can create notes, check your messages and even handle hands-free calls, but you can only connect one phone and have to grant the entire household access.
Only Google can recognise different voices to give personalised answers to questions like “What’s on my calendar today”. Alexa supports multi-voice in the US, but Australians are still waiting.
This question and many others stump Siri on the HomePod, who isn’t as useful as Siri on the iPhone. You’re told “I can’t do that on the HomePod” because Siri wants to show your calendar appointments on the phone’s screen rather than read them aloud like Google Assistant or Alexa.
Siri is flummoxed when you ask for a recipe, while Google Assistant and Alexa offer to walk you through it step by step. There are times when Alexa still falls short and she becomes more helpful if you trick her into thinking she’s in the US.
Alexa is also playing catch-up in Australia when it comes to controlling third-party smart home gear, glaring omissions compared to the US including Nest, Sonos and Belkin WeMo. That said, Amazon’s Echo Plus features built-in Zigbee whereas with the other speakers you’re reliant on a seperate Zigbee hub to control gear like Philips Hue light bulbs.
Doing stuff online
The HomePod really drops the ball here. Siri offers weather forecasts and traffic reports but she won’t order pizza, call an Uber or tie into the wide range of third-party services supported by Google Assistant and Alexa in Australia.
Amazon and Google are regularly adding new features such as the ability to order food as well as check bank balances, flight details, energy bills and phone accounts.
In the US Alexa lets you order products directly from Amazon, but not so for Aussies. This will likely change when Amazon Prime priority shipping is launched in Australia.
Understanding your requests
While Siri and Alexa are better at hearing you from the next room, Google Assistant is the clear winner here. Not just because she recognises different voices but also because she’s less likely to mishear your requests and also learns your habits.
This extends to playing music. Talking to Google Assistant you need to repeat yourself less often than when asking Alexa or Siri to play a particular album or song. They’re more likely to play some unexpected new music when you ask for an old track, while Google Assistant has a better appreciation of the classics.