How to Choose Between Alexa and Google Assistant

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If you’re looking to have a hands-free experience with your smart home, you need a voice assistant. By merely talking in the direction of a device enabled with the assistant, you can get information about the weather, time, local businesses, or anything else from their knowledgbase. You can control smart devices or send an email or SMS, and it’s all done by interacting vocally with the assistant, who speaks in a human-ish way. There are three well-known voice assistants: Siri, which is exclusive to Apple devices, Alexa, which is operated by Amazon, and Google Assistant. Since people are generally Apple or Android loyalists, it makes sense that if you run Apple products, you’d stick with Siri for your assistant. For everyone else, which voice assistant should you choose: Alexa or Google? 

When it comes to smart home technology, there are two factors to consider: the hub you’ll use to connect your smart devices so you can control them, and what voice assistants you might want to use. You don’t need a voice assistant to use a hub—you can just operate your devices through your phone or another display device. You can also use a voice assistant without a hub: The app on your phone or another display device is really all you need. That said, there’s no denying that using them together is the real power play.

Amazon gave their assistant a name, and their devices other names like Echo, Pop, etc., making it easy to distinguish what we’re talking about. With Google, we’re talking about three separate entities: Google Home, an app that runs on a display device and controls all your smart devices; Google Assistant, the voice assistant; and Google hubs, like Google Minis, Google Displays or Google Studio, a smart speaker. I’ll be specific about what aspect of Google I’m referring to from here on out. 


Smart home speakers and displays to consider:


The differences in “voice”

If the actual sound of the voice you’re speaking to is important to you, being able to choose the tone is helpful. Google Assistant offers a wide variety of vocal tones, including male-sounding and female-sounding voices. There are even options for kid-sounding voices to respond to your child, if they’re set up within Google Assistant.  You can also choose the language, and even how chatty the assistant is. 

Alexa has tapped into some celeb voices as options for their assistant, but you can also choose from generic female- and male-sounding voices. Some celebs are only for a limited time, like Santa Claus; others, like Samuel L. Jackson, are perpetual. These celebrity voices also come with a one time fee of $2.99, but that might be worth it to you if you’d really like Melissa McCarthy to tell you the time. While Alexa doesn’t have a kid voice for the assistant, you can set up your kids to have their own voice recognition. 

How accurate each assistant answers questions

Both assistants offer multiple voice recognition accounts within a household, which means it will recognize you and your partner and your kids and remember preferences for each. This is imperfect, but getting better all the time. 

As you start working with your assistant, you’ll realize that the bench of vocabulary your assistant recognizes is really important. You’ll get to know how to ask it questions in a way that makes it easier for the assistant to process, and more likely to get a response you want. Many reviewers have noted that Google Assistant seems to have a larger capacity in this area, and that’s not altogether surprising when you consider how long they’ve been experimenting with vocal processing.  This is where we start to see a big difference between Google Assistant and Alexa: In 2019, an independent study showed that while Alexa and Google Assistant both had roughly the same understanding of questions being asked, Google Assistant delivered correct answers 93% of the time, versus 80% of the time for Alexa. 

How each assistant integrates with other services

Each assistant is mostly good at integrating with its own services, as well as your smart home devices. For instance, if you use Amazon music, you’ll want to use Alexa, which integrates well. While Google doesn’t have their own music service, per se, they heavily favor Spotify and make it difficult to use Amazon Music.  If you use YouTube, you’ll want to use Google Assistant.  Google also ties into all of its products, from your personalized calendars and email to Google flights, payments, and photos. Amazon has grown a wide berth of services, but they largely center around shopping. If shopping is the thing, then Alexa has the advantage of quick and easy ordering, plus calling and messaging. 

The parental controls

How your kids will interact with a voice assistant should be a top consideration for parents. You’re enabling your kids to order up ‘Baby Shark” on command, and more than one child has “accidentally” done some serious credit card damage by shopping via the assistants. Both systems have parental controls, but there are some differences. Google will require the Family Link app, where you can set up kid profiles and select content restrictions and parental controls. You can filter music, video, news, podcasts, calling, and the types of questions Google Assistant will answer. Amazon’s devices and app come with FreeTime, a set of features that can control screen time, purchasing, and what your kiddo can see and hear. 

How the ecosystems compare

Half the reason to use the voice assistant is to control your smart-home devices, and in both cases, you can simply ask the voice assistant to do so by asking your phone. However, if you have hubs, it gets easier, because you won’t need your phone around you, just a hub that’ll pick up your voice. The next thing to worry about is what devices you can add to Alexa or Google Home. Generally speaking, if a device is Google Home compatible, it is also Alexa compatible. There are a few exceptions, notably Blink and Ring products, since they’re Amazon, and only some Google Nest products work with Alexa. 

However, I have recently been surprised to see Alexa gain some footholds here. For instance, the Brilliant hub, which I recently reviewed, only supports Alexa, and the latest Samsung TVs will support a Chromecast, but not Google Assistant. It’s just Alexa. I don’t know if this is a harbinger of what’s to come. 

Privacy

While everyone deserves to control where their data is going, it’s an ironic concern to have when you’ve moved a listening device or camera into your home. Its job is to observe. Despite the many layered promises of both companies, you have to approach using these devices with a little skepticism about their security, in my opinion. 

Amazon attaches the data to your account and even lets you listen to recordings of the various interactions you’ve had in the history section of their site. Google similarly attaches these various queries to your account, and you can view a log of them in Google Assistant. 

Both services use the data to improve and train the assistants, stores it on their servers, and can use it for “business purposes,” via Alexa’s privacy overview. Not to be outdone, Google’s privacy policy expands to claim purpose for service improvement, new services, and personalized services. Remember, if you don’t pay for the product, you are the product. 

A dual family

It’s worth noting, there’s no reason you can’t have both assistants in your home. While I run a mostly Google outfit, I’ve recently set up some Alexa features so I can use Alexa-specific devices more easily. The assistants never mistake each other, since you have to start commands with “Hey Google” or “Alexa…”. That said, most people choose one, and the best choice for you will largely depend on what you’d use an assistant for. In either case, getting started is easy and the more you use your assistant, the more natural doing so will become.

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