During the Black Friday bonanza, both Amazon & Google were discounting their voice assistant speaker systems, prompting many people to take the plunge and begin talking to their devices. Being an Amazon Echo owner for several months myself, I also took that plunge and decided to purchase a Google Home as well to see the differences. This post is some notes from my experience, as well as my thoughts on the whole smart speaker market in general.
Before I get into my opinions, I do want to describe my intent for doing this post. My initial idea was to do a nerdy, feature comparison post, talking about the details I enjoyed in each. An internet search quickly revealed how watered-down that topic is, so I decided to pivot to my personal experience. My hope is that these opinions will either add to your impending purchase decision or find relevance in your own smart home experience.
First, let’s talk about software and hardware partnerships, and how frustrating the whole environment is. I should also start by saying that each company is expanding their partnerships constantly, so some of these statements may have changed by the time you read this. Anyway, the point is that picking either Amazon or Google really depends on the type of peripherals you already have in your life. For example, if you are a Google Play & YouTube Red subscriber, get a Google Home because you can’t stream these to the Echo. If you use Lyft for your rides, get an Echo because Google only has Uber for now. If you want to listen to your Audible books, Echo. If you want to integrate your Chromecasts, Google. But what if you live somewhere in the middle, like me? Yes, I understand that I can just pick Google Home and use Uber, but having to make changes to my lifestyle just to add a smart speaker seems like a backwards way of enjoying this process! I should be able to choose my partnerships, not have my smart speaker pigeonhole me into their choices.
Secondly, let’s discuss privacy. In the ads, these devices are touted as futuristic talking speakers that can help us automate mundane parts of our lives (because picking up a phone to call Dominos is too hard). In actuality, they’re luxury expenses designed to collect more information about us for market research. Choosing to have Amazon or Google listen to your conversations and collect data about your life needs to be a conscious choice you and your family make. On the surface, it’s fun to say, “Hey Alexa, play the Jason Mraz radio station from Pandora in the Living Room.” Just don’t be surprised if your Amazon recommendations suddenly start leaning heavily towards organic farming and “Best of James Taylor” vinyl records.
So should you invest in one? My recommendation is “yes,” as long as you understand that the experience is not as glamorous as advertised. I really enjoy coming home and saying “Hey Alexa, play Christmas radio,” and having wonderful music without starting up a computer or app. I also think getting in on the ground floor of home automation technology is useful for my business. However, I am also not you, and am willing to relinquish aspects of my privacy in the process. If that doesn’t sound like something you can give up for indulgent automation, then do your thing and avoid both of these…for now.