The Amazon Echo and Google Nest (formerly Google Home) aren’t just speakers, they’re platforms. While their physical hardware doesn’t get updated very often, the services that power them—Alexa and Google Assistant—are in a constant state of change. A smart speaker is generally a gateway to a voice assistant ecosystem. When you choose an Echo or a Nest, you’re choosing a side—whether to voice-enable your home with Alexa or Google Assistant.
The Echo has been our Editors’ Choice winner for a long time, and it still has a few advantages, like being able to use multiple wake words. Alexa has lagged behind a bit in natural language understanding, though, and the Nest Audio is easier to talk to without remembering specific syntax.
But which smart speaker is right for you? Let’s break down the most important aspects to help you decide.
Alexa vs. Google Assistant
Both Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant have developed into excellent voice assistants, and now largely function very similar to each other. Either assistant can answer questions, control smart home devices, and even check your calendar and email (unless you use G Suite for your work schedule and mail; Google Assistant still doesn’t work with it).
Alexa has an edge with third-party functionality, thanks to thousands of different skills that can do everything from order pizza to read a bedtime story. It tends to require very specific syntax, though, especially when activating and using most of those skills. It makes Alexa a bit hard to talk to unless you get used to phrasing requests how Alexa wants to receive them.
Google Assistant doesn’t have nearly as many third-party plug-ins, but it’s much easier to talk to. It can understand different requests more easily than Alexa, and that’s very appealing.
PCMag’s Angela Moscaritolo illustrated this point in her review of the second-gen Nest Hub:
“At night, I just say, ‘Hey Google, turn off my bedroom lights,’ and the room goes dark,” she wrote. “When I give Alexa that same command, the virtual assistant responds with, ‘A few things share the name ‘my bedroom lights,’ which one did you want?’ When I say, ‘All of them,’ Alexa asks, ‘Did you mean my home?’ After this I reply, ‘Yes,’ before Alexa says, ‘OK,’ and does nothing.”
Alexa leans heavily on Wikipedia for general knowledge queries, while Google’s search is more comprehensive. One area Alexa beats Google, predictably, is shopping-related queries—Alexa really wants to help you buy things from Amazon.
Both can do things like spell words, set timers, and read you the news. Google Assistant is more conversational: It will often remember what you were talking about or let you carry ideas throughout a conversation. For instance, if you ask, “Who was the leading actor in Taken?,” you can follow up with, “What other movies was he in?”
The Echo has multiple wake word options, but only one female voice. You can alert it with “Alexa,” “Amazon,” “Echo,” or “Computer.” The Google Home only has one wake word option, “Hey Google,” but it has both male and female voices.
Which Smart Speaker Will Look Best In Your Home?
Do you like spheres, or do you like rounded rectangles? The Echo and smaller Echo Dot are orbs after their most recent redesign, abandoning the cylinder shape of the past. The Echo Dot also has a version with a built-in clock, which both looks nice and is very useful. The Nest Audio, meanwhile, is shaped vaguely like a pillow standing on its end, while the tiny Nest Mini is more like a puck.
Whether you have light or dark decor, either speaker line will have something complementary. The Echo and Echo Dot are both available in black, blue, or white versions; the Nest Audio comes in black, blue, green, salmon, or white, while the Nest Mini has black, blue, salmon, and white models.
The larger Echo Studio is the most limited, style-wise. The keg-shaped smart speaker only comes in a grayish black.
How Do Smart Speakers Sound?
The discontinued Google Home Max was easily the loudest first-party smart speaker out there, but it’s no longer available. Now, the Echo Studio is by far the strongest in terms of sound quality, with powerful audio and the ability to fill a room with directional sound thanks to its angled drivers.
For the midrange models, the Echo and Nest Audio sound similar, with generally good audio quality that can easily fill a room. The Nest Audio lacks a bit of bass, while the Echo doesn’t have much treble finesse, but both still offer high-quality sound considering their size and price.
Stepping down from those models, the Echo Dot has a bit of an edge over the Nest Mini, which has fairly weak bass and midrange. Of course, these smaller speakers are much more suitable for nightstands and desks than serving as a room’s main audio device.
Both platforms support iHeartRadio, Pandora, Spotify, and TuneIn. The Echo also supports Amazon Music, while the Nests have YouTube Music. Of course, you can also connect your phone to any of these speakers via Bluetooth and stream whatever you want directly.
Smart Home Integration
The smart home brand gap between Alexa and Google Assistant has closed, and almost all major third-party smart home device manufacturers work with both. However, Blink and Ring are owned by Amazon, so their devices only work with Alexa. While Nest is owned by Google, Nest thermostats and cameras still work with Alexa.
Both Alexa and Google Assistant let you combine your devices into rooms, so you can say commands like, “turn on the living room lights.” They both also support Routines, which let you combine multiple actions into one command.
The Echo and Nest speakers both link up to TVs using their associated streaming sticks. If you buy a Chromecast or a Fire TV Stick, you can tell them to open Hulu or play a show. Several smart TVs, including models from Roku, can be set up to be directly controlled by either voice assistant.
The Best Smart Speaker
Both voice assistants are neck-and-neck, though we find Google Assistant to have a slight edge thanks to its better natural language recognition. It doesn’t have the number of third-party skills Alexa does, but it’s still robust, and easier to talk to.
For pure audio, Amazon has superior sound with its larger and smaller speaker options, as the Echo Dot sounds better than the Nest Mini, and the Echo Studio no longer has any competition from Google in the form of the Home Max. The midrange speakers, the Echo and the Nest Audio, are similar enough that we put them on equal footing.
The best smart speaker for you ultimately depends on what you plan to use it for. If you want a voice assistant that’s easy to talk to, a Nest speaker will be better. If you want the best sound quality, go with an Echo. And, of course, any smart home devices you already use should be factored into your decision.
Finally, if it’s a smart display you’re after, head over to our story on the Amazon Echo Show vs. Google Nest Hub.