Quick disclaimer: neither of these devices is officially available in Ireland so comparing them now for Irish users is probably doing both Amazon and Google a disservice. But, because both devices are interesting to Irish people they are simple enough to get here. I’ve been playing around with both Amazon’s Echo Dot and Google’s Home Mini for some time now, so here’s how they seem to compare to each other for the Irish market.
Amazon’s Echo Dot is the smallest and cheapest device in the Amazon Echo range. It has been around a bit longer than the Google Home mini. The Dot connects to Amazon’s Alexa services to play music, news bulletins, or connect to other cloud-connected devices in your home. Alexa supports a large number of these services through “skills” that you can enable from the Alexa homepage. It has a 3.5mm connection to connect to speakers that you already have in your home which is a nice touch. With multiple Dots and an Amazon music subscription, you can play music across those devices too which is good for parties or other situations.
Google Home Mini is the smallest and cheapest device in Google’s Home range. It uses the Google Assistant that many people will already have used with their Android phone or with Google’s Allo app. It can connect to many services like the Echo Dot for controlling devices in your home. You can connect your Spotify or Google Play Music accounts too for playing music or podcasts. Unfortunately, the device does not have a 3.5mm connector but relies on connecting to Chromecast devices like the Chromecast audio or Chromecast Ultra. Again, you can sync your music across many devices for parties.
In my home, I have some smart devices that both or one of these devices will connect to. I have a Nest thermostat which I love which both devices support flawlessly. I have an IKEA TRÅDFRI hub for smart lighting, which Alexa has recently added support for. Support for Google Home is “coming soon”, its reported. I also have an Electric Ireland Smarter Home hub which nothing supports except for its own app. This hub is pretty barebones but I like its usage reporting functionality. Every so often Electric Ireland will send me a device that it supports, like a smart switch for my immersion or smart sockets. The sockets have been recalled unfortunately but the immersion switch works well using the app. I have both a Chromecast device and Echo Fire TV Stick. The Fire TV stick is pretty useless in Ireland but works well for Netflix.
In terms of voice recognition, the Google Home mini wins hands down. I’ve never had to repeat myself whereas the Amazon Echo will often misunderstand me. I’m guessing the Google Assistant has more Irish voice data to make it better for our accents but getting the Echo to play RTE1 is next to impossible. The Home Mini picks it up first time.
For media playback, neither device is perfect. Their inbuilt speakers are small but again I prefer the Home Mini. The sound from its inbuilt speaker easily fills my living room. In fact, I regularly have to turn down the volume on the Mini. The Dot is good enough for general music though too, but I find myself playing more music on the Mini. One thing about the Dot that’s particularly annoying is when that 3.5mm port on the Dot is used, all Alexa’s communication happens through that connected speaker. That is annoying if you have it hooked up to a switchable A/V receiver or other multi-input devices. At least on the Home Mini if I want to play something on the connected Chromecast I have to tell it to do it. Annoyingly, even though my Sky Q box and Xbox both support Chromecast they don’t show in the Google Home app so that I can link them. I’m not sure why this is, as my phone and other devices see them fine and can cast to them successfully.
Ireland specific location awareness is where the Google absolutely hammers home its advantage and makes it a clear winner, for me anyway. “OK Google, what’s the weather like today” will always result in a correct answer. Alexa will always tell me it doesn’t recognise my location. But, if I ask “Alexa, what’s the weather like in Dublin”, I’ll get the right answer. So the data is there but locked away behind some geo-blocking. This is not unsurprising given the Echo’s lack of support here in Ireland but it makes the Google Home much more natural to talk to. The Home Mini seems more at home in Ireland even though it’s not available here.
I’m not saying the Echo Dot is a bad device, it’s not, and when it eventually adds proper support for Ireland it will jump up in my estimations again. That said, the only thing delaying me moving the Dot out of my living room is the lack of IKEA TRÅDFRI support currently for the Google Home. I even prefer Alexa’s voice over the Google Assistant, it just seems less robotic. It’s also easier to wake up the Echo using “Alexa” rather than “OK Google” even if that does lead to acquaintances asking me how “Alexis” is every time I see them.
Clear winner for me: Google’s Home Mini, but that’s not to say the Echo Dot won’t make a comeback later in the game.
Amazon Echo Dot photo by Piotr Cichosz. Google Home Mini photo by Ben Kolde. Both on unsplash