This post contains Canadian content, and may not be suitable for non-Canadians!
I have been wondering about getting one of these smart speakers, Google Home Mini or Amazon Echo Dot (Alexa), for a while. I just didn’t know if they would be worth the investment. However, Boxing Day (It’s like a Canadian Black Friday, but it is the day after Christmas) came and at 50% off, I figured it was time to try.
I couldn’t decide on which smart speaker to get, so I got both and compared them. They arrived on the same day.
On opening the boxes, the first thing I noticed was that the Amazon unit was a little heavier than the Google. Once I started playing music, I noticed that the sound quality of Alexa was much more natural than the Google unit, so I am guessing the extra weight is a bigger and much better speaker. Both of these units allow you connect to external speakers, but if you have Alexa you don’t need to. The clear winner on sound quality is Alexa!
Voice Recognition in noisy environments:
One of my biggest concerns with getting one of these devices is that we have a very noisy household. No, we don’t have kids, but we do have 2 hepa air filters in both rooms that contain the units and usually the TV or radio is on. Our phone’s voice assistant rarely works with this background noise, so I was hesitant to invest money into something new. However, both units seem to recognize our voices, with very few exceptions, even with the TV or radio in the background. One reason for this is that they have multiple microphones so they can cancel out the background noise, but our cellphones don’t.
I found that the Google interface was much easier to follow, and setting up two voices was easy and straight forward. Simply tell it the second person’s Google account (gmail address), it sends an invitation, and they accept it. To set up a second person on the Alexa, I had to read up on how to do it. I initially set up my wife first, and when I tried downloading the Alexa app on my phone, and creating a new account, it asked for a phone number and said my phone number was already registered to an account, so I had to call customer service?!?!? I disconnected her account from Alexa, created my own, and then added her account with no problem. Frustrating, but it worked. So, for ease of initial setup Google wins this round.
Radio and Music:
We have heard several times on our favorite radio station that you can say “Alexa, install Praise radio” and then “Alexa, play Praise radio”, and it does work! So far, I have not been able to get ANY radio station to play on the Google mini. It may be that the Canadian version does not support third party Actions (Alexa calls them skills) at this time, but for whatever reason the instructions I see on the internet don’t work on my app or device. However, Google does allow you to upload your own music to https://play.google.com/music/ and then play them on your Mini, where Alexa does not seem to natively support playing your own music. Both devices want you to subscribe to their own music service (Google Play Music, or Amazon Music Unlimited) for about $10 per month. So, the winner depends on what you want. If you want to play your own music, you want the Google Mini, and if you have a subscription with one of the other two music services, you want that service. But in either case, remember that Alexa has the better sounding speaker. 😉
Both speakers support smart homes devices, so you can tell it to turn on the lights, TV, etc. But of course, you need to purchase and install smart switches and/or bulbs for the lights, and the Logitech Home Hub for the TV.
You have a variety of options for controlling the lights. You can of course replace the light switch in your wall (if you know how, or get a certified electrician to do it), or simply buy one of two options. A Smart WiFi Plug, goes between your wall socket or power bar and a lamp. It is great for turning that light fixture on or off. But a sometimes better option is to get a Smart LED WiFi bulb. Simply unscrew one bulb, screw in the next, run the app to connect it to the WiFi, and that’s it. You can tell either speaker to “turn the bulb gold”, to get a nice classic lighting effect when white is just too bright. You can also set it to 10%, 20%, 50%, 100% or any brightness, or tell it to turn green, blue, or even red to set the mood.
Oh… I forgot to mention that if you ask them to turn off the lights, Alexa will ask which lights to turn off, while Google will turn off the lights in the current room. So Google wins this round.
We got the “Logitech Harmony Companion Remote Control” (Hub and Remote) and it works great on the TV and other entertainment devices. The companion remote is great when you don’t always want to tell Alexa to turn up or down the volume. The one minor disappointment is that the remote has buttons to control some smart home devices, just not the ones we purchased. No problem, both speakers have routines, so we can have it turn the TV on and the lights down low, in one simple voice command.
Routines are sequences you can have either speaker do when something happens. It can be a voice command, scheduled event, or even a reaction to a sensor like a motion detector. The most common is when you say “Good Morning” it can read you the news, tell you about your commute to work, and turn on the lights. Both are easy to setup and do, but Google allows you to type a phrase in when setting up a routine, and Alexa doesn’t. So, you can tell Google to do something that is not on the list (like do another routine), but Alexa doesn’t. However, Alexa does have more smart home features, like it’s menu system allows you to pick a smart bulb colour, where you have to type that command into Google. So, Google does win this round for being able to do things not on the menu, where Alexa might win for having a more complete menu….
Calling & Texting:
Neither device is currently texting. The Alexa device recently added this feature in the US, but it doesn’t work in Canada yet. Also, there are third party Skills or Actions (in the US) that you can install to send SMS texts. However, both devices will do a voice call to a cell or land line. I don’t get this, because it is simpler for a computer to relay a message thru your cell phone, but these speakers are relaying the call through a server? The call display from the Google Mini comes up as a private number, but the Alexa shows up as if it came from my cell phone.
Oh, I forgot to mention that you need to set the Language from English Canadian to English US, so that Alexa can read your contacts to find the phone numbers. Why this matters, I don’t know….
For Disabled People:
One of the factors in getting the speaker was to help my wife, saving her from getting up and down to turn on and off lights, the radio, etc. Both speakers with the smart home features help in this manner. And the ability to make a phone call also helps, but you can’t call emergency services with them. Once we can do SMS texting, I hope we can setup an SOS routine, where we can send a text message to multiple people. Until then, at least she can call me or a neighbor.
The Google seems to disconnect every morning and I have to go into its app on my phone and add the device again. Very frustrating. I think that this is because we have our WiFi shut down for security and to cool down each night. But in any case, every other device reconnects each morning, I don’t know why this one doesn’t.
I am a big Google fan, and am always using their Gmail, Calendar, etc. I was pleased with the simplicity of their app, but was disappointed with the sound quality, the lack of Actions (Alexa calls them skills), and I am really annoyed with having to reconnect the WiFi every morning. This may improve when Google gets around to giving us the same features as the US has, but for now I can NOT recommend the Google Home Mini.
For now, the clear winner is the Amazon Echo Dot (Alexa)! It has better sound and the Skills work in Canada!