I'm often asked which speaker is best for aging with independence. Based on market share, Amazon and Google are the leaders with 95% of the home speaker market. Having 70% of that market share, Amazon’s Echo speakers appear to be the most popular.
However, I've been living with the Echo Dot and Google Home Mini for a few months now and see pros and cons with both. The best speaker for you will depend on your priorities and where you live. (Some capabilities are only offered in the United States at this time).
You May find the Echo Dot a better fit if you...
Live in the United States and want another way to call 911,
Have a hearing loss and need good visual cues, or
Have difficulty shopping and want to integrate Voice purchasing with Amazon Prime for home delivery.
You May find the Google Home Mini a better fit if you...
Do not have a compatible SmartPhone to make the calling features work,
Have vision challenges and want the best screen reader alternatives, or
Care most about easy to set, hard-to-miss reminders.
Echo Dot Pros: What Amazon got right!
Ability to Call 911 (Only in the USA by adding Echo Connect to home phone).
Good visual light indicator; best for those with hearing loss.
Voice purchasing integrated with online shopping through Amazon Prime in the U.S. and Canada; low annual fee for free shipping.
To-Do list easy to use.
Print Shopping and To-Do lists from a computer.
Phone & chat support easy to find in the Alexa app.
Alexa-to-Alexa calling surprisingly useful (see below).
Echo Dot Cons: What Amazon needs to fix (or improve)
Alexa calling requires a compatible SmartPhone (details below).
Alexa does not have future and recurring alarms.
Shopping list items need to be added one command at a time.
Voice recognition and online search needs more improvement; Google is better.
Google Home Pros: What Google got right!
Best voice recognition and online search; better understanding of naturally worded requests.
Best reminders through future and recurring alarms that can be named.
Voice calling works when the speaker app is set up on either SmartPhones or Tablets.
Google Home Cons: What Google needs to fix (or improve)
Poor visual light indicator: four small lights on top of speaker.
No options for calling 911.
To-Do List requires a 3rd party skill, an app that's more complex to use.
Cannot print Shopping or To-Do lists.
A CLOSER LOOK
Do you have what you need to make the speakers work?
The Alexa app or Google Home app must be installed, set-up and managed on a compatible device, usually a SmartPhone or a tablet.
The Echo Dot requires the Alexa app be set up on:
a SmartPhone Running Android 5.0 or higher,
an iPhone 6 or higher.
Alexa can be set up on other devices, but the voice calling features will not work! These other devices include...
a Tablet running Android 5.0 or higher,
an iPad running iOS 9.0 or higher, or
use an online Alexa account through your computer.
Google Home Mini requires the Google Home app be installed on...
a SmarPhone or Tablet running Android 5.0 or higher,
an iPad or iPhone running iOS 9.1 or higher.
Google Home mini is best for people who care about making hands-free voice calls to family or friends but do not have a SmartPhone. This makes the Google Home speaker a good option for people who have a simple flip phone, prefer tablets to SmartPhones, or can't afford to buy a new, compatible SmartPhone.
#1 911 Calling Limitations
Echo and Google Home speakers cannot call 911 because the call must come from your home phone or mobile phone. But, if you live in the United States, you can buy an Echo Connect for $35us and turn your Echo into a hands-free speaker for your home phone line. Then, when you tell Alexa to call 911, she will use your home phone and 911 will accept the call.
The Echo Connect is not available in Canada. You can, however, still call family and friends from your Google Mini or Echo Dot.
Please note these speakers are not designed to be emergency services and there may be times when you cannot make a call.
#2 Alexa-to-Alexa Calling
I worry about my mother when I can't reach her by phone or email. She ignores call waiting when she’s on the phone so it keeps on ringing and I often get a busy tone because the phone is off hook. Now I can get her attention through Alexa and ensure sure she’s OK.
#3 Visual Light Indicators. These make a difference for everyone, not just those with hearing loss!
The Echo has a bright blue ring that’s easy to see. Google Home has four small lights on top that are hard to see. Lights give you visual notification of timers, alarms, or reminders. When the assistant takes a few seconds to process a request, the lights also let you know she heard you the first time.
With Alexa, you don’t have to get close to see she's responding and you're less likely to mess her up by repeating your request!
#4 Voice Recognition & Search Skills
Google has the best voice recognition and online search. She tends to be more accurate in her responses when you speak in natural language. Alexa is pretty good but you need to be more careful with the language you use. They’re both still learning (and will tell you so) but Alexa has more to learn.
#5 Shopping & To-Do Lists
Both speakers let you add items to your shopping and to-do lists. Both have a few quirks.
For example, if you plan to use the list from your SmartPHone while shopping, but you're in a big store where mobile cellular reception is terrible (like a Cosco), you won't see your list. It is in the cloud and you need to be connected to the internet to see it!
That said.... Alexa does let you print your shopping and to-do lists from your computer through an online Alexa account.
#6 Alarms & Reminders
Google lets you name your alarms so you know what you’re being reminded to do. Alexa does not. Why care about alarms? Why not use named timers and the reminder features?
Timers are good for same day, one-time alerts such as cooking timers. They cannot be used for future or recurring alerts; they must occur within 24 hours.
Saying the words "Remind me to....", creates a reminder that only gives you a single, easy-to-miss alert notification. Alarms continue to sound for 10 minutes and are much harder to miss.
TIP: Always ask for an Alarm. Avoid the word "reminder".
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Wishing you the best,