• Janice

The best home speaker for you depends on your priorities & where you live.

Updated: Dec 31, 2019

Last Updated: December 30, 2019


The top two speaker lines are Amazon's Echo with 70% market share and Google's Home with 20% market share (Source: CIRP, August 2019). Half those purchases are for the more economical Echo Dot ($79 Cdn) and Google Home Mini ($50 Cdn) which often go for $30-45 during frequent sales. But which is best?


The best speaker and digital assistant for you will depend on your priorities and where you live. Some options are only available in the US.


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You May find the Echo Dot with Alexa a better fit if you...

  • Need the safety of an intercom feature with family or friends (Echo "Drop In" feature)

  • Live in the United States and want the home speaker for calling 911.

  • Want better visual cues.

You May find the Google Home Mini a better fit if you...

  • Care most about repeatable, scheduled reminders for medication or other tasks that tell you what the reminder is for (Google's named, scheduled alarm feature) .

  • Care about the calling features but do not have a Smartphone to sync your contacts (Alexa calling requires a smartphone with Android OS 5 or iPhone iOS9 or higher).

  • Want the easiest set-up possible.


Echo Dot

Pros: What Amazon got right!

  • Ability to Call 911 in the USA by adding Echo Connect to home phone.

  • Drop-in feature. Acts like a two way intercom - no need for someone to call or answer to hear if someone is in distress. (Option to put in Do Not Disturb mode.)

  • Good visual light ring 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 so don't need to be connected on-line when shopping.

  • Alexa-to-Alexa calling for back up.

Cons: What Amazon needs to fix (or improve)

  • Alexa can only call place calls by syncing the Alexa app with your mobile smart phone's contact list. You must have a compatible SmartPhone running no less than iOS9 or Android 5.0.

  • Alexa finally added a repeat alarm function but these alarms cannot be named. If you don't know what the alarm is for, she cannot tell you. (She can tell you timer names but timers can only be set for one instance within a 24 hour time period).

  • Online search by voice needs more improvement; Google's natural voice recognition is better.

  • Amazon does NOT support Echo Connect for calling 911 in Canada


Google Home

Pros: What Google got right!

  • Best reminders through future and recurring alarms that can be named.

  • A Smartphone is not required to make voice calling work. You can set up calling through the Google Home app on It can be set up on SmartPhones, Tablets, iPhones or iPads.

  • Best voice recognition and online search; best understanding of naturally worded requests (except for retail queries).

Cons: What Google needs to fix (or improve)

  • No Drop-in (intercom) type capability.

  • Poor visual light indicator: four small lights on top of speaker.

  • No options for calling 911 in any country.

  • 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 voice calling features - in app or to regular phones - requires the Alexa app be set up and sync with your contacts on:

  • a SmartPhone Running Android 5.0 or higher,

  • an iPhone running iOS 9 or higher (typically an iPhone 6 or higher).

Alexa can be set up on other tablets or a computer, but the voice calling features will not work to landlines or cellphones! If you do not require voice calling, you can install the Alexa app for Echo's on:

  • a Tablet running Android 5.0 or higher,

  • an iPad running iOS 9.0 or higher, or

  • any computer through an online Alexa account specific to the country where you live.

Google Home Mini requires the Google Home app be installed on...

  • a SmartPhone 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.


More about the differences


#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. You may find someone selling the Echo Connect in Canada based on a work-around-solutions. This however, typically requires replacing your Canadian Amazon account with an American account which in turn leads to other complications.


**Please note these speakers are not designed to be emergency services and there may be times when you cannot make a call. And it may be difficult for an elderly person in shock from a fall to remember how to call for help.**



#2 Alarms & Reminders

Google lets you set recurring alarms and name your alarms so you know what you’re being reminded to do. Alexa does not. Why care about alarms? Why not use timers and the reminder features?

  • Timers can only be set for 24 hours or less. They are great for same day ad-hoc alerts such as cooking timers. My Mom uses hers for cooking and nap timers. They cannot be used for future or recurring alerts.

  • The Reminder Feature gives you alerts that are too easy to miss. Saying the words "Remind me to....", creates a reminder that only gives you a single, short, easy-to-miss alert notification. Alarms, however, continue to sound for 10 minutes and are much harder to miss.

TIP: Always ask for an Alarm. Avoid the word "reminder".

#3 Echo Drop In Feature - More useful than calling phones for help?

Many seniors consider purchasing the Echo or Google Home Mini so they can call for help if they fall and can't get to a phone. However, if they do not regularly use the speaker to place phone calls, will they remember to how to call when woozy or anxious after a fall or other incident? With the drop-in intercom feature on, they can simply call for help. No need to first say "Alexa,..." or "Hey Google, ...". And if a caregiver is worried, they can call to them over the intercom and listen for a response - without anyone having to first answer first using just the right words.


Since Drop-in was announced, it has become more difficult for people to decide which speaker is better. It often comes down to one decision...which is more important? Scheduled, named reminders for meds and other tasks, or Drop-in? Let's hope both will update their features given their fierce competition to own this market.


PS. If you're worried about privacy with drop in, you always have the option to set the privacy features Do Not Disturb.


#4 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. Other times I get a busy tone because the phone is off hook. Now I get her attention through Alexa-to-Alexa calling over our Echo Dots. It's always a relief to confirm she’s OK.

#5 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 calls, 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 can easily see her ring light! 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 while she's working on it!

#6 Voice Recognition & Search Skills

Google has the best voice recognition and online search. Studies have shown she'll get significantly more requests right than Alexa. Alexa is pretty good, and excels with shopping requests, but you need to be more careful with the other language you use.


They’re both still learning (and will tell you so) but Alexa has more to learn. If you want to augment or replace a screen reader, seriously consider Google Home.

#5 Shopping & To-Do Lists

Both speakers let you add items to your shopping and to-do lists. Both have a few quirks. For examples, lists are stored in the cloud - not on your phone - so if you're away from home, you'll need a data plan on your smartphone to read your lists.

Alexa does let you print your shopping and to-do lists from your computer through an online Alexa account. You cannot do this with Google Home.

Wishing you the best,

Janice

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