The home speaker is becoming a fixture in living rooms all over the world, with the Amazon Echo perhaps being the most recognizable. This is one area of the artificial intelligence revolution that has real commercial benefits for the everyday person, and thus it is not surprising that the Apple HomePod and Google Home systems have followed, as the big boys attempt to cash in.
These are definitely the three big players in this niche, so how do they compare?
Dimensions and weight of the three speakers are as follows:
- Apple HomePod: 172 x 142mm; 2.5kg
- Google Home: 143 x 96mm; 477g
- Amazon Echo: 148.5 x 88mm; 820g
So there is significant difference there, although it is worth noting that there actually a few different versions of the Amazon Echo available.
The Apple HomePod is clearly intended to be a serious piece of audio equipment, with by far the heaviest weight of the three. The Google Home offers customization with several different colors and the ability to swap its base for other designs. While the Amazon Echo and its cylindrical design is perhaps the most recognizable of the three.
There are significant hardware differences between the three speakers, with the Amazon Echo taking advantage of seven installed microphone sensors that are embedded under a LED ring. Amazon has included what it calls ‘beam-forming’ technology in the Amazon Echo, enabling the device to hear input from any conceivable direction.
The general consensus of opinion on the Amazon Echo is that it is able to detect speech with incredible accuracy.
Meanwhile, Google Home includes two far-field microphones alongside four LED lights. This location also provides a sensitive touch surface, enabling music to be played or paused, the volume to be tweaked, and a few other actions to be carried out as well.
Finally, the Apple HomePod provides some impressive internals that enable it to deliver 360-degree sound. This means that the musical reproduction of this speaker is superior to either Google or Amazon’s offerings.
However, overall it would have to be said that the Amazon Echo provides the most sophisticated system.
Siri is naturally used in the Apple HomePod, and this delivers a pretty good system. Siri is obviously well-established as a voice assistant, and it can be considered pretty reliable in this speaker system.
But perhaps the Google Assistant is a little more sophisticated, based on the unrivalled Google software credentials. Conversational and follow-up gambits are possible with this system, and Google Home actually deals with them rather competently.
Meanwhile, the Amazon Echo utilizes the Alexa system which is very well-known by now, updating through the cloud automatically, and capable of learning in real-time. The Amazon Echo will thus automatically adapt to your particular speech patterns, vocabulary and personal preferences.
Each of the three systems has its advantages, but perhaps the Google Home is the most impressive.
Amazon Echo is effectively a Bluetooth speaker, meaning that it can both play music and be controlled from any device which is capable of supporting the Bluetooth platform. It will communicate directly with Amazon Music for subscribed members in order to source music, with other sources such as Spotify also available.
Nonetheless, the speaker could clearly do a better job in the audio department, even though the latest Amazon Echo release includes Dolby processing. But as the system can be hooked up to a more powerful music system, this is a problem that can be circumnavigated rather easily.
Google Home delivers a Wi-Fi speaker capable of streaming music directly from the cloud. Built in sources such as Google Play Music, YouTube Music, Spotify, and Pandora are all available, although Google Home doesn’t support Bluetooth. This is compensated for, though, by sound reproduction, which is certainly marginally better than the Amazon competitor.
Finally, the Apple HomePod is undoubtedly a nifty system, offering AirPlay 2 connectivity from your devices, while there is also cloud compatibility as well. Of course, Apple doesn’t embrace Bluetooth, but this is fairly meaningless considering the Airplay functionality included.
It may not come as a huge surprise that the Apple device delivers the best sound quality of the three by some distance, including seven tweeters for 360-degree sound output, and a 4-inch woofer to handle bass. Certainly this can be considered a commercial music playback device, and it undoubtedly gives the speaker the edge in this department.
The Apple HomePod is by far the most expensive of the three systems, costing $349 in the United States, when it becomes available next year. The pricey nature of the speaker system reflects the fact that it is effectively a serious music playback device which also has artificial intelligence functionality included.
The Amazon Echo costs $99, and is effectively designed to be synced to a much larger music system. Google Home is also aimed at the mass market, being priced at $129. It is interesting to note that the market leader and most recognizable system of the three, the Amazon Echo, is also the cheapest, perhaps suggesting that consumers are looking for something affordable in this embryonic niche.
The best speaker of the three is really determined by precisely what you are looking for from a home speaker system. There is absolutely no doubt whatsoever that the Apple HomePod delivers the best music playback, and if this is your priority then you should definitely opt for this speaker.
However, even consumers keen on music playback may be put off by the hefty price tag of the Apple system, which opens the market up for Amazon Echo and Google Home.
Certainly the affordable nature of the Amazon Echo has seen it gain significant market penetration, but the Google Home system is actually the most sophisticated assistant. In the long run, the software benefits of the mega-corporation could see the Google Home overtake the Amazon Echo, with Apple aiming for its usual premium audience.