Ok, it’s official. The selection of smart assistants not on the market is incredible. While the title of this article suggests this is a three horse race, Amazon has four Echo smart assistants while Google has three ranging. While rumour has it that Spotify is on the verge of entering the smart assistant space and companies like Sony and Mobvoi offering alternative Google Assistant hardware, I’m going to focus on the big three manufacturers.
Here’s my pick of the smart assistants on the market today and which one should get your hard earned cash.
First Thing’s First: Do You Have Amazon, Apple or Google Products Already?
From the outset, it’s important I point out the joys of creating a smart single-brand ecosystem in your home. For example, if you bought a Google Chromecast a few years ago and couldn’t imagine life without it, getting yourself a Google Home or Google Home Mini probably makes the most sense. If you’re a regular Amazon shopper, have a Prime membership along with their video and music streaming services, well Amazon is probably the best call. The only exception to this rule might very well be Apple.
Typically, Apple products work incredibly well together. If you have a MacBook, iPhone and Apple TV, you’re enjoying a seamless integration of services. I don’t believe the Apple Homepod adds to the Apple ecosystem as much as the other devices do. So without further ado, let’s kick off with the Apple Homepod.
Should You Buy an Apple Homepod?
You could argue that Apple either joined this party really late or pioneered the whole thing. You might remember there was a time when talking on a handsfree kit in an Irish town would have left the locals thinking you were stark raving mad. Today, everyone knows you’re not talking to yourself, but to your earphones; well, in most cases anyway.
Smart assistants have enjoyed a similar journey to the handsfree kit, with many afraid to look like a crazy person talking to their phone like it was a friend. Today, it’s slightly more commonplace and that journey started with Apple. Siri was introduced to the world when they launched the iPhone 4S in 2011. This was a groundbreaking inclusion which changed how people viewed smartphone interactions, shifting from robotic inputs to more natural language. You can watch the entire segment on Siri below:
Apple’s Lost Ground
Now, don’t get me wrong, voice-controlled smart assistants have been around much longer than Siri has, but it was Apple’s assistant which main the idea go mainstream. This is what makes the Apple Homepod launching in January of 2018 so odd. Amazon released the first Echo smart speaker in 2014 with the first Google Home competing in the market since 2016. There doesn’t seem to be any real reason for Apple’s delay in getting a speaker to market, except perhaps the bad memories of the failed iPod Hi-Fi.
The Homepod’s Weakness is Siri’s Weakness
To compound the problems of lost ground, Siri hasn’t gotten a whole lot smarter in recent years. Chances are, no sooner will you have uttered “hey Siri” and a quick command and you’ll be frustrated with her attempts to achieve your task; or more likely whatever she thinks she heard. Siri has never recognised voices very well and us poor Irish people suffer worse than most.
The Homepod’s Price is Too Big a Barrier
It’s really important that I point this out. Of all the smart assistants in this post, I haven’t had a chance to try out the Homepod. Even so, from afar it’s easy to spot some pretty massive issues. From experience, I know Siri only ever looks like the smart one in the group when compared to Microsoft’s Cortana; which incidentally hasn’t made this list at all.
Incredibly, the Apple Homepod will only work should you have another Apple device in the home; along the lines of an iPad or iPhone. Finally, to top it all off, the Homepod will set you back over €360. Apple has touted the speaker as being one of the best on the market and I will have to admit that I haven’t tested this one, arguably, purchase saving feature. But given the price, quality and sound offered by the competitors, I doubt the Apple Homepod can offer enough sound quality to make up for the other shortcomings.
Should You Buy an Amazon Echo?
With the Apple Homepod set aside, we’re already getting into the business end of the smart assistants on the market. Amazon has really gone gung-ho into this area of the online world and created three great options along with a few overpriced ones too.
The Second Generation Amazon Echo is Fantastic
You might remember a while back that I put together a review of the Amazon Echo and Echo Dot. This was an epic battle between hardware and price considering the software on both devices was almost identical:
Now, you can either watch that entire video or let me tell you that the Echo Dot won. There was a sizeable price difference between the Echo and Echo Dot which just couldn’t be justified on upgraded hardware alone. I recently got myself the second generation Echo which has an upgraded speaker and a lower price. This changed the game completely and now for around €100, you can pick up a quality speaker boasting incredible sound and a very smart assistant.
The Perfect Smarthome Hub
This isn’t really specific to the Amazon Echo itself, more the Alexa range of assistants in general. Alexa would be a terrible person to join your table quiz team. Her general knowledge is pretty poor. The big strength comes with controlling smart tech at home; say hello to the internet of things.
I picked up some Energenie smart plugs for €25 (granted I already at the necessary hub), synced them with my Echo and suddenly converted my apartment into a smart home. The Alexa app can, at the touch of a button, scan your home network for other smart devices and when discovered you’ll be able to talk your lamps into turning off.
Amazon Admits Ireland Exists
Up until the very end of 2017, if you wanted to pick up any of the Alexa-powered smart speakers, you would need to use Parcel Motel as Amazon only delivered these devices to the UK. Android users could sideload the Alexa app onto their phone for setup, but not download the official app from the Play Store. If you think that’s bad, poor old iPhone users would have to change their location settings or settle for using the Alexa app website.
Thankfully, Amazon finally looked across the water and admitted that Ireland does indeed exist. They now offer delivery to Ireland and also made their official apps available in the Play Store and App Store. Even picking up an Echo from a physical store has become much easier with the likes of High Street stores including electronic superstore Currys.
While that’s all well and good, a lot of that is mainly just Amazon making their hardware more available in Ireland, but the price difference does mean forking out a little bit more cash gets you a much better speaker, leaving the second generation Echo top of the Amazon smart assistant pile.
Should You Buy an Amazon Echo Dot?
While the second generation Echo is incredible, if you are brand new to the smart assistant world you might be seeking a very low barrier to entry. Coming in at less than €60, the Echo Dot packs a lot of punch while being the joint cheapest option alongside the Google Home Mini. It was the first assistant I had and I was extremely happy with it for quite some time. In fact, I still am as one of the big benefits of the Echo Dot is adding Alexa’s assistance to a second room without having to fork out the €100 needed to land the second generation Echo.
Should You Buy an Amazon Echo Show?
The Echo Show is cross between a tablet and an Alexa-powered Echo. With extra hardware comes some extra cost too as the Echo Show will set you back over €220. The killer blow for the Echo Show came in 2017 when Google revoked Amazon’s access to YouTube. Actually, YouTube was pulled from the Echo Show and Amazon’s Fire TV media players. To have a video player which cannot access the world’s biggest video database just seems to be more than a small waste of money.
Should you Buy an Amazon Echo Spot?
Johnny-Five proved to us all that we could fall in love with collections of circuits and solder. The Echo Spot is a sign of Amazon’s dedication to having a device everywhere in your home. The Spot is an adorable little Alexa-powered alarm clock, designed to be popped beside your bed. Unfortunately, the Spot is a reminder of the old days where Amazon don’t ship them to Ireland yet, but once again Parcel Motel will help you sidestep that little issue.
I picked up an Echo Spot the day they launched in the UK and being honest, I haven’t been blown away by it. The speaker is ok, somewhere between the first generation Echo and Echo Dot. It’s more than a little weird having the Spot’s non-optional built-in webcam staring at you while you sleep, so I’ve stuck a physical webcam cover over the front.
Personally, I’m just delighted I didn’t pick up the Echo Show as the Spot can do pretty much everything the Show can for under €140. Finally, I will admit that I don’t think I’ve really test driven the Spot properly, so I’m going to give it some wiggle room until when I really get to play with it.
Should you Buy a Google Home?
Ah, ‘The Big G’. Where would we be without Google? Who would we ask all these private and personal questions that we urgently need answers for? Google has revolutionised information. We no longer focus on knowing things safe in the knowledge that we can probably find out if we need to. Unlike Amazon Alexa devices, Google Assistant powered hardware would give you quite the advantage in a table quiz. Google are the masters of search, a lineage which makes the Google Home a very knowledgeable device indeed.
The Google Home is Getting Dated
Now that you know the primary benefits of Google Assistant power, should you buy a Google Home? In short, no. The Google Home is much like the Amazon Echo; it’s a first generation device. The sound quality is great, but it doesn’t stand up to the second generation Echo. Sure the search functionality is better, but you can get this same software in a smaller device, with a smaller price and plenty of audio bang too.
The original Google Home is rather pricey by today’s standards and will set you back about €150; €50 more than the second generation Echo.
Incredibly, even with so many offices in Ireland, Google doesn’t officially sell the Home smart assistant in Ireland despite, as confirmed in a private tweet to us by a reader, the packaging for the Google Home Mini saying it’s imported into the EU by Google, Ireland. Talk about adding insult to injury. Of course, if you are set on picking up a Google Home, Parcel Motel offers opens up that option through their virtual UK address.
Should you Buy a Google Home Mini?
Now, this is where things get really interesting. The Google Home Mini boasts a great quality speaker, falling in third behind both Google and Amazon flagship smart speakers. Priced at just under €60 it’s the joint cheapest device from the big three but does boast a better speaker than the Echo Dot.
If you have a Chromecast setup in your gaff, all you have to do is ask your Google Home Mini to stream YouTube or Netflix content to your telly and like magic you’re watching the latest episodes of Designated Survivor or a new cat video you’ve never seen before.
Again, you’ll need to order this through Parcel Motel if you want to get your mitts on a Google Home Mini, which is something I might actually be taking a little too personally. It’s really irritating to see there’s demand in Ireland for these gadgets and Google aren’t making it easy for people to pick them up.
So Which Smart Assistant Should You Buy?
I’ve left you with more questions than answers right? Ok, let’s sum it all up.
If you want a really simple smart assistant to take calendar commands, control some devices in your home without any hassle during the ordering process; pick up the Amazon Echo Dot.
If you have a Chromecast and you really just want to show off that there’s a gadget in your house that can answer most questions, the Google Home Mini might be the best gadget for the job. Just remember, buying these in Ireland can be tough.
If you’re confident that a smart speaker is something you really want in your gaff and you’re also hoping to start listening to some classy music while you have dinner, the second generation Amazon Echo is a perfect choice. This offers great sound quality at a fantastic price and you can order it straight to Ireland no hassle at all. Just always check if you’re getting free delivery to Ireland. If not, the €4 on Parcel Motel could end up saving you money.
If you’re just starting out, the hardest decision might be between the Google Home and Amazon Echo Dot, but both well deliver for their respective €60 pricetags.
If you’re a lunatic with far more money than sense, the Apple Homepod might actually get a look in. Just be aware, you’re spending too much for a low IQ smart assistant.
Of course, everyone is different. While I’m not at all suggesting these smart speakers are getting close to being human, you will get along with them differently depending on what your usage will be. Hopefully, this article acts as a decent starting point for which assistant you pick. We also had a chat about smart assistants on Episode 3 of Tech Yurt, the Goos3D.ie podcast, so feel free to check that out.