Google Assistant is the AI-powered software you talk to when using a Google Home speaker, or when you long-press the Home button in recent Android phones.
Alexa is Amazon’s equivalent technology and what you talk to when using an Amazon Echo smart speaker, or a Fire TV remote control.
How smart are they?
While Alexa has improved recently, right now Assistant knows more thanks to Google owning the internet search space for what seems like forever.
If you’re after a digital helper such as those that feature in popular sci-fi films, Google Assistant is clearly ahead at present.
However, “Alexa” is simply easier to say than “OK, Google”.
Which does more?
Alexa has a greater breadth of abilities thanks to ‘skills’. These are effectively apps for your smart speaker that let you do more with your device than it’s capable of out of the box.
Google Assistant offers something similar in the form of ‘actions’, but there are far fewer available.
While Alexa lets you interact with way more smart home devices, apps, and other useful services, there’s still a sense that the foundations of Google Assistant are more appealing. Again, it’s all about the naturalistic way it responds.
Assistants on your phone
There’s also the phone side of things to consider. Alexa is primarily an assistant of Amazon’s Echo speakers, Fire TV devices and Fire tablets. The Google Assistant is available for iPhones and Android handsets, and comes built into just about all new Android phones.
For Google Assistant, Chromecast lets you take media from your phone and fire it over to your TV. Chromecast is a low-cost media dongle that plugs into a TV’s HDMI port. There’s also one for audio, called Chromecast Audio.
This is great if you want to turn your old, but still great-sounding, ‘non smart’ hi-fi system into a smart home-controlled system.
Amazon’s alternatives are the Fire TV Stick and the more powerful new 4K Amazon Fire TV. These are more familiar TV devices that have a full on-screen interface, and come with a remote. They let you play Netflix, games and download an array of apps — the Fire TV family is based on Android, so it enjoys access to a pretty gargantuan ecosystem.
Alexa comes into play with the newer Fire TV remotes. There’s a mic in the included plastic wand, via which you can request content with a voice command. We tend to recommend the Fire TV stick to people looking to stream all the latest services on their non-smart TVs, or those with creaky old smart interfaces.
However, Chromecast does boast much closer integration with your phone, and while less accessible, may appeal to the more tech-y among you.
Which is best?
Choosing between these smart home systems should come down to how you think you’ll use a digital assistant day-to-day. If you dream of a Blade Runner-like AI that seems to have an almost uncanny ability to know what you’re talking about, Google Assistant wins.
However, it’s also slower to gain compatibility with other smart home gear. We recommend doing some research into any smart locks, lights and thermostats on your ‘must buy’ list to see if they’re supported by Assistant and Alexa.
By Andrew Williams on Trusted Reviews