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Alexa vs Google Assistant: What’s different, and what’s better?

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In the smart home world, and digital assistants in general, there are only two major platforms if you’re not using Apple devices: Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. Sure, Microsoft and Samsung have their own creations, but Cortana is effectively dead in the water — and while Samsung’s SmartThings platform is competent, few people are fans of its Bixby assistant.

This guide will explain the core differences between Alexa and Google Assistant and which one you should choose for a smart home ecosystem versus just your phone.

As a rule, Alexa requires specific commands to be understood. Amazon has done a good job accommodating alternate phrasings — “turn the volume to 10” accomplishes the same thing as “set the volume to 100%,” for a basic example — but there’s still the potential for it to get confused if you get creative.

Google Assistant isn’t going to pass for human, but it does better at context. If you have accessories named “TV Light 1” and “TV Light 2,” for example, and ask the Assistant to “turn off the TV lights,” it understands what that means. Alexa requires creating a “TV Lights” group for the same effect.

One area Alexa wins is in wake words. Whereas Google Assistant is limited to “OK Google” or “Hey Google,” Alexa offers its namesake as well as “Computer,” “Echo,” “Amazon,” or “Ziggy.” That may not sound like a big deal, but choosing alternate words can avoid accidental triggers, and sometimes “Google” comes out as a gurgling sound.

Alexa has a huge array of add-on abilities, which Amazon dubs “skills.” Many of these are mandatory if you want to use a particular product or service, such as Lifx, NPR, or Spotify. These can, however, add entirely unique functions, such as Big Sky‘s ultra-detailed weather reports or the educational content in NASA Mars. You may sometimes have to “ask” or “open” a skill to do something if a function type isn’t baked into Alexa.

Google Assistant has an equivalent called “actions.” There are more Alexa skills, if that’s what matters to you, but you won’t find any serious deficiencies in Assistant. The latter is also the only option with native YouTube integration unless you’re using Alexa on a Fire TV streamer. If you’re on an Echo Show display, you can only open YouTube in a web browser, and you can forget about YouTube Music or YouTube TV. Continue Reading

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