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(Pocket-lint) - Apple's HomePod is here, so how does it compare to the other key players on the market? Namely the significantly cheaper Amazon Echo and Google Home devices. 

Amazon released the original Amazon Echo three years ago as an all-in-one speaker with Amazon Alexa voice control.

This has since been joined by a family of Echo devices, as well as a replacement to the old model in the all-new Echo and an upgrade to the original model in the all-new Echo Plus with better sound quality.

But Amazon isn't the only company battling for you ears, even if it was the first.

In 2016, Google released Google Home with Google Assistant voice control, which arrived in the UK last April. Two more recent Google speakers followed last October in the Home Mini and beefier-sounding Home Max

The Home Max is probably the closest match to the HomePod because both are bigger speakers designed with sound in mind. Here we're comparing the basic offerings, though. And sadly the Home Max isn't yet available in the UK (why not Google?)

In the battle between Alexa, Google Assistant and Siri, which of these three smart speakers is best for your needs?

Apple HomePod vs Google Home vs Amazon Echo: Design

  • Apple HomePod: 172 x 142mm; 2.5kg
  • Google Home: 143 x 96mm; 477g
  • Amazon Echo: 148.5 x 88mm; 820g

Amazon actually offers a few different versions of Echo (Tap, Dot, Look, Show, Spot and Plus), but for this comparison we're focusing on the replacement to the original, canister-shaped model.

Echo is a 5.9-inch tall cylinder speaker with a seven-piece mic array. The outside is available in a range of fabrics and finishes, including Oak with perforation for the speaker grille, or Charcoal Fabric where the grille is covered. The top has a light ring you can turn to adjust volume and buttons for mute and activation. There are six finishes in total.

Google Home is a slightly shorter device, at 5.6-inches tall. It comes in several colours with its base offering the ability to be swapped out for one of six different colour fabric or metal shells to match your furniture.

Home has a sloped top, with a touch-capacitive display and four LEDs to provide visual feedback. There is only one physical mute button at the back, which you can press to prevent Google from listening to hot words.

Apple HomePod meanwhile, is the largest and heaviest by a considerable margin with a 6.8-inch height.

This is because Apple has packed in more speaker smarts than its competitors, in the quest for the best sound. With a bulbous shape, the fabric covered HomePod will be available in two colours: space grey or white.

Apple HomePod vs Google Home vs Amazon Echo: Voice assistant

Apple HomePod

Apple utilises the Siri assistant in HomePod, the very same as you'll find in its iPhones, iPads and even Mac. That means you can ask questions and receive replies, instruct smart home devices, or control music.

It will be possible to say things like "Hey Siri, I like this song," and that information will be logged accordingly, with the assistant learning your personal preferences from hundreds of genres and moods, across tens of thousands of playlists from Apple Music.

Siri will also be able to handle advanced searches within the music library, so you could ask questions like "Hey Siri, who's the drummer in this?" and get an answer.

You can send a message, set a timer, play a podcast, check the news, traffic, and weather. Apple's SiriKit also enables third-party app support, so apps like WhatsApp will automatically work with HomePod. 

Google Assistant

Google Home will let you ask Google anything, thanks to its Google Assistant AI. You will have access to Google's 17 years of search experience, which allows you to ask specific questions such as "How much fat is in an avocado?" or "What is Wayne Rooney's shirt number?" Those types of questions would stump Amazon Echo, but not Google. You can even ask for the weather or check Wikipedia.

  • What is Google Assistant, how does it work and which devices offer it?

Google Assistant can be conversational, so you can ask follow-up questions like, "Where did he go to school?" and Home will be able to connect the "he" pronoun to your previous question about Rooney (or whoever) to serve up an answer. You can also ask complex stuff like "What was the US population when NASA was established?"

Google Home will give you immediate answers each time. It can also read the relevant part of webpages back to you. Google Assistant on Google Home is the same as Assistant on Android phones.

There will also be the addition of multiple users, for the whole family, in the near future.

Amazon Alexa

Similar to Google Assistant, Amazon Echo has Alexa, a different assistant. It (or "she" as many will say) is capable of understanding simple commands, or even a series of commands, but they're less conversational in that you'll have to engage the full question each time (there's no follow-on pronoun understanding at present).

Alexa will play music, provide information, deliver news and sports scores, tell you weather, control smart home devices, and pull information from Bing search. It will even allow Prime members to order products they've ordered before.

Alexa updates through the cloud automatically and learns all the time. The more you use Echo, the more Alexa will adapt to your speech patterns, vocabulary, and personal preferences.

Apple HomePod vs Google Home vs Amazon Echo: Smart home

Thanks to Alexa, Amazon Echo can respond to your voice commands and control any Alexa-enabled products, such as lights, switches, thermostats, and more. Simply ask Alexa to switch on a lamp, turn on the fan, dim the lights, or increase the temperature. Some products work directly with Alexa and other smart home ecosystems require a compatible hub or "middle man" app, though the Echo Plus device gets rid of the hub or middle man app requirement.

Featured brands that work with Echo include the likes of Samsung SmartThings, Philips Hue, Nest, Hive, Tado, Wemo, Wink, and Honeywell. You can find a full list of compatible devices on Amazon's site. Because Echo devices have been around for longer than Google Home and Apple HomePod, it had a notable head start and therefore tonnes of partnerships - from in-car to at-home and beyond.

Google Home can be a control centre for your entire home, because it has access to Google Assistant. Not only will this let you do the basics like set alarms and timers and manage to-do lists and shopping lists, but it will also connect to your smart home devices and it includes support for popular network systems. That means you will be able to control smart lights, switches, doors, and more.

Google Home works with Nest, SmartThings, Philips Hue, Wemo, Netatmo, Tado, among a few others. It also acts as a Chromecast receiver. Therefore, with just your voice, it's possible to ask Google Assistant to adjust your Nest Thermostat or turn off your Philips Hue lights or fling content via Chromecast to your TV. Google plans to work with more partners so you can control more things, too.

Apple may seem late to the smart home party, but its HomeKit setup has been bubbling away in the background for some time now. While Amazon Echo needs Alexa-compatible products or apps, Apple HomePod needs HomeKit-compatible products or apps to operate.

HomePod, in a sense, is the missing link that will give HomeKit greater purpose. It will act as the hub to control HomeKit-enabled devices, such as turning on Philips Hue lights, without the need for an iPad or Apple TV to act as the hub (as is necessary until HomePod's launch). You can find a full list of compatible devices on Apple's site.

Still, being a HomeKit device means HomePod can fit into the same roles as the Amazon Echo or Google Home, controlling other devices.

Apple HomePod vs Google Home vs Amazon Echo: Audio

Amazon Echo is a Bluetooth speaker, so it can play music and be controlled from any device that supports Bluetooth audio streaming. By default it will talk to Amazon Music, but other sources, such as Spotify, are controllable.

Echo is a single speaker with one 0.6-inch tweeter and one 2.5-inch woofer. In our review of the original device, we thought Amazon could have done better in the sound department, but the all-new Echo is claimed to improve audio with the addition of Dolby processing. It is also possible to link Echo to a more powerful music system.

Google Home is a Wi-Fi speaker that can stream music directly from the cloud. We've streamed tunes from built-in sources like Google Play Music, YouTube Music, Spotify, and Pandora. We've even used it to wirelessly cast audio from our phone and laptop. Unfortunately, Google Home doesn't have Bluetooth connectivity like Echo, so you'll need to use apps and services with it that support Google Cast.

Home features dual side-facing passive radiators in its compact form so sounds plenty loud with fair sound quality for its asking price. Buy more than one and it even offer multi-room playback. Home isn't dramatically better sounding than the original Echo, but we think it marginally pipped it in the sound quality department.

Last up is Apple's HomePod, which offers AirPlay 2 from your devices, or the ability to stream from cloud music services like Apple Music (Spotify and others are available, just as they are on iPhone). Unfortunately, there is no Bluetooth, but that's of no issue with AirPlay 2.

Apple has clarified the sound sources as: 

  • Apple Music (subscription required)
  • iTunes Music purchases
  • iCloud Music Library with an Apple Music or iTunes Match subscription
  • Beats 1 Live Radio
  • Podcasts
  • Content via AirPlay from iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, Apple TV, and Mac

Sound-wise, Apple clearly has the upper hand. HomePod is a far larger speaker with a lot more going on inside, including seven tweeters for 360-degree sound output, and a 4-inch woofer to handle bass.

From what we've heard at the Apple preview event, it's the best sounding of the trio by far, putting it closer to Sonos Play:3 audio levels. You can read what we thought of the HomePod's sound in our initial verdict. 

Apple HomePod vs Google Home vs Amazon Echo: Price

Amazon Echo is available to order now, priced at £89.99/$99.99. There's also the Echo Dot, designed to be synched to a larger music system, priced at $50/£50, or the more powerful Echo Plus, priced at £139.99/$149.99. Google Home is available now, priced £129/$129.

HomePod is also now available to buy for £319 in the UK or $349 in the US. 

Apple HomePod vs Google Home vs Amazon Echo: Conclusion

The winner? It's a tricky one to call.

If audio is your goal, then HomePod is clearly the winner out of these three devices, though you could consider Google's Home Max. It's also the most expensive (you could buy three Echo devices and an Echo Dot instead).

Visually speaking, Echo went from being the least attractive, to offering a good selection of finishes. Plus, Alexa casts the widest net in terms of compatibility, with more abilities, devices, and apps than competitors.

Time will be a big player, however, as Google Home already has some great partnerships, plus a more conversational approach to queries from Assistant that could see it the winner in terms of being helpful.

Right now, however, that crown goes to Alexa. And we'll have to wait and see how well Siri functions with HomePod.

Writing by Elyse Betters. Editing by Britta O'Boyle. Originally published on 4 October 2016.