Both Google Home and Amazon’s Alexa (through devices like the Amazon Echo) have emerged in the Canadian marketplace with really unique ways to enhance your home and everyday life. You’ve probably seen the countless viral videos out there of grandchildren introducing these devices to grandparents, and you may be familiar with some of the basic functionalities. What can Google Home or Alexa do for your home today though?
What do I use Alexa and Google Home for?
Whether you’re eyeing Alexa on the many supported devices like the Amazon Echo or Sonos One, or you’re looking at Google Home, it’s important to remember that they function a bit differently than some of the other voice command systems you’re used to, like Siri or Cortana. You can send more direct commands and ask more of your devices. I’ve spoken to friends and clients that even carry the mini versions of the assistant they’ve chosen on every single trip they take, and it even gives them a head start as a mini concierge in the city they’re visiting.
The only thing to be aware of is that your home integration has to be supported by whatever your other devices need. That is, if your smart home devices require a master hub, you’ll still need this hub in order to integrate with Google Home or Alexa. None of the Amazon or Google devices take the place of a hub. For example, if you want to use Google Home to unlock your door (via your August devices), you’ll still need the August Connect that enables Wi-Fi on the locks and bridges for communication between the doorbell cam and lock.
How Alexa and Google Home are Available
Getting Alexa or Google Home into your space is easy enough. The simplest way to bring them into your home is through the first party devices.
Alexa’s most common home base is the Amazon Echo. The Echo is available in three main styles: the standard sized Echo, the Echo Plus and the pocket sized Echo Dot. I’d only recommend going with the Echo Dot if you’re looking for something portable and very simple. The Echo Dot doesn’t have speakers for musical capabilities either. The Echo Plus is the one I would recommend if you have a lot of smart home devices and want a more streamlined method to set everything up. You will see a lot more bundle deals with the Echo Plus as well. In the past, Best Buy has offered the Echo Plus with freebies like the Philips Hue Smart Bulb.
As for Google Home, there are a few different ways you can go with it. The main Google Home speaker is the most common way, but there is a miniature sized mini that you can go with as well. A bundle pack with both is also available. One of the more interesting differences I’ve found with both are the differences in design. Google seems to take a much more modernized/blended look with their devices, utilizing a design that seems to allow your device to fade into the background naturally. Amazon’s products are a little bit more obvious, but they aren’t to the point where they’re disruptive in your living space.
Controlling Music with Alexa and Google Home
Perhaps one recent advantage that Alexa has when it comes to sound quality is its partnership with Sonos. The Sonos ONE gives you access to the capabilities of Alexa combined with phenomenal sound quality to give you a great audio experience. You can access anything in your Audible sound book library, the entire music unlimited catalogue (if you’re a subscriber), and if you are a Spotify account owner (Free or Premium), that’s available to you too.
Google Home’s speakers are pretty good too though, don’t get me wrong. With a quick voice command, you have access to Google’s music platforms and Spotify, and can load up your favourite playlists or radio options. All you have to do is ask.
Controlling Smart Lighting and Plugs with Alexa and Google Home
Your search for smart lighting and smart plugs that work with Alexa and Google Home won’t be very hard. In fact, both devices have support from Belkin, TP-Link and Philips Hue. Just about every Philips Hue device out there is supported by either device. The same goes for just about all the TP-Link devices out there, including smart plugs.
If you were early to the home automation market and jumped on Belkin WeMo stuff when they first started coming out 4-5 years ago, not to worry. Just be sure all of the firmware is up to date on all of your WeMo devices and you can control them using the virtual assistants as well.
Monitoring your Home Security through Alexa and Google Home
The growing number of home automation devices supported by Alexa and Google Home include smart lock manufacturer August, who were one of the earliest adopters of both. Using either, you can check the status of your locked doors / lock and unlock your doors with simple voice commands.
Ring has also entered the fray with support on both virtual assistants. With commands like “Alexa, show my front door” and “Google, Talk to Ring” you can control your pro doorbell cam and scan through various facts and figures. Right now, Google Home’s integration seems to be a little bit better than the Alexa skill, but don’t expect that to last for too long. Ring was just purchased by Amazon in a billion dollar acquisition last month, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Alexa skills and available functions get much better real soon, and definitely by its next generation.
The one place Google Home has a leg up on Alexa is with Chamberlain MyQ integration. At the moment, there isn’t an easy way for Alexa and MyQ to communicate. There appears to be a few indirect fan made methods, but nothing the company itself supports yet. However, Google Home supports Chamberlain and even provides directions on its website on how to make the two connect and play well together.
Settling Down for the night with Alexa and Google Home to Watch TV
Once you’ve made sure your home is secure with the help of your virtual assistants, it’s time to settle down for the night and perhaps watch some TV with their help too.
When it comes to entertainment, you’ll find some subtle nuances between these devices. Since Amazon and Google are in direct competition with one another, you’re not likely to see a first party Chromecast skill for Alexa (and vice versa), perhaps ever. Both offer native support for their own devices, however, and if you have any supported Logitech Harmony remotes, you can easily voice command Netflix, or change channels through what both devices have available. If you’re a Roku owner like I am, you’re fine on either device.
Continuing to Enhance Alexa through Skills
Alexa has some fairly basic functionality out of the box, but where it really thrives is through the enablement of “skills.” Skills are what take Alexa’s capabilities from basic (yet fun) stuff to multi-layered amazement. Through a growing network of available skills, Alexa can do some pretty amazing things.
The list of companies aligned with Alexa skills is growing on a daily basis. These additions take Alexa’s capabilities from generic and basic reports to in-depth ones. Outlets like Global, CTV, CBC, and the National Post can provide you with flash news briefings on command, and both Sportsnet and TSN can offer you individual sports updates (should you be curious about the MLB season, now underway, and the Stanley Cup Playoffs, coming shortly). It appears that some individual teams are getting in on the action too. The Toronto Maple Leafs have their own Alexa skill, and Liverpool FC does too. You can use these skills to take control of weather, news, or scores—on demand!
There’s one thing to be really careful about, however. While Amazon does showcase ‘official’ skills, you can easily get caught navigating down a rabbit hole of first party mixed with community developed skills. Before enabling a skill, be sure to double check and see where the skill is coming from and whether you trust the author before adding it.
What will Alexa and Google Home Do in the Future?
The sky is kind of the limit right now for what Alexa and Google Home can do in the future. One of the most interesting concepts in my opinion is how companies are adapting Alexa skills to work within their businesses. For example, Vancouver-based Evo Car Share recently released an Alexa skill to allow its member base access to booking cars and booking and modifying vehicle reservations. This skill, unprecedented in the Vancouver market, continues to bring products like Alexa and Google Home into the same type of ‘one stop shop’ services you see in many smart home partner programs like Works with Nest.
It will be interesting to see where Alexa and Google Home go from here, but within months, we’ll see both becoming well-rounded virtual assistants, capable of doing all sorts of things. As the bar is raised, it will be interesting to see who rises to the challenge first and fastest.
If you’re interested in taking the leap and bringing Google Home or Alexa into your home, there isn’t a better time than now. Check out the full range of Alexa and Google Home products available now at your local Best Buy or online at BestBuy.ca
Are you a Google Home or Alexa household? What are you currently doing with yours? Tell us in the comments below!