This is not an easy choice. On the one hand, you have the original and champion home audio computer, the Amazon Echo. On the other, the new kid on the block and contender, the Google Home. I've used an Echo for almost a year now and the Home for a few weeks. Here's what I found.
First, they're both useful. I don't have review units of these. I bought both of them: The Echo for $179 and the Home for $129. Both will be on sale for $20 to $40 less on Black Friday.
I have both because -- spoiler alert -- I'm a tech geek, and they're both useful. Both are cylinder-shaped speakers that listen to your commands. They get their smarts from their respective cloud services. To connect with the cloud they both use Wi-Fi.
Considering their size, both do a remarkably good job of playing music and listening to you. When it comes to audio quality, neither will be mistaken for a Bose Soundtouch 20, but for what they are, they do well.
I could talk about the engineering inside each, but while that's interesting, what really powers both is their cloud computing brains. Both are attached to your Amazon and Google accounts respectively. If you're concerned about your privacy, neither is a good choice. But, if you don't mind the companies knowing that, for example, I like listening to ESPN's Pardon the Interruption, you'll find both of them useful.
The easiest way to use either device is as a smart radio. After activating them with their alert phrases -- "Alexa" for Echo and "Okay Google" or "Hey Google" for Home -- you can ask to listen to your favorite music streaming services, internet radio stations, artists, or songs. Both also allow you to listen to your own music collections if they're on their respective cloud services.
You can also use either device to control Internet of Things (IoT) devices. Both support an ever-growing number of IoT gadgets. For now, both support Nest, Samsung SmartThings, Philips Hue, and IFTTT.
Google Home also enables you to play audio to your home stereo or video to your TV by using Google Chromecast. For Echo to play audio on your existing speakers you'll need the Echo Dot. For video, you'll need the Alexa Voice Remote and an Amazon Fire Stick.
That's just scratching the surface. Where things really get interesting is how they do as personal assistants.
Here is where Google pulls ahead. If you already use Google services, and I do, Google Home already knows a lot about you. It takes in data from programs such as Google Calendar, Google Keep, and Google Maps, and uses it to help you. For example, I can ask it what my schedule is for the day, and it just tells me.
Google's search and AI smarts also come into play. If I ask it, "Who plays Han Solo?" It will tell me, "Harrison Ford". I can then follow up with, "What other movies has he been in?" and Home will list his other films.
Amazon, on the other hand, simply doesn't answer questions all that well. However, you can use Echo to order items from Amazon. It also is integrated with Audible, Amazon's audiobook service. I love audiobooks so that's a big win in my book.
Since the Echo has been around for two years, it does have a good number of third party applications. These are called "Skills." Some of them are good, but I'm underwhelmed by most of them. Yo mama jokes? Seriously?
Where, in my experience, Home really pulls away from Echo is in voice-recognition. Besides giving me better answers, Home understands my voice commands and questions much more often than Echo does. That may be because Google already "knows" my voice thanks to my use of first Google Now and its successor, Google Assistant. Regardless of how it does it, Home outshines Echo in this vital area.
Both products will improve quickly. The real smarts as I mentioned earlier aren't in the devices. It's in the cloud services that power them. I expect them both to become ever more useful as the months roll by.
That said, if I could only have one device, it would be the Google Home. I won't be getting rid of my Echo, but Home has several advantages: It's cheaper, it "understands" me better, and it gives me better answers. For my home assistant those are exactly the features I want.