There are a lot of fantastic things you can do with smart lighting, from subtle adjustments to mood and awareness to crazy color raves when you want to freak the dog out. It's a convenience for most, but it's becoming less expensive to set up in your home every day and well-worth checking out if you can.
A big part of that smarter experience can be control with your voice, and while Google Home and Amazon Echo both support the ability to control lights with your voice, the details are very different. Here's what you need to know!
Philips Hue bulbs, which are my favorite of the connected bulbs, offer an API for just about any app to reach in and give commands to your lights once you've given approval. As a result, both Google Home and Amazon Echo offer similar initial connection steps. You use the app on your phone to connect to the Hue bridge, which involves tapping the little button on the box near your router, and moments later you can control individual Hue lights through these services.
Once you've made that connection, things are wildly different. Amazon has its own system in the Alexa app for organizing smart home hardware into individual rooms, so you can say things like "turn off the bedroom lights" and have everything assigned to that room turn off. This isn't a huge deal, unless you have a lot of Hue lights and have already organized your bulbs by room in the Hue app. None of that information is imported by Alexa, so you have to basically set all of your lights up a second time.
Google Home, on the other hand, imports your room selections from the Hue app and adds them to the Home app. It also offers a simple tool from within the app for quickly moving lights to other rooms, instead of just a set of register/unregister check boxes. It's a great deal more user-friendly, especially if you've already spent a lot of time setting up your lights and exploring how you want those lights to work in your home.
Using your voice
Google and Amazon both earn high marks for performance when it comes to actually controlling the lights. There's no performance drop when compared to using the Hue app, and voice recognition on both Echo and Home is exceptional, so misfires are rare. That having been said, it's clear Google Home is a great deal more integrated with Hue than Echo is right now.
If you want to control whole rooms for brightness and darkness, the experiences between these two connected speakers is essentially identical. If you want to control individual bulbs and you've assigned personal names to those bulbs, you'll find Google Home is much better at finding the right single bulb and adjusting it as you see fit. The same goes for color changing; Google Home will quickly turn your lights whichever color you ask, where as Amazon Echo is really only built for on and off and dimming right now.
Neither connected speaker can replicate every single feature in the Philips Hue app, but through IFTTT, Google Home gets a great deal closer. The IFTTT channel for Google Home lets you create multiple phrases for individual commands, so you can be very flexible and occasionally downright silly with the things you want to do with these speakers.
On Google Home, I can say "OK Google, get those kids out of bed!" and have IFTTT start a multicolor light show in their rooms. With an Echo, I'd have to say "Alexa, trigger get those kids out of bed!" to accomplish the same. One is clearly not as natural as the other.
Which is better? Google Home
If your goal is to add natural language commands to your Philips Hue bulbs with as little compromise as possible on features, it couldn't be more clear Google Home is what you want right now. It's just plain better for multiple users in a house full of Hue bulbs right now.
That having been said, if you're new to smart lighting or you only really want to control rooms with your voice, Alexa gets the job done. Amazon has also demonstrated an ability to rapidly improve Alexa when necessary, so it's possible these issues won't be around for very long.
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