Amazon launched the Echo family of devices in India last November, and Google introduced the Google Home in the country in April. The entry-level options — the Google Home Mini and the Echo Dot — cost ₹4,999 in the country, with the larger Google Home and Amazon Echo coming in at ₹9,999. The larger Echo Plus, meanwhile, is available for ₹14,999.
If you're looking to pick up a smart speaker but haven't made up your mind yet, here's what you need to know about using the Google Home and Amazon Echo in India.
What the Google Home does better
One area where the Google Home wins out over the Echo is integrating with Google services. You'll be able to get your calendar alerts, get real-time traffic alerts, route estimates for work, and more.
Google Home offers six routines — a set of customizable actions that are triggered by a phrase. Just say "Good morning," and the Assistant will give you updates on the weather, take your phone off silent mode, deliver your news briefing, read your calendar entries for the day, your reminders, and traffic updates for your commute.
If you have Hue lights linked up to Assistant, you'll also be able to control them with routines. It's a great new addition and makes the Google Home that much more usable.
The Google Home also casts media to any Chromecast devices or Android TVs in your house. You can get it to play a particular show on Netflix on your Cast-enabled device by issuing a command as well. Then there's a shopping list feature, which lets you add items to a list.
The feature I use the most is "ring my phone:" You can just ask Assistant to ring your phone, and it will do so even if your device is on silent. I also like the fact that Google Home offers custom profiles, so when my wife asks Assistant to find her phone, it recognizes her voice and ring her device.
Another advantage is the fact that you can use any language for Assistant (ranging from English to France, Mandarin, German, and Italian), and it will work just fine. This isn't possible with Alexa: you'll only be able to use English (India).
You'll also be able to listen to podcasts, and as the Play Store now sells audiobooks, you'll be able to ask Assistant to play a particular audiobook in your library. Assistant is also better at answering search queries, and it is able to pick up on contextual cues.
All Google Home purchases in India come with a six-month subscription to Play Music All Access, and Assistant also has Saavn and Gaana integration if you want to play tunes from either streaming service.
As for music playback itself, I prefer the Google Home to the standard Amazon Echo. The Google Home offers a more natural sound, and at full volume it can easily fill a medium-sized room.
What the Amazon Echo does better
Amazon has invested significant resources in customizing Amazon Echo for the Indian market, and that's clearly evident from the moment you start using Alexa. You'll be able to link your Uber/Ola account and book a cab, get restaurant recommendations from Zomato, get cricket updates from CricInfo, and so much more.
You'll even get Bollywood and cricket-themed jokes from Alexa, and the ability to add a host of Indian publications for daily news updates, unlimited music streaming with Amazon Music, and the list goes on.
Oh, and you can also buy products from Amazon by just using your voice. Alexa will look through your Amazon purchase history to see if you've purchased a similar product in the past, and if not, it will surface the three top links on Amazon for that particular item.
Amazon also has an Alexa-to-Alexa calling feature, so if your friend or family members also have an Alexa device, you'll be able to call them for free.
You'll be able to hook up your Kindle account with Alexa and have the assistant read books to you. It isn't the same as an audiobook — as Audible isn't available in India yet — but it is a start.
If you're looking to pick up the Echo Plus, know that it has a built-in Zigbee hub for your smart home products. So if you're looking to connect Hue lights, for instance, you don't need to buy a dedicated bridge anymore. In general, Alexa is much better when it comes to controlling your smart home gear, and that's because Amazon has enabled hundreds of local skills from the likes of Syske, Oakter, Picostone, and the like.
Amazon Echo, Echo Dot, or Echo Plus: Which should you buy in India?
I recently got the Picostone Basic to control my living room downlights, and the system works with Alexa out of the box. It doesn't work with the Google Assistant just yet, but that's slated for the coming months.
That's a common theme when talking about the Google Home — as I mentioned earlier this year, it still feels like the speaker is a work in progress in India. And that's frustrating, because you'd expect that it would offer integration with services like Zomato, Uber, Ola, and others.
While I had no issues with either assistant recognizing and understanding my accent, Alexa has an edge on this front. It understands local names, nouns, and colloquial terms much better than Assistant.
Which should you buy? Amazon Echo
This is a tough one, because both the Google Home and Amazon Echo have plenty to offer in India. The main downside with Google Home is that it has zero customization for the Indian market, so you're missing out on basic features like the ability to call a cab on Uber or Ola, or view nearby restaurants with Zomato.
Then there are other features — like hands-free calling — that aren't live yet in India. Google says it is working to bring added functionality to Google Home in India, but right now there's not a lot of support for third-party services on the platform. That said, Google Home handles search queries better, and it's generally better for music playback.
While the smart home speaker market is still nascent in India, whoever comes up with Hindi support will automatically take the lead. The ability to interact with a voice assistant in Hindi will be a game-changer, as it will open up the market to a much wider audience. Both Google and Amazon have mentioned that they are working on enabling Hindi integration, and I figured Google would have that feature out of the box considering Assistant picked up Hindi support back in March. However, that wasn't to be.
As much as I like the Google Home, I cannot recommend it for the Indian market, at least in its current state. It's infuriating to know that Google made little to no effort integrating local services into Assistant, and it has a long way to go before it achieves feature parity with Alexa in the country. I'm also annoyed that the Google Home launch in India broke Spotify integration, as the service isn't officially available in the country yet.
If you're looking for a more localized smart speaker that offers better integration with services you'll end up using daily, Amazon Echo is a much better purchase.
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Harish Jonnalagadda is a Senior Editor overseeing Asia at Android Central. He leads the site's coverage of Chinese phone brands, contributing to reviews, features, and buying guides. He also writes about storage servers, audio products, and the semiconductor industry. Contact him on Twitter at @chunkynerd.