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Nest Audio vs. Amazon Echo (4th Gen): Which should you buy?

Amazon Echo 4th Gen
Amazon Echo 4th Gen (Image credit: Amazon)

Amazon Echo (4th Gen)

Amazon Echo 4th Gen Blue Official Render

A major upgrade on the previous Echo generation, the Amazon Echo 2020 adds a faster processor for better Alexa response time, improved music quality thanks to revamped drivers, and control over more devices thanks to Zigbee connectivity. Add in Dolby processing, multi-room music and hands-free calls, and you get a versatile home speaker.

Amazon Echo (4th Gen)

Smarter, faster, clearer

Faster Alexa voice processing than previous Echos
Slightly larger woofer and dual tweeters
Adapts acoustics to room automatically
Works as Zigbee smart hub
3.5mm line in-out port
Alexa arguably less reliable than Google Assistant

Google Nest Audio

Nest Audio Render

Despite the name change from Google Home to Nest Audio, Google's latest speaker is less focused on new smart home integrations and more on improved audio quality, improved Google Assistant response time and a striking, multi-colored tower design. Regular Google and Nest Security users will find plenty to like with this device.

Google Nest Audio

Audio and Assistant revamped

"75% louder", "50% stronger bass" than Google Home
Media EQ and Ambient IQ auto-adjustments
Fast processor for Assistant commands
Built-in Chromecast
Five color options
No 3.5mm AUX line in/out port

Amazon and Google announced their new smart speakers within a week of one another, setting them up for a Nest Audio vs. Amazon Echo showdown. The two devices ship on October 5 and October 22, respectively, for the same list price, which suggests that both companies invite comparisons between the two and think their device will come out on top. Both devices have the improved specs and smart features to headline our best smart speakers 2020 list, but which speaker is the best of the best? We're breaking down specs, compatible devices and tricks to decide.

Nest Audio vs. Amazon Echo: Comparing audio quality

Before we get to the "smarts," let's focus on the speaker side of these two devices, which both Amazon and Google say are major upgrades from previous models. Voice commands are great, but you can get those with a cheaper Echo Dot or Nest Mini; you want a larger speaker for better audio quality.

Google claims that Nest Audio is "75 percent louder and has 50 percent stronger bass" than its predecessor, the Google Home. Amazon, meanwhile, said the 4th-Gen Echo performs "significantly better" than last year's more expensive Echo Plus.

The Echo's extra tweeter will give it the edge in high-end audio, while Google emphasized powerful bass and wide dynamic range.

In fact, compared against one another, the Amazon Echo will likely outperform the Nest Audio in audio quality as well. The Echo has a 3" woofer and dual front-firing 0.8" tweeters, along with Dolby Processing. Nest Audio has a 2.95" woofer and one 0.75" tweeter. While their bass will likely be comparable, the second tweeter will give Amazon an edge for higher-end audio.

On the other hand, Google says it "minimized the use of compressors to preserve dynamic range," which could help deliver booming audio during loud musical crescendos.

Both devices have tech for calibrating the audio settings to match their environment. With Google's Media EQ feature, it will change the settings for music versus an audiobook, or let you adjust them manually via voice command. Or, with Ambient IQ, Nest Audio will hear (for example) a loud garbage disposal and turn up the audio to break through the din, then drop back down when the ambient noise stops. Amazon also says its settings will "automatically adapt to your room" but is short on details.

If you purchase a second Nest Audio or Amazon Echo, you can pair them together to produce stereo audio.

Nest Audio vs. Amazon Echo: Specs and compatible tech

Nest Audio Colors

Source: Google (Image credit: Source: Google)

Google and Amazon have created enough iterations of its smart speakers to know what smart speakers need to work well, making it unsurprising that the two devices have similar features.

To connect to your Nest Audio or Amazon Echo speaker, you can access either with dual-band wi-fi or the latest Bluetooth tech for fast connections. Each has multiple built-in mics to capture your voice commands successfully, and both have bright, distinctive LED lights to indicate when the speaker is listening or responding to you. The Echo does have a more spherical design compared to the Nest Audio's tall pill shape, but don't expect 360º audio from the Echo: it's designed to send sound straight forward just like the Nest Audio.

Google Nest AudioAmazon Echo (4th Gen)
Dimensions4.89" x 3.07" x 6.89", 2.65 lb5.7" x 5.7" x 5.2", 2.14 lb
ColorsChalk, Charcoal, Sage, Sand, SkyCharcoal, Glacier White, Twilight Blue
ProcessorQuad Core A53 1.8 GHz with TeraOPS ML hardware engineAZ1 Neural Edge
Speakers75mm (2.95") woofer, 19mm (0.75") tweeter76.2mm (3.0") woofer, dual front-firing 20.3mm (0.8") tweeters
Wi-Fi802.11b/g/n/ac (2.4 GHz / 5 GHz)802.11a/b/g/n/ac (2.4 / 5 GHz)
Built-in ChromecastYesNo
3.5mm line in-outNoYes
Voice commandsAlexa: Skills, Voice ProfilesGoogle Assistant: Control smart home tech, Voice Match, Family Bell
Smart home techZigbee smart home hub; Amazon Sidewalk BridgeNest Security compatibility
LED indicatorsFour circular lights on frontRing around the base
Buy 2 for stereo sound?YesYes
Use as a TV speaker?NoYes

If the Amazon Echo has one hardware perk, it's the 3.5mm line in/out port. With a 3.5mm-to-USB-C adapter, you can connect your phone to it directly; or link your second Echo to the first via the plug instead of wirelessly.

Otherwise, the differences come down to software and compatibility. The Echo can be paired with certain televisions to work as a TV speaker, something the Nest Audio cannot currently do. There's a wide range of Google Assistant-compatible devices that can be controlled through a simple Nest Audio command, from Philips bulbs to Nest locks and thermostats to various security cams, but not through Alexa commands. The same is true in reverse for these Alexa-compatible devices.

Nest security tech may be reliable, but Echo's new Zigbee support gives it access to a wider range of 3rd-party smart home and security devices.

Amazon Echo has made a couple of flashy new feature upgrades that caught our eye. The first is Zigbee compatibility, which lets it control a variety of home security devices with built-in Zigbee tech. The second is Amazon Sidewalk: a Bluetooth LE system that expands your ability to control smart devices outside of your home Wi-Fi into your neighborhood. Using an Alexa command, you can control any cams, lights, or other tech that your Wi-Fi network can't reach.

Both Google and Amazon boast about their new devices' improved processing speeds: the Amazon Echo allegedly processes requests twice as fast, and the Nest Audio has "one TeraOPS of processing power," so Google Assistant requests can be handled locally instead of over the cloud. So, in essence, you should consider which voice assistant you already prefer over the other. We called Alexa skills the best and worst of using an Echo, and generally tend to prefer Google Assistant for our Android tech.

If you've previously purchased tech to go with one speaker ecosystem, it makes sense to stick with the system and voice phrases you know and use already.

Nest Audio vs Amazon Echo: Which smart speaker should you buy?

Amazon Echo 4th Gen

Source: Amazon (Image credit: Source: Amazon)

Until we get our hands on both speakers for our hands-on reviews, we can only speculate how the Nest Audio vs. Amazon Echo battle will play out in reality. But in terms of audio quality and features, we're giving the Amazon Echo a slight edge despite our preference for Google Assistant.

With Zigbee's addition, Amazon has a wide range of third-party smart home tech, while with Nest, you must rely on the devices that Google chooses for you. Amazon Sidewalk could be useful for controlling a smart home beyond the physical walls of your home. And the extra tweeter should give the Echo an extra edge while streaming your music.

That isn't to say that the Nest Audio should be ignored. You get an excellent upgrade on your older Google Home devices that processes your Assistant phrases more quickly, gives your music extra bass and volume, and dynamically adjusts its output, so you don't need to adjust the volume constantly.

Michael L Hicks
Michael L Hicks

Michael spent years freelancing on every tech topic under the sun before settling down on the real exciting stuff: virtual reality, fitness wearables, gaming, and how tech intersects with our world. He's a semi-reformed Apple-to-Android user who loves running, D&D, and Star Wars. Find him on Twitter at @Michael_L_Hicks.