The smart home conundrum: Amazon or Google?

Echo Plus 2nd Gen
Echo Plus 2nd Gen (Image credit: Android Central)

Ever since I was a kid, I've dreamed about having a "smart" home. I grew up watching The Jetsons and reading about the future, and while most of my friends were waiting for flying cars I just wanted to be able to talk to my house and have it do things. Not crazy things, mind you, just simple things like turning on the lights or the TV, or locking the doors and arming the alarm. I'm no longer a kid, and I can actually do those things. Now I just need to decide who to talk to in the middle of the night.

And Siri decided she just didn't care all that much even though HomeKit offers a lot in theory.

Amazon and Google have the inexpensive automated household "stuff" market locked up tight. Alexa and Google Assistant are happy to serve, turning lights on and off, adjusting the thermostat, and even locking the door without adding any significant costs to the things they can control. They are both cheap, too — in fact, they are free if you have a smartphone and everyone has a smartphone. Amazon and Google can do this because they aren't worried about making money from Alexa or Google Assistant and use both as a conduit to other ways to make money. Ads and online shopping bring BIG BUCKS.

This makes everything so cheap that even if you don't have smart stuff in your house now, you will soon. And eventually, you'll have enough smart stuff that you'll be pulling your hair out trying to use both Alexa and Assistant at the same time.

I just hit this cap, though it was more a stroke of bad luck than anything else. The update to the Google Home app "lost" all my Philips Hue lamps. If you've been through this you know it's a pain to get things back in order and you're left renaming lights that don't work and deleting application data and sacrificing chickens as part of the "official" fix. Once I finally got my Hue account relinked and connected I thought I was gold until I tried Alexa and nothing worked. You can guess what happened once I was able to re-link my Hue account to my Amazon account and ran out of chickens.

I decided to stick with Alexa around the house. All the new stuff Amazon showed us with smart plugs and subwoofers for the Echo and a microwave that can pop me some popcorn when I tell it to are things I need in my life. They're also things that will never work well with Google Assistant, no matter how hard companies like IFTTT or SmartThings try. Too bad the Echo Show sucks and my Lenovo Smart Display does not suck and now is mostly there to keep me company and tell me my calendar while an Echo Dot is hidden behind it to turn off the bedroom lights.

Hey Google, tell me about the weather tomorrow and Alexa turn out the bedroom lights rolls right off the tongue. Not.

If you fall into the smart home trap you'll get here, too. You'll either have too many things, or have bad luck with an update like I did, or just get tired of trying to remember what room name you gave the foyer in the Google Home app when it has a light called FrontLight01 in the Hue app and you can't use the same name in the Alexa app or the world will end. And it's our job to help you make decisions about buying all this stuff, so I'm going to do my job and help you.

Pick one. Pick either Amazon and Alexa or Google and Assistant, and pick it before you start looking at all the smart things you want to buy.

Both have their strengths and weaknesses: everything works and is easy to set up with Alexa but letting Amazon have control of your contacts and calendar is crazy — but both also have a wide array of products that make them worth using. That means choosing between cool stuff like Smart Displays and wireless subwoofers that pair to Bluetooth speakers, but in the long run you'll be glad you don't recreate my mess. That takes a lot of the fun of having a smart home away and replaces it with headache, and none of us need an AI assistant to help us get a headache.

November 14 is the day I can pop up some Orville Redenbacher in my smart microwave.

Don't worry. We'll still be here to tell you what's cool and what sucks about all the new smart things. I have a room full of new stuff to look at (spoiler: The Arlo Pro 2 (opens in new tab) is incredible and buy as many Amazon Smart Plugs (opens in new tab) as you have outlets in your home) and will have to try it all with both Alexa and Assistant and hope no more chickens get hurt.

Jerry Hildenbrand
Senior Editor — Google Ecosystem

Jerry is an amateur woodworker and struggling shade tree mechanic. There's nothing he can't take apart, but many things he can't reassemble. You'll find him writing and speaking his loud opinion on Android Central and occasionally on Twitter.

  • Neither. The Internet of Things is insecure and adds cost/complexity more than convenience. Maybe some day.
  • Google controls my house.
    I have a mix of TP-Link bulbs and plugs and I just started adding Hue since TP-Link has stopped making bulbs. I didn't lose anything in the Home app update BUT I am bothered by the apps inability to link bulbs and plugs in the single room controls function even though the living room group is properly labeled with each device.
    Hopefully this will get addressed soon. I eagerly await Home Hubs undated release in Canada as it will help lay my BlackBerry Playbook to rest as my kitchen aid. Our next gadget is a set of Smart blinds that should arrive next week. I'm excited about the smart home future!
  • Smart Blinds - from who?
  • Just shoot them the dimensions and away you go.
  • I'm curious why you're recommending buying Amazon Smart Plugs? They're exclusively tied to Alexa, and expensive at $25. There appear to be plenty of smart plugs that work with BOTH Alexa and Assistant, and cost roughly half as much. BTW, I have no experience with either, so I really am just curious.
  • I committed to Google on day one. Don't care for the direct connection Alexa has to Amozon. While I'm sure ordering stuff though my Home is possible. The blatantly obvious purpose of Alexa is to help Amazon sell more stuff. Correct me if I'm wrong but the new Amazon microwave is not a replicator, you are still going to have to get up walk over and put your popcorn into it...
  • The blatantly obvious purpose of Google is to sell your information so others can sell you stuff. At least Amazon only wants to sell me stuff.
  • We are at the beginning of making our home, a smart home. With a wide array of phones in our house - deciding on a specific eco system is one thought, or go through a Hub that is compatible with most available eco systems and Assistants. Tough, tough...
  • I've used smart things and wink. I'd recommend wink for a few reasons. 1. Ease of use, 2. Amount of available smart items. 3. Find it easier and faster than smart things. They both connect to our google home and amazon alexa.
  • Thanks.
  • I haven't used wink, but saying it has more smart items than SmartThings seems a little off. Pretty sure Wink used z-wave and SmartThings can use any z-wave or zigbee smart item.
  • I have used Amazon, Wink and SmartThings and currently use SmartThings with Google Assistant in one location and SmartThings and Amazon in another location. Best of both worlds. SmartThings can use far more items than Wink especially if you are willing to install your own Smart Apps and Device Handlers. Hubitat is on my radar once they integrate with Google Assistant. Amazon may be a little easier to setup but Google is way more useful. Amazon is now getting sold off since I bought a bunch of inexpensive Insignia Speakers.
  • My goal - is to have a Hub that is Google Assistant and Apple compliant. Can Smart Things or Amazon do that?
  • Is this the new debate, assistant versus Alexa like the age-old Apple versus Android? LOL I have 5 Google homes, 2 Chromecast, 1 Chromecast audio, 2 connected Bluetooth speakers and 4 smart plugs. It works pretty good so far, I have no major complaints. My biggest issue has been when multiple Google homes hear my voice when I make a request leading to music being played in the wrong room or the lights being turned on in another room when I was requesting the room that I'm in. That rarely happens but it does happen enough to annoy me.
  • Not close. Google assistant is far smater then Alexa. It is not c!ose.
  • I'd say a better question is which of the options allows you to back up the configuration and if they don't don't use them.
  • I just have them both in almost every room. I've pretty much memorized which can do what. Neither of them can do everything I would want them to unfortunately.
  • I have a dot and home mini. I usually use the dot. 1) I know it's stupid, but I prefer to say Alexa ... Instead of hey Google ... Why can't Google just give the assistant a name like everybody else. It is much more natural to me. 2) the dot works better with my harmony remote. The mini always says asking harmony to ...
  • I have a long house, the living area is in the middle. The adult side of the house has Google Home - it knows our schedules, answers our questions, sets reminders consistently per person. Also we're Play Music users so these are my wife's boom box. The kid side of the house has Echo - I use them to broadcast dinner and wakeup calls, adjust lights, alarms, basic math. They're okay but Echo has serious trouble understanding my accent (middle East coast US) and doesn't map to existing light names. I get a lot of "couldn't find space light" for "Spike's light" for example. Kitchen and living room have both. Smartthings controls lights and most devices - I didn't individually map Hue for example to Google or Amazon - so until that integration breaks I'm doing okay.