Voice assistants have come a long way over the last few years, from an often-confused voice in your smartphone to touch-screen smart displays that can connect you to friends and information in a snap.
The first Amazon Echo Show added an interactive screen to Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant, and we were so impressed by this year’s redesigned Echo Show we gave it an Editors’ Choice. Google Assistant has seen some progress with smart displays from third parties, like the JBL Link View and Lenovo Smart Display, but we haven’t seen a Google-made device with a touch screen until now.
Enter the Google Home Hub, announced alongside the Pixel 3 and Pixel Slate. It sports a 7-inch touch screen, a speaker, and far-field microphone array to let you use Google Assistant. JBL and Lenovo’s attempts at this have been solid, but now it’s Google’s turn.
Let’s see how these first-party smart displays compare. And while we’re at it, let’s throw in the Amazon Echo Spot, considering it’s closer in price to the Hub than the Show and also earned an Editors’ Choice from us.
Google Assistant vs. Amazon Alexa
Google Home devices use Google Assistant as a voice assistant, while the Amazon devices use Alexa. Both have seen some major upgrades over the years, but they’re also still a work in progress.
Google Assistant is much better than Alexa at parsing natural language. Amazon’s voice assistant is picky with syntax, though it has gotten better with steady updates. Google Assistant doesn’t get confused by wording as easily as Alexa, so you can speak more naturally and not have to worry as much about phrasing your command properly.
Alexa has much more robust third-party support, with thousands of skills that can be enabled to perform specific tasks, like ordering a pizza or telling a story. You can also make your own simple Alexa skills easily with Alexa Blueprints.
Google Assistant isn’t quite as open as Alexa when it comes to outside development. Alexa also supports many more smart home devices for voice control than Google Assistant, though both cover the big names like Philips Hue lights and Nest thermostats, and even get live video from connected security cameras and video doorbells.
For sheer size, the new Echo Show wins handily with its 10-inch touch screen. The Home Hub’s 7-inch touch screen is notably smaller than the Echo Show’s, or even the screens on the 8-inch JBL Link View and both the Lenovo Smart Displays (8- and 10-inch).
Google hasn’t announced the resolution of the Home Hub’s screen, but if it has a 720p resolution or anything close to the Echo Show’s 1,280-by-800 screen, the smaller size could work to its advantage with a sharper picture. The Echo Spot, of course, comes in last with its 2.5-inch screen and 480-by-480 resolution.
Google isn’t very specific about the Home Hub’s speaker, except that it’s a “full range speaker.” It might sound fine, but considering the Echo Show’s redesigned 2-inch, 10-watt stereo drivers are impressively powerful for any speaker in its price range (even with some unusually extreme sculpting), it’s unlikely the Home Hub’s presumably single driver will be nearly as loud.
Google might surprise us, but until we test the Home Hub, the JBL Link View is comparable with the Echo Show and offers a much better balance if you want a Google Assistant smart display with very good sound. Again, the tiny Echo Spot comes up short, sounding like an Echo Dot or Google Home Mini speaker; you can hear what it says, but it isn’t very impressive.
Neither the Home Hub nor the Echo Show are primarily designed for movies or TV shows, but they still serve as speakers for listening to music, and have some support for video.
This is where your streaming service preferences come in. The Echo Show can access Amazon Music and Amazon Video, and the Home Hub can access YouTube Music and YouTube for video. Amazon is adding CBS and Hulu to the Echo Show in the near future, and we’ll have to see if any third-party video streaming services can be accessed by the Home Hub. Third-party music is a bit more flexible, with Spotify, iHeartRadio, and Pandora available on both devices. The Echo Spot has the same music services as the Echo Show, but you can’t watch much video on its small screen.
If you can’t find a streaming app or service you can to use on the smart displays’ voice assistant, you can send any audio from your phone or tablet to either device over Bluetooth. The Home Hub also supports Google Cast for audio, but if it’s implemented similar to how it works on the JBL Link View and Lenovo Smart Display, don’t expect to be able to cast video to it.
What the Home Hub lacks in screen size and (presumably) audio power, it makes up in a slightly more convenient form factor. It has the similar tilt-screen shape as the Echo Show, but measures 4.6 by 7 by 2.6 inches (HWD) and makes the 6.9-by-9.7-by-4.2-inch Echo Show look downright chunky. That extra 1.6 inches of depth can be the difference between comfortably fitting on your nightstand or counter, or perching precariously. The Echo Spot is downright diminutive as an approximate 4-inch ball, but it’s deeper than the Home Hub and its much, much smaller circular screen limits it significantly.
This is pretty straightforward, and it makes the Home Hub look really appealing. At just $150, it’s a full $80 less than the Echo Show. It’s also only $20 more than the Echo Spot while offering a much larger screen. The Home Hub is currently the most affordable Google Assistant smart display, with the 8-inch Lenovo Smart Display running a solid $200 and both the 10-inch Lenovo Smart Display and the JBL Link View available for $250 each.
We won’t know if either device is definitively superior until we get the Google Home Hub in to test and compare with the Echo Show. It seems likely that the bigger, more powerful Echo Show will be a better option for big rooms, since it can readily serve as a main speaker for streaming music, while the smaller and more affordable Home Hub could replace the Echo Spot as our favorite nightstand smart display, and find a new home on counters and desks.