A big question, many modern homeowners face is: what is the best smart speaker? And to that end, what is the best smart assistant? Google and Amazon both released new smart devices of similar size and function, which makes it even more challenging to answer this question. Time to pit the Google Nest Audio vs Amazon Echo (4th Gen). We’ll outline all the major merits and drawbacks of each of these bite-sized smart speakers.
Editor’s note: this versus article was updated on April 21, 2021, to add information about the Apple HomePod mini.
Google Nest Audio vs. Amazon Echo (4th Gen): Design and hardware
Both the Google Nest Audio and Amazon Echo (4th Gen) are compact smart speakers meant to blend into any room. They’re both shorter than 20cm and are covered in colored fabric. Google and Amazon bill each smart speaker as an entry-level smart home product, built with ease-of-use in mind.
When you buy the Google Nest Audio, you’ll find just the speaker and a DC power adapter in the box (along with some documentation). The pillow-shaped device is very minimalistic, and its only tactile button a mute switch. When toggled, it mutes the microphone so you can feel more comfortable that Google is not spying on you. When the mic is muted, the LED lights glow amber.
Four LED lights decorate the front and invisible touch panels sit against the seam at the top of the speaker. The LEDs also indicate statuses such as Google Assistant activation, Bluetooth pairing mode, and an active call. The touch panel is split into thirds: the outer two sections let you adjust the volume, and the center section lets you control media playback. The Nest Audio is missing is a 3.5mm headphone jack, so you can’t plug in your device for wired listening.
The Amazon Echo (4th Gen) is shaped like a ball and sports a few buttons if you want to control your media playback without talking to Alexa. The top of the speaker houses the action button, mute button, and two volume buttons. When you summon Alexa, the LED ring light around the speaker’s base glows blue, and when you mute it, the light glows red.
The Echo also works with Bluetooth, and has wired listening capabilities with its 3.5mm input, something the Google Nest Audio can’t claim. The bottom of the Echo also houses a threaded mount if you want to add it to your home speaker setup. Though the shape of the speaker won’t be for everyone, it does have a soft and appealing look.
Which smart speaker is smarter?
A smart speaker is meat to make your life easier; it should be able to perform basic tasks like answering your questions and playing your music. It should also be able to complete more complicated requests like daily routines. Both the Google Nest Audio and Amazon Echo (4th Gen) do these things well, but they each have their idiosyncrasies.
To set up the Google Nest Audio, you need to download the Google Home app. The app will then guide you through the setup process with ease. Once your Nest Audio is set up, you may configure your personal settings, such as Voice Match. This feature lets you program the voices you want Google to respond to, so it isn’t triggered every time an “Okay Google” commercial comes on the TV.
Google Assistant and Alexa offer all the same basic functions, but Alexa may have more skills, and Google might be slightly more knowledgeable.
You can also group Google speakers together by the rooms in your house, set pairs of speakers up for stereo playback, broadcast to other Google speakers within the house, and easily Chromecast from your smartphone to the Nest Audio. The Nest Audio works best when streaming over your home’s Wi-Fi, but it also lets you stream over Bluetooth 5.0.
Setting up the Amazon Echo is very similar, and the Alexa app will guide you through the setup process. Alexa has Voice Recognition, which learns each household member’s voice and adjusts its responses in accordance to whomever made a command. For example, if you say, “Alexa, play music,” it may play a different genre than if your brother says, “Alexa, play music.” You can set up stereo playback with your Echo speakers, make speaker groups for different rooms, filter out explicit language, and do pretty much everything you can do with the Google Nest Audio.
Both the Amazon Echo (4th Gen) and the Google Nest Audio function as smart home hubs. You can control your compatible smart home devices with the Nest Audio, such as your lighting or security system. The Amazon Echo (4th Gen) has an integrated ZigBee Hub, which consolidates devices such as compatible light bulbs, or Amazon’s Fire stick.
Some smart home devices are interchangeable between Amazon and Google smart speakers, but not others. For example, you can use the Google Nest Hello with an Amazon Echo Show device, but you can’t use the Google Nest Audio to control an Amazon Smart Oven. The Connected Home alliance, however, will make these compatibilities more common and streamlined.
In a Digital Assistant IQ test conducted by Loup Ventures in 2019, it was found that Google Assistant answered 93% of queries correctly whereas Alexa only answered 80% correctly. Technology is always improving, and Amazon is quickly closing the gap. All in all, both of these smart speakers are pretty smart.
How good is each speaker at registering commands?
The Google Nest Audio has three far-field microphones which register your commands without any issues. It also has a machine learning chip which hastens its response time to your most frequent commands and requests. This is a region-specific feature, though, so not everyone will benefit from it. The microphone quality is pretty good, but it depends on your position relative to the speaker.
If you set up Google Duo, you can make and receive calls directly from your Google Nest Audio with anyone with a phone number, so long as it’s not an emergency number. You can also use it to call other Google Duo devices. Unfortunately you can’t make group calls with the Google Nest Audio.
Google Nest Audio microphone demo:
The Amazon Echo (4th Gen) will register your voice even with loud music playing, but we unfortunately don’t have a microphone sample for the Echo. You can use the Echo to make calls to other Alexa devices, make hands-free group calls with up to seven other people, and call any non-emergency phone number.
Both smart speakers let you mute the microphone so you can feel comfortable that neither Amazon nor Google is spying on you.
Google Nest Audio vs Amazon Echo (4th Gen): Sound quality
The Amazon Echo (4th Gen) has a power input and headphone jack along the back.The Google Nest Audio has a 75mm mid-woofer and a 19mm tweeter. To optimize the sound quality of the Google Nest Audio, it must be placed vertically at the end of a shelf, so as to avoid sound waves bouncing off the surrounding walls; this is good practice for any speaker. Google’s speaker de-empahsizes sub-bass frequencies, which isn’t great, but it makes up for it with its extremely accurate midrange and treble reproduction. Nearly all music, save for EDM, will sound very good through the Google Nest Audio.
The Amazon Echo (4th Gen), on the other hand, has an emphasized bass response, making for a consumer-friendly sound, though it does de-emphasis some midrange notes. You may notice some detail missing from your music when listening with the Amazon Echo (4th Gen), because bass notes are relayed more than twice as loud as certain midrange notes. This is a sacrifice dedicated bassheads may be happy to make, though.
The Google Nest Audio lets you equalize the sound signature in the Google Home app. It also has Media EQ and Ambient IQ. Media EQ is a feature that adjusts the speaker’s sound signature depending on what type of media it is playing (e.g., spoken word vs. music). Ambient IQ, on the other hand, uses the speaker’s microphone to adjust media volume according to the amount of environmental noise, but only when playing media such as podcasts or audiobooks.
You can manually EQ the sound profile of the Amazon Echo (4th Gen) through the Alexa app, or by telling Alexa what you would like to adjust. It also supports Dolby audio, but if you want Dolby Atmos support, you have to shell out for the Echo Studio.
Do Amazon and Google respect your privacy?
It’s no secret that smart devices collect your data, but that doesn’t make it any less unsettling. Google keeps track of a lot of your personal information, including your location, IP address, and transcripts of your Google Assistant commands.
Just like Google, Amazon collects the voice recordings of you talking to Alexa. Similarly, Amazon allows you to view and delete your recordings through your Alexa Privacy Settings, or you can select to not have them recorded at all. However, Amazon advises you against disabling this feature because it may result in less effective voice recognition. And just like Google, Amazon claims that Alexa is only listening when it is summoned by its wakeup word (“Alexa”).
Google Nest Audio vs Amazon Echo (4th Gen): Which should you buy?
Both the Google Nest Audio and Amazon Echo (4th Gen) are there to be at your beck and call, and play decent sounding audio. Neither smart speaker is a bad choice, so if you’re already invested in either the Google or Alexa ecosystem, there’s no need to suddenly switch over to the opposite one.
However, if you’re trying to choose between these two speakers for your very first smart speaker, we’d recommend prioritizing what you’re looking for in a smart speaker first. If, for example, you want something that you can use to have family group calls, go for the Echo. If you want something compatible with Chromecast, go for the Google Nest Audio. If you want something that you can use to control your home security and lighting, either speaker would be a fine choice.
Save some cash on the Amazon Echo Dot (4th Gen)
If you like the Amazon Echo but don’t need the integrated smarthub, the new Echo Dot is a miniature version of the Echo (4th Gen). It can do almost everything the Echo can do, and if you already have a smart hub in your house, you shouldn’t need to spend the extra cash on the Echo. Because the Echo Dot is smaller, its bass response isn’t as impressive as the standard Echo. It also doesn’t have Dolby Audio, but you can get a version that doubles as a digital LED clock.
If you own an iPhone, iPad, or both, get the Apple HomePod mini
The Apple HomePod mini supports multiroom audio and direct voice access to Siri. Like the Echo (4th Gen), it emits 360° audio. Non-iPhone owners won’t be as drawn to the HomePod mini as they might be to Google and Amazon’s smart speakers, because many of the HomePod mini’s functions are exclusive to Apple hardware. If, however, you’re surrounded by Apple products, you can take full advantage of features like Intercom communication, AirPlay 2 support, and more.