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Amazon Echo vs Google Home: Which is better for blind and partially sighted people to use? Update!

Since the launch of the Amazon Echo in the UK in 2016, and the launch of the Google Home in 2017, the sale of smart speakers has been phenomenal. According to a report by the US marketing firm Canalys, the number of smart speakers worldwide is expected to top 200 million by the end of 2019. According to the same source, sales of Google devices are about a third of those achieved by the Amazon Echo range of products, though this could change as Google has just unveiled a new entry range speaker called the Nest Mini. It is likely that over time all the Google range will become branded as Nest.

Since my original article comparing Echo and Google Home, the functionality of the Echo has probably increased more than that of Google Home making it more of a tempting product for many. In particular, it is now possible to call UK mobiles and landline phones directly from Amazon Echo speakers. I have set up a number of both Google Home speakers and Amazon Echo speakers in different situations and it seems to me that the Echo is now the more reliable of the two for making phone calls. It provides better audio quality and it’s more reliable at understanding which contact you want to call. It is also possible to use the Echo as an intercom to communicate with rooms throughout your home on the same wireless network and even drop in on other users of Echo products, providing they give you permission. I have seen this latter feature used by people to easily talk to relatives that they care for.

The Echo range of speakers uses apps that people can write themselves called Skills. These are similar in concept to apps on phones. One example of an Echo skill which enhances existing functionality is the BBC Sounds skill. One of the attractions of smart speakers has always been the ability to listen to internet radio stations but the BBC Sounds app has taken this one step further by allowing access to all the BBC’s listen on demand content as well as the BBC live radio stations. There are also many other useful skills such as games and quizzes. The quick-fire quiz where you have to answer as many general knowledge questions as possible in a limited time is one of my favourite quiz game skills.

The Google Home takes a different approach as it works with partners to create interactions rather than letting people or companies produce their own skills. The advantage is that they tend to be better quality though they are not as numerous. Google Home is particularly good for playing podcasts. You can ask to play any podcast directly e.g. Play RNIB TechTalk podcast. Google also works well with Chromecast with services such as Netflix and YouTube. The Echo works in a similar way with devices such as the Amazon Firestick, but it is slightly more complicated to set these features up initially.

Both Echo and Google Home work well with a wide range of smart devices such as lightbulbs, smart plugs, thermostats etc. Doorbells, which can be accessed from in the home or remotely, are also now controllable through both Google and Amazon smart speakers.

Both these smart speakers are increasing their functionality all the time and it’s hard to recommend one over the other without looking at an individual’s own requirements. With both product ranges starting from around £50, diving into the world of smart speakers is relatively affordable providing you already have an internet connection and a smart phone or tablet.

 

Graham Page, Access Technology Adviser; November 2019

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