What Smart Device Do You Need in Your New Apartment?

Smart home devices are everywhere now – well they are everywhere on TV at the moment. Amazon Echo, Google Home or Apple HomePod – which is the best?

Amazon Echo was launched in Australia on February 2, and now that we can see how it will differ from the US version, it’s time.

Time for what, I hear you ask.

Time, we tell you, for the ultimate showdown: Amazon v Google v Apple.

Three technological powerhouses!

One apartment (yours)!

Which device will be the best for the Brisbane apartments?

Before we get into it though, let’s run over a few things.

Firstly, you do not need a smart device in your new apartment (or house, for that matter). They’re just fun, and extremely helpful, tools. Secondly, a “smart home” is defined as a residence that has appliances, lighting, air conditioning and heating, TVs, computers, and all other entertainment audio and video systems, security and phones that are capable of ‘talking’ to one another, and can be remotely controlled from any location around the house by phone or internet. A smart home device, such as HomePod, Google Home or Amazon Echo, can let you control these other appliances hands-free, make memos for you and in most cases, let you buy things online.

Now that we’ve covered all of that, let’s get started.

Our three contestants are Apple’s HomePod, Google Home, and Amazon Echo. Each has features that add and detract from the experience, and we’re going to cover them all here so you can make an informed decision about which device suits you and your needs.

Apple’s HomePod

Apple’s HomePod was only just recently launched. It is, first and foremost, a powerful speaker, and as such isn’t technically competing with the Amazon Echo’s and Google Home’s of the world. It has one high-excursion woofer, and seven beamforming tweeters, which each have their own amplifier and transducer, and a precision acoustic horn that focuses sound for incredibly directional control. It has an A8 chip that responds to music to make each song sounds its best. It’s mesh outside doesn’t impact the sound. This basically means that when it plays music, it plays music. This thing ain’t messing around.

What the HomePod looks like from inside

It’s also spatially aware, which is – no matter what size your apartment is – hella useful. HomePod automatically adjusts itself to give you optimal sound, where ever it is in your apartment, which means that it takes into account all of your furniture, walls, and even the people in the room. And, no matter where it is placed in the room or how loud the music is, it will respond to your voice, and the simple opener “Hey, Siri”. It’s like magic.

Unfortunately, HomePod isn’t all magic. It will only connect to Apple devices from the iPhone 5s or later, so Android users, don’t even bother looking. Apple users, this one is for you. It’s also much more expensive than anything else on this list. You can buy a couple of Amazon Echos or Google Home’s for the price of one HomePod, which is retailing in Australia at $499.00. If you live and breathe Apple, however, and are already using HomeKit, Apple devices, and have a homogenous environment of iOS devices, then you should consider the HomePod.

Amazon Echo Range
Left to Right: Echo Dot, Echo, Echo Plus

Amazon Echo was, as we’ve noted previously in this article, recently launched in Australia. There are multiple versions of Amazon Echo, all powered by the virtual assistant Alexa, who responds to your voice in a multitude of Aussie-accented ways, including offering hands-free access to weather, music, news and information from any point in the room. Saying “Alexa” will wake up the device, and the blue ring of light at the top lets you know that she’s ready to answer your questions. Seven microphones, e beam-forming technology and noise cancellation allows Alexa to hear you even in a crowded room. The Amazon Echo Dot – or the ‘mini’ version – can do the same things, although the sound from the smaller speaker is much poorer.

There’s also something to be said about Alexa. She can understand simple commands – even series of them – but they’re fairly basic. “Alexa, What time is it?”, “Alexa, What’s the weather like today?”, “Alexa, set an alarm for 7 am tomorrow,” are some examples, but Alexa will also occasionally require you to phrase things in ‘unnatural language’ (ie. not how you would speak usually). Also, the default search engine is Bing. The other major problem is that the device requires a wake-up word, from which you can choose four (Alexa, Echo, Amazon or Computer), which means the voice assistant often wakes up mishearing what you’ve said. That doesn’t mean it’s all bad though.

Amazon Echo devices have the benefit of being around longer. The Echo’s two-year headstart on Google Home and three years on Apple’s HomePod, means it can do more things, especially when concerning the control of smart-home gear. The Echo has 15,000+ skills, and compatible with Apple, Google and basically any assorted device you have. It’s considered the gold standard in smart speakers, and the second-generation speaker both costs less and looks better than the first model (with six different options, so it matches your apartment aesthetics!), at $147.00. Amazon, like Google, has also partnered with companies to launch a series of smart speakers that are powered by the voice assistant in the smart device. The Alexa-powered Sonos One is considered a marvel and is a direct competitor to Apple’s HomePod.

All the Amazon Echo products

And Amazon has gone a step further than anyone else, because it has the Amazon Echo Plus (a super-charged version of the normal Echo, with better sound), Echo Show (which enables video calling), Echo Look (which is intended for the fashion conscious), Echo Spot (basically an alarm clock) and the Amazon Tap (essentially a portable Echo).

Google Home Device

Finally, we have Google Home. Google Home is the best in the game when it comes to understanding exactly what you’re asking it. It’s better with accents and natural language because Google built search engines before it built anything else, so in terms of this, it is leagues ahead of its competitors. You can ask the Google Assistant “Does it rain diamonds on Neptune?”, and it will give you a proper answer, which is much more than the “Sorry, I don’t know that one” from its competitors.

There are also two options for Google Home, much like Amazon. You have the choice of Google Home, or Google Home Mini, which compete with the Amazon Echo and Echo Dot respectively. For the original Google Home, you can change its base at any time to match the room it’s in, with six different metal, plastic, and colour options. For the Home Mini, you’ve got the option between grey (‘charcoal’), black (‘chalk’) and orange (‘coral’).

Options, options, everywhere…

The speakers on Google Home are pretty impressive too, and it can hear – and respond – to you in a crowded room when you say “Hey Google” or “OK Google”, even if it’s playing music. It is, in fact, considered the best out there in regards to this feature. Like the Amazon Echo though, Google Home isn’t just a speaker, but also a voice-controlled assistant, so whilst the speakers are impressive for what you get, they aren’t a stand-out feature. However, you can pair the Home device(s) with other speakers to boost the sound.

The problem with the Google Home devices, is that, much like Apple’s HomePod, unless you (and/or your family) run on Google devices or Gmail accounts, it isn’t really that good.

So, what’s the verdict?

Really, it all comes down to what you already have, and what sort of features you prefer. Do you have an Apple phone or an Android? Do you like a list of simple commands to use or a device that will give you a more natural conversation? Do you want to be able to blow people away with the music quality from the speaker, or is just having the device in the house to help fancy enough? If you can answer these questions, then you’ll know which device you need for your apartment.

I personally believe that Google Home Mini is the best way to start getting your apartment tech-savvy, due to its small size, good aesthetics and great natural language recognition.

And now that you can see which device is the superior one for you. However, we do want to point out that if you have a pet parrot who can talk like this person did, then we advise you not to buy a smart device just yet. They aren’t quite parrot-proof. Yet.

Written: 9 February 2018

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