When most people think about having a smart home, they imagine that their home will anticipate their needs and give them updates on their phone, but also respond to voice commands like some spaceship from the future.
This sounds totally crazy to some people, but techies know voice control systems are the newest thing in home automation and a great addition at that! While many people use them for fun and convenience, voice controlled home automation can also give people with disabilities new independence.
You can buy one from Google or Amazon, but you can also build your own voice control device if you love tinkering. We’re going to go through the different ways to get voice controlled home automation into your home, as well as some pros and cons about the different voice control devices.
How Does Voice Control Technology Work?
Voice control devices seem like magic or something from the set of a sci-fi movie: you ask a computer a question, and it gives you an answer, turns on your living room lights, or finds some sweet tunes for you.
You’d think it would take a huge, super fast computer to do all this crazy stuff. However, if you could look inside the Amazon Echo or the Google Home, you’ll find mostly microphones and speakers, as well as a small processor. The main work goes on in the cloud.
Here’s how it works. First you say a trigger word like “Alexa” or "Ok Google," and the voice control device turns on a microphone and records you asking that question. It sends this recording to the service in the cloud, whether that’s Amazon or Google, and the service translates your words into a command.
Then the service sends the command back to the device, and it either answers your question through the speakers, sends a command to a smart lightbulb to turn on, or starts playing music from your music subscription.
What the voice control device can do is based on the services you have connected to it, so it can only turn off your lights, for example, if you have smart light bulbs installed. Many services are pre-installed on the devices, and they’re adding more every day.
Amazon Echo vs Google Home
Alexa, Echo, or Amazon
Ok Google or Hey Google
Music Streaming Options:
Amazon Prime Music, Pandora, iHeartRadio, TuneIn, Spotify, Others (skills)
Google Play Music, YouTube Music, Pandora, TuneIn, Spotify
Smart Home Integration:
Nest, Ecobee, SmartThings, Honeywell, Wink (2), Insteon, Vera, Philips Hue, Belkin WeMo, Lifx, IFTTT, Control4, Big Ass Fans, Crestron, Others (skills)
Nest, SmartThings, Philips Hue, Honeywell, Belkin WeMo, IFTTT
Output to External Speakers:
Only Echo Dot
Connect Many Together:
Integrates w/ Google Products
Integrates w/ Amazon Products:
Echo, Dot, and Tap
The Best Voice Controlled Home Automation Device
The Amazon Echo
We’re going to focus on the original Amazon Echo for now, though, because it's the most versatile and feature-filled of the bunch. The customer reviews are glowing, and many customers with disabilities find the Echo to be a literal life saver.
The Amazon Echo uses dual-antenna and dual-band WiFi signal for communication, as well as Bluetooth to stream music from a phone or other mobile device.
It has two speakers, a 2 inch tweeter and a 2.5 inch woofer with reflex port to enhance sound. The app for Alexa is compatible with iOS, Android, FireOS, and accessible via any web browser on your computer or laptop.
The Echo also works with various home automation systems, including SmartThings, ecobee, Hue lights, Vera, Nest, and Much More! The Alexa “Skills” include partnerships with Uber for rides, with Domino’s to order a pizza, with Expedia to get travel tickets, with NPR for popular radio shows and news, as well as many more being added every day.
The main advantage of the Amazon Echo is Alexa’s “Skills,” and the fact that you can program your own. This makes the Echo perfect for programmers or techies who are into customizing their smart home.
It’s been consistently rated high by every tech reviewer out there, and Amazon already has brand recognition and top notch support. It’s the only voice control that lets you buy things directly through Amazon as well.
There still isn’t an easy way to connect the original Echo to another set of speakers - The dor can, however. The onboard speakers also aren’t the best, as it tends to fuzz out once you set it at a high volume, especially the bass.
The price is another con, as it’s more expensive than any other voice control on the market. This may not seem like a big deal for all it does, but there are limitations, especially for audiophiles.
The Google Home
Amazon’s Echo was first and is arguably the top of the market when it comes to voice controlled home automation, but Google Home is rapidly giving them a run for their money.
People discounted Android as an operating system too, and it has become the dominant OS. Decades of search power and an unrivaled connectivity allow Google to provide a product in Home that can seamlessly integrate into your routine. If you use Gmail, Chrome, Chromecast, Maps, and other Google products on a regular basis, Home can upgrade your experience and your life.
The design is compact and clean white, though you can upgrade it to have different colored bases for a few extra dollars. The Home has one speaker, two far-field microphones, and a touch interface for volume and power.
You can network many Homes in different rooms, and only the nearest device will hear and respond (similar to how the Echo does it). Google Home is compatible with Spotify, YouTube Music, Pandora, Nest, Honeywell, SmartThings, Phillips Hue, Netflix, YouTube, Chromecast, Phillips TVs, Google Calendars, as well as many more.
Google has your email, web browsing, traffic reports and GPS navigation, TV casting, music streaming, to-do lists, and even calendar events already locked down with their wide array of Google products.
Alexa has skills, but Google has a ton of features already built into the system. The Home is also much more reasonably priced than the Echo.
The Home supports some of the same things as Echo, though not near as many different apps and home automation systems.
That’s the major drawback, is that you can’t access as many things with the Google Home, only Google products like Chromecast.
You can only connect one Google account at a time, though.
Which Is Best for Voice Control Home Automation?
When you put the Amazon Echo and the Google Home up against each other, the Echo edges out the Home as it is now. The main reason is that the Echo is more customizable and has more integrated services than the Google Home, though that might change as Google researches, upgrades, and adds more services.
Many reviewers said that the Home seems like the first version of the Echo, so Google definitely has room to grow.
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