Simply put, a Smart or ‘Virtual’ Assistant is a piece of software that can perform a wide variety of tasks like control media playback, answer queries or even manage your home automation based on verbal commands. Several different virtual assistants exist today thanks to all those tech giants entering the fray with their accompanying products and services. But when it comes to choosing a smart assistant for managing their smart homes, it appears most people fall into either of two camps – Google or Amazon.
Google AssistantGoogle’s smart Assistant holds no pretences, starting right from its name. Since its unveiling in 2016, Google Assistant quickly found a sizeable user base as it was automatically available on Android smartphones. What started out as a way to verbally communicate with your phone and Google’s smart speaker quickly found its footing as a full-fledged digital assistant capable of understanding complex queries and carrying out extensive tasks on its own.
Google Assistant has been constantly ranked as the smartest digital assistant for a few years in the running now, with the vast stores of information it can pull out from the cloud as well as the advanced comprehension algorithms that Google keeps improving sporadically. It can answer most questions you throw at it and while it can’t do everything just yet, it has enough features to accomplish a surprisingly long list of things from making calls and sending messages to looking up weather forecasts and currency conversions when you book a flight to even creating a curated morning brief with news snippets and stock updates.
Being one of THE most popular smart assistants around means that nearly all smart appliances and devices are built with Google Assistant compatibility in mind. Google’s own range of smart devices – the Google Home, Home Mini, and the Chromecast all are (obviously) Assistant integrated. So are a number of other smart speakers, smart TVs, lights, thermostats, ACs and a whole host of other appliances. It is so very easy to use Chromecast to mirror your phone screen to the TV, allowing you to share those beautiful vacation pictures on the big screen. You can also use your Google Home to jot down to-do lists and shopping lists and pull them up on your phone or PC’s Google Keep app as well – provided you use the same account across devices.
Google Assistant could be your contender of choice for home automation based on the ease of cross-platform compatibility and the smartness factor. All it requires is a Google account and you can access your data anywhere.
Amazon AlexaWhile Google Assistant is all about clinical precision with its brisk get-it-done attitude, it invariably loses out on the human aspect – you’re always reminded that you’re talking to a machine. This is in stark contrast to Amazon’s offering. Right from the activating command – just ‘Alexa’ followed by whatever command instead of a “hey” Google – it just feels more natural to talk to Alexa as if she’s a real person. While Alexa may not be the smartest assistant out there at answering knowledge-based questions, her forte is undoubtedly home automation.
From Alexa’s release in 2014, the repertoire of ‘Alexa Enabled’ devices have been steadily growing year to year. Most of Amazon’s Echo lineup forms the crux of their sprawling ecosystem with the company laying claim to over 12,000 smart devices that are compatible with Alexa. The Echo and Echo Dot are the more familiar smart speakers in this range but there’s also the Echo Input, Echo Spot and even an Echo Plus. The Echo input can essentially convert any old regular speaker you have lying around into a smart speaker powered by Alexa. Echo Spot is a smart alarm clock with a screen that you can use to access all your Alexa-connected devices from your bedside table. Last but not least the Echo Plus is a portable smart Bluetooth speaker. You could theoretically also tote the Amazon FireStick remote around and use it as a portable mic to talk to Alexa anywhere in the house, say to turn on the AC in your bedroom while you’re out in the patio.
Why would you pick Alexa? The higher number of compatible smart devices make for a compelling argument and so does the fact that it’s extremely easy for you to create your own routines - just set it up in the app and you can trigger sequences of action simultaneously.
Most new home automation devices offer dual compatibility for both assistants so you are free to pick the assistant you prefer. Whichever one you use, you are bound to have a great time exploring their capabilities and have constant pleasant surprises as to how you can make your life easier and more efficient.