Google Home — equipped with Google Assistant — may have crashed the smart-speaker party, but it still has some tricks to learn from Amazon’s Alexa.
While Google Home can do a lot that the Echo can’t — like contextual conversations or throwing images and videos to your televisions — it has plenty of catching-up to do with Amazon Echo ($100 at Amazon)’s Alexa. Google is always adding new features to Home, so that list continues to shrink, but there are still seven things we wish it could do.
One technical note: Throughout this piece, Google Assistant is often compared to Amazon Alexa, as those are the voice-assistance technologies within these devices. Just remember that the way Google Assistant works on Google Home ($129 at Walmart) is much more limited than the way it works on phones.
Since you can order items using Alexa, it only makes sense that you can track orders placed through Amazon with Alexa, as well. All you have to say is, “Alexa, where’s my stuff?” She won’t give you a ton of details, like where the package currently is or the status of the shipment, but she will tell you the day it’s estimated to arrive.
Seeing as this is a feature already integrated into Google Assistant on phones, it’s likely only a matter of time before Google Home can also track orders placed with practically any online retailer. But there is no mention of package tracking in the long list of features of Google Home.
If you ask Google Home to track your package today, she’ll just say, “I can’t do that yet.” Yet!
In that vein, while Google Home does now support notifications for reminders and calls, it can’t tell you when something you’ve ordered is out for delivery. Alexa, on the other hand, can. And it’s not limited to packages from Amazon. You can also enable notifications for Domino’s pizza delivery status.
Amazon Music and Prime Music
The music and radio services officially supported by Google Home at launch were Google Play Music, YouTube Music, Spotify, Pandora and TuneIn. Support for iHeartRadio was rolled out at the end of February.
With Amazon’s Alexa speakers, you get support for the same music services, save for Google Play Music and YouTube Music. Instead, you get support for Amazon’s in-house streaming services, Amazon Music and Prime Music.
Despite not officially supporting Amazon Music or Prime Music — which isn’t all that surprising given they are competitors — you can stream almost any audio to Google Home by casting from a phone or tablet. The Amazon Music app does not support Chromecast ($55 at eBay), however, so you can’t stream audio from the app to Google Home using an iOS device. However, there is a workaround for Android devices. Begin playing music from within the Amazon Music app, pull down the notification shade, tap the Cast logo, and select your Google Home from the list to stream the audio through the speaker.
If you just want to be able to control your Echo from out of typical voice range, all you need is an Alexa Voice Remote for $30 (not available in the UK or Australia).
To accomplish the same thing with Google Home, you will need to add a second Google Home for $129, £129 or AU$199 a pop.
Amazon lets developers harness the power of Alexa within applications, such as Roger and Ubi. One developer created an online tool — called Echosim.io — so developers can test their skills without needing to own the hardware. As a plus, now anyone can take Alexa for a test drive in their browser.
Aside from streaming audio, these virtual versions of Alexa work exactly the same as the official devices from Amazon, meaning you can get the full effect of Alexa before ever having to spend a dime on Amazon’s speakers. For now, the best way to test Google Home is by using Google Assistant on a compatible Android phone.
Donate to charity
If you’re looking to improve your philanthropic endeavors, Amazon’s speaker may be the way to go. Earlier this month, Amazon gave Alexa speakers the ability to donate to nonprofits. You can now donate between $5 and $5,000 to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), the American Heart Association and many other lesser-known charities.
Routines on a schedule
Both Google Home and Alexa speakers received recent updates that enabled routines — or the ability to fire off multiple actions from a single command. But only Alexa’s routines can be activated on a schedule. This means you can use Alexa to turn on the lights or play your favorite music at any given time, without having to tell one of your speakers to do so. While this may seem like a small, insignificant difference, it does matter.
With Alexa’s routines, you can schedule your lights to turn on at the same time the news starts playing in the morning. Or you can schedule the lights to turn down as nature sounds begin to play in the bedroom.