Google announced all kinds of new Google Assistant features recently at the Google I/O event, including new voice options and more interactive conversation capabilities. That’s welcome news for owners of Google Home, Home Mini, and Home Max voice assistant smart speakers. But how do the new capabilities help Assistant stack up against rival voice assistant Amazon Alexa? We compared the two.
Don’t like the sound of your Google Assistant’s voice? You now have six different voice options, in addition to the regular female and male voice choices that were available before, for a total of eight. These voices are available now; just go into your Google Home app to listen to them or change them. A voice based on singer John Legend will be available later this year.
Amazon Alexa does not yet have a male voice widely available (we heard they’re testing one in Canada), but you can change Alexa’s voice so that she has a British, Canadian, or Indian accent.
If you’ve spent some time with voice assistants, you’ve probably been annoyed that you’ve had to repeat “Hey Google,” or “Alexa,” over and over to ask follow-up questions. Not anymore. Both voice assistants have recently rolled out or will roll out features that allow you to have more natural conversations with your voice assistant.
Google’s is called “continued conversation,” and it allows a user to ask follow-up questions without having to repeat the wake word over and over. Essentially, Google Assistant figures out that you’re asking a follow-up question and responds accordingly. Google says the new feature will be rolled out in the coming weeks.
Amazon debuted a similar feature last month called “follow-up mode,” which allows you to give a follow-up request within a few seconds of the initial request. You have to activate the feature in the app in order for it to work, and it doesn’t work while Alexa is playing music or doing another similar task.
Google announced at I/O that the Google Assistant now works with more than 5,000 smart home devices, which is pretty impressive considering that number was just over 1,000 last year. In addition to working with obvious devices like Nest cams and thermostats (Nest is owned by Alphabet, which is the parent company of Google), it works with everything from August smart locks to Philips Hue lighting. As voice assistant compatibility becomes the standard with smart home devices, we’re sure that more partnerships will be coming soon.
Three smart displays — essentially smart speakers with a screen — are launching with Google Assistant voice technology this summer.
At last count, Alexa boasted compatibility with more than 12,000 smart home devices, with the list of products ranging from Ring video doorbells to Jenn-Air smart appliances. Alexa also has the edge in terms of hardware, with several Echo devices to choose from, as well as two devices with a screen that are already available — the Echo Show and Echo Spot.
Later this year, Google will be releasing “Pretty Please,” a feature that will require your little ones to be polite when speaking to Google Assistant. That’s in addition to the kids features already available, such as free family games, activities, and stories from partners like Disney.
Amazon has some kids features of its own. A few weeks ago, the giant introduced a whole new piece of hardware dedicated to kids. The Amazon Echo Dot Kids Edition comes in fun colors like red, green, and blue, and has additional kids features pre-installed. For example, you can activate settings that automatically shut the device down at a certain time, or your kiddo can ask Alexa to play a game or tell a story.
Both Google and Alexa have the ability to make phone calls to user contacts or local businesses, meaning that you can direct your voice assistant to make the call, and then proceed to talk to the person on the other end through your smart speaker.
But Google has upped the game in a major (some say creepy) way with Google Assistant’s newly announced Duplex feature, which allows your voice assistant to make calls on your behalf. And when we say “your behalf,” we mean that your voice assistant will not just call for you, but also talk for you, using an incredibly life-like human voice. Google demonstrated the feature at I/O, where Duplex called a hair salon. The Google Assistant voice sounded incredibly human-like, even throwing in “mmms” and “ums” and pauses during the conversation. You can hear the call by clicking on the audio clip above.
Google hasn’t announced when they’ll roll out this feature yet, but we’re sure it won’t be available for awhile, especially in light of the ethical concerns raised by this technology.
Amazon Alexa currently has nothing like Duplex, but with the battle raging between the two voice assistant giants, something similar may not be far behind.
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