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Google Home, Amazon Echo, Apple HomePod: Everything you need to know

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Smart home hubs are taking over—here’s what you need to know

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Amazon’s Echo Plus ($149.99) has a Zigbee smart home hub built in.
Amazon’s Echo Plus ($149.99) has a Zigbee smart home hub built in.

Since Amazon launched its smart speaker the Echo, Google has followed suit with the Google Home (which now includes the expanded Home Max and Home Mini sizes) and Apple has answered with the HomePod, an all-in-one speaker and smart home hub that aims to rival the Echo and offer the sound quality of Sonos’s line of connected speakers. Meanwhile, Sonos also unveiled the Sonos One, a version of its speaker that comes with Amazon’s smart assistant Alexa built in.

While this is all exciting news for tech evangelists, it’s often a source of confusion for the average consumer. That’s where we come in. From price to compatibility and, of course, style, here’s everything you need to know about the current smart offerings from Apple, Amazon, and Google. And if you’re considering snatching one up to try this holiday season, check out our roundup of the best home tech deals to watch out for during Black Friday.

Amazon Echo

The new Amazon Echo smart speaker
The second-generation Amazon Echo smart speaker.
Photo by Lauren Goode via The Verge

In September 2017, Amazon unveiled a cheaper, redesigned version of the Echo (at $99) featuring its voice assistant Alexa. Alexa’s status as the industry standard was only strengthened when Sonos announced the Sonos One with Alexa built in.

For background: Amazon entered the smart home ecosystem fray in November 2014 with a first of its kind Bluetooth-connected speaker that also plays music from streaming services like Spotify and Pandora. But Echo went beyond the usual automated-control-of-lights-and-HVAC home tech paradigm with Alexa, which can turn on the news, set alarms, give users intel on the day’s weather, and answer simple questions like “How many ounces are in a cup?”

The Echo hub—a cylindrical unit with a black case and blue indicator lights—has a darker, moodier aesthetic than most of the Wall-E-style, white-and-silver home tech products out there, which also helps set it apart. While many consumers want a device that fades into the background, the Echo offers a similarly unobtrusive unit with a different look.

Sonos and Amazon Echo Dot
The Sonos One (left), seen here beside an Echo Dot, features an integration with Amazon’s smart home voice service, Alexa.

Curbed’s sister site, The Verge, gave the Amazon Echo an 8 out of 10, praising its low cost, which naturally comes with lower sound quality.

Beyond the Echo, Amazon has since introduced the Echo Dot ($49.99), a compact version that still plays music (at lower quality and volume) and entertains voice commands; Echo Look ($199.99), an Alexa-powered smart camera and style assistant; Echo Show ($229.99), which comes with a screen; Echo Spot ($129.99), an Echo but with a compact, round design; and Echo Plus ($149.99), with a Zigbee smart home hub built in.

Who’s it good for?

The Echo is a good option for consumers who want an easy first foray into the smart home experience. Sonos One ($199.99), which features an Alexa integration, is a good hub for those whose primary interest is in music, and want good sound quality plus voice-activated smart home services.

The ever-expanding variations on the Echo offer specific solutions; Echo Show, for example, caters to those wanting another place to watch TV and make video calls, while the Echo Plus will attract those who want to directly integrate a bunch of smart home devices without buying separate hubs or WiFi bridges.

The brass tacks:

The entire Echo line up is available online at Amazon. You can also buy Echo devices at retailers like Best Buy, Staples, and Bed, Bath & Beyond. There’s an Echo app for both iOS and Android devices.

The Sonos One can be purchased online at both Sonos and Amazon.

Apple HomeKit and HomePod

Apple’s HomePod launched preorders in January 2018 for $349 a piece.

For a while, Apple wasn’t trying to sell consumers on a new, physical hub with its HomeKit ecosystem. There were some benefits there: A user’s existing, iOS-equipped device (including iPhones, iPads, Apple Watches, and Apple TVs) could serve as a nexus for an intelligent apartment via Apple’s Home app, with voice commands given to Siri, its longtime virtual assistant.

With the HomePod, announced in June 2017 and now on the market, Apple has a smart speaker meant to challenge both Amazon Echo and the Sonos line of products. The Verge, recently gave it 7.5 out of 10, confirming the excellent sound quality of the HomePod but questioning if that’s worth being locked tightly into the Apple ecosystem.

Who’s it good for?

Apple’s smart home ecosystem is the clear choice for iPeople—folks who are already committed to iOS devices. If you primarily use an Android device, HomePod isn’t the best option for you.

A HomePod is going to appeal to fans of the Apple aesthetic, of course, and to those who go for audio quality over affordability: At $349, the HomePod is pricier than its competitors.

The brass tacks:

The Home app comes standard with the latest iOS on Apple mobile devices. You can purchase Apple HomeKit-compatible devices on the Apple website, or at an Apple retail location, as well as retailers like Target, Walmart, and Best Buy.

The HomePod, available in white and gray, is now available at Apple and Best Buy.

Google Home

Google Home ($129) is also a voice-activated (“OK Google”) hub that can play music (from your Google Play, Spotify, YouTube Music, Pandora, or TuneIn accounts), set alarms, spout dictionary definitions, and, of course, control smart lights and thermostats.

The arrival of the Google Home Max ($399) and Mini ($49) makes the Google Home platform more competitive with Sonos One/Apple HomePod and Amazon Echo Dot, respectively, as the Max offers big sound and the Mini a cute, entry-level home tech hub. In October, Google also debuted Home Hub ($149), a Google Assistant-enabled screen device that will compete with Amazon Echo Show.

For now, Google Home doesn’t work with nearly as many home tech products as Amazon Echo—which supports nearly 300 services—but expanded compatibility is likely to come with time. And, as one Curbed reader points out, integrations with “recipe” programs like IFTTT opens up a world of possibilities for users who want to get their Google Home units to complete certain tasks for them, like adding calendar reminders.

The Home platform works with some of the most prominent smart home companies, like Nest, Philips Hue, and anything SmartThings-branded. And, if you already use a Google Chromecast, you’re good to go there, too. The Verge scored Google Home an 8 out of 10.

The Google Mini comes in three colors: “coral,” “charcoal,” and “chalk.”
Photo by James Bareham/The Verge

Who’s it good for?

Google Home is great for people trying to save money and folks who dig the customizable, colorful speaker grilles available for each unit. The Home Max is for audiophiles out there who want a powerful speaker in a small but mighty package. Mini will most likely appeal to those who want a smart home hub that’s visually unobtrusive (and kind of adorable). It comes in three colors: “coral,” “charcoal,” and “chalk.”

The brass tacks:

The Google Home line up is available for purchase online and at retailers like Best Buy, Bed Bath & Beyond, and Williams-Sonoma. There’s a Google Home app for both Android and iOS.