Having a smart speaker like Amazon Echo or Google Home in the house can feel like you’ve stepped into the future.
It can also feel creepy. And sometimes, really annoying.
All these impressions coursed through me over the last several days as I tested Echo and Home. I’m still not sure I’d want one in my house, but I can certainly understand their appeal.
Home [pictured above] debuted last month as Google’s answer to Echo, which Amazon first released two years ago. Both look like simple speakers, because they lack screens and have few buttons.
But looks are deceiving. Sure, both can serve as wireless speaker systems. But more significantly, they serve as conduits for powerful artificial intelligence algorithms that can do everything from answering basic questions to ordering products and services to controlling a connected home.
Both smart speakers do a very good job at this latter role. I asked bunches of questions of both speakers and made lots of requests. In the vast majority of cases, both understood what I wanted the first time I asked them and responded or complied right away.
I asked them to order an Uber. I asked for restaurant recommendations and to play a particular channel on Pandora. And I asked them about the latest exchange rate between euros and dollars. In each of those cases, they had a ready answer or followed my request without problem.
It was like being on board the Starship Enterprise, being able to talk to a disembodied computer with the expectation that it would understand and follow my every command.
Before asking anything of either speaker, you have to use a trigger word to essentially wake it up. With the Echo, it’s simply “Alexa.” With Home, it’s “OK Google.” Both speakers were very responsive when called upon — and much more reliable in that respect…