a product shot of smart speaker displays by Amazon and Google
Amazon / Google

Does it make sense to use multiple voice assistants in your smart home?

What happens when Alexa, Siri and Google Assistant all live together? This will help you navigate the Smart Assistant landscape

Like GearBrain on Facebook

Technology consumers are hardly strangers to having to pick a side. Whether it be iPhone or Android, Xbox or PlayStation, Windows or Mac, these decisions often go on to affect thousands of dollars of future purchases and take us so deeply into one ecosystem or the other that leaving becomes almost impossible. The same is becoming true of the smart home, as battle lines are drawn between multiple voice assistants, including Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, with Apple and Siri also jostling for a piece of the action and a chunk of your credit card bill.

I have spent the last 18 months living with both Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant in the form of their Echo and Google Home smart speakers. I also use an iPhone with Siri, and what follows is what I've learned about using each assistant and how you can live with all three, but you certainly don't have to and might not want to.

Starting out with Alexa

Amazon Alexa logoAlexa is available on a wide range of smart speakers from Alexa and os Amazon

I began my smart home journey with Alexa and the second-generation Echo Dot. This $50 smart speaker wasn't particularly good at music due to its poor audio quality, but it could be hooked up to a better speaker and used as a voice-controlled Spotify jukebox.

At the time, in mid-2017, interacting with Alexa felt like the early days of Siri on the iPhone. I'd ask it to tell jokes to amuse my friends and feed it famous movie quotes in the hope that an Amazon engineer had coded in a witty response. I was mildly entertained, but my home certainly didn't feel any smarter.

However, a few years later, I added a range of Philips Hue smart lights in four house areas, a Ring Video Doorbell, and a second Echo Dot for increased functionality. Alexa has also gotten smarter and speaks more naturally. The audio improvements of the third-generation Echo Dot mean listening to the radio without attaching another speaker is perfectly acceptable.

I can confidently say that I use Alexa at least twice a day—to turn the radio on in the morning and switch it off again when I'm done working. I admit this isn't the most taxing of use cases, but it's reliable and a nice little time-saver. Alexa also fires into life when someone presses the button of my Ring Video Doorbell 2, announcing that "someone is at the front door."

Additionally, Alexa is my default choice for turning off the Hue lights at my desk and in the lounge. Despite a Google Home right next to the Echo Dot, my housemates yell at Alexa when they want to change the lights or turn them off. I have a feeling Alexa having a real name helps here, as sometimes friends and other guests aren't entirely sure how to speak to the Google Assistant; we can probably put that down to Amazon's TV ads being more effective.

You will note that I often only use Alexa to switch my lights off. This is because I find it more intuitive to open the Hue app while I'm checking my phone in the morning and pick the scene I want rather than remembering exactly what to say to Alexa. Also, I find the required "Alexa, turn on Concentrate in the office" instruction to be clunky and unnatural.

Introducing Google Assistant

a photo of a google home mini on a desktopThe $50 Google Home Mini or newer version, Nest Mini is a direct rival to the Amazon Echo Dot GearBrain

A few months after starting with Alexa, Google announced the Home Mini as a direct rival to the Echo Dot. I bought one and quickly learned how better it is at answering general knowledge questions than Alexa and that its voice sounded more authentic. (Note: the latest version of Google Assistant to compete with Echo Dot is Nest Mini - 2nd Gen.)

Google Assistant also excels in conversational structure. By this, I mean you can ask Google a follow-up question, and it will usually understand the context. For example, I can ask, "Who built the Hoover Dam?" and Google will tell me. Then, even several minutes later, I can ask, "When was it finished?" and get the answer without explaining what "it" refers to when I say the word.

As for Alexa, the assistant referred to the Hoover Dam as Boulder Dam, which hasn't been its official name since 1947 and named the chief design engineer (whereas Google named architects Henry Kaiser and Gordon Kaufmann). When asked, "When was it finished?" immediately afterward, Alexa said: "The album Finished was released about 13 years ago in 2005." Clearly, this isn't what I was after.

See pricing for Google Nest Mini at Walmart

Issues like this make me default to Google Assistant when looking for an answer. My housemates also do this, without my instruction, and perhaps even unaware that Alexa can help with general knowledge and turn the lights on and off.

The Google Assistant also shines brightly when you go all-in with Google's ecosystem. That way, the Assistant on your smartphone will become as useful as the Assistant in your smart speaker, with access to your calendar, contact, email inbox, and more. Alexa can integrate with your calendar and contacts, but Google's solutions feel far more comprehensive and seamless.

These differences in abilities have made me use the two assistants in different ways despite their largely overlapping skills. I use Alexa to control smart home devices and listen to the radio, while Google is used to answer general knowledge questions.

A display makes all the difference.

Photo of the Google Home Hub smart displayThe Google Home Hub has an integrated touch screen GearBrain

Both systems offer smart displays in the form of the Google Home Hub (now sold under the company's Nest brand) and the Amazon Echo Show. I only own the former, which means I'm more likely to ask Google questions with a visual answer, like the weather forecast or when I want to check the spelling of a famous person's name.

I also sometimes use the touchscreen of the Google Home Hub to turn off my desk lights when I'm done working. I do this not to disturb anyone watching television across the room but also because a swipe and a tap feel quicker than saying, "Okay, Google, switch the desk lights off."

Do you need both assistants?

The Echo Show 8 smart display by AmazonThe Echo Show 8 (3rd Gen) smart display by Amazon Amazon

The answer is absolutely not. Their abilities greatly overlap each other, and while Alexa was initially known as the assistant for connecting to more smart home devices (which is still true), Google has closed the gap to the extent that devices from most well-known smart home companies work with both systems.

They also both easily manage all of the basics, like setting alarms and timers and reading the news and weather. Of course, each has a whole host of Easter eggs to explore, like jokes and movie quote references. Both can also play music and radio on demand from various services, and their intelligence is identical no matter which model of Amazon Echo or Google Nest you buy.

While I can say with certainty that no one needs to own both Alexa and Google Assistant devices (unless, of course, you have a speaker capable of running either, like the Sonos Era 100 Smart Speaker, the latest Sonos speaker with Alexa built-in), which you choose to invest in is a matter of personal preference.

I find Google Assistant sounds more natural and offers more human-like responses, even when it doesn't understand and admits it can't help. On the other hand, Alexa has a more robotic feel and is let down a little by its inability to hold a more natural conversation.

Once you have chosen, you will want to stick with your choice. This is because once you have started buying smart home devices and connecting them to your voice assistant, you won't want to go through this entire process again with a new assistant. Also, running both simultaneously can be confusing, as the voice commands to control the same smart home device can differ slightly between Alexa and Google.

What about Siri?

a photo of Apple HomePod 2nd Gen with smartphone showing Apple HomeKit appApple HomePod 2nd Gen smart speaker works with Apple HomeKit app Apple

Apple and its HomePod smart speakers (Gen 1 and 2) feel like an outlier for now. This changed once a software update in 2019 gave Siri on the HomePod more intelligence and the ability to identify who was speaking to it.

But for now, and until I eventually invest in a HomePod of my own, I only use Siri on my iPhone occasionally, mostly to set timers when cooking or to answer a question when I'm at the house of a friend who doesn't have a smart speaker. Yelling 'Hey Siri' and asking questions from across the room is still satisfying.

In conclusion, you do not need to run a multi-assistant smart home. In fact, you are best off picking one, sticking to it, and not worrying about whether you made a mistake — just like you did with your smartphone, games console, and laptop.

See Pricing for Apple HomePod 2 on Best Buy

Read More:

Check out The GearBrain, our smart home compatibility find engine. It can help you find, buy, and connect any smart device. It can even help you find other smart devices or systems compatible with your existing smart devices, such as Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa-enabled devices.

Like GearBrain's content? Be sure to follow us.

Introducing Echo Hub | 8” smart home control panel with Alexa | Compatible with thousands of devices

Like GearBrain on Facebook
The Conversation (0)

GearBrain Compatibility Find Engine

A pioneering recommendation platform where you can research, discover, buy, and learn how to connect and optimize smart devices.

Join our community! Ask and answer questions about smart devices and save yours in My Gear.

Top Stories

Weekly Deals