Should I buy an Amazon Echo as a gift? Difficulty level: No Prime
December 9, 2016 6:41 AM   Subscribe

After being convinced here last year that I should keep the Amazon Echo that I received as a gift, we have been completely happy with it. Moreover, my inlaws also have enjoyed it when they come over to visit. They like the ability to just ask for music and have the music "just play." As such, I was thinking of getting them an Echo as a gift. However, they don't have Amazon Prime. How much will this impact what they are able to do? Bonus question: Is a Google Home a better alternative? Bonus bonus question: If they are willing to pay an ongoing subscription fee, which between the two will get them the most bang for their buck?
posted by Betelgeuse to Technology (14 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
Bonus bonus answer: Spotify Family is $14.99/month for six accounts, $5 more than one account. Echo sometimes struggles a little to "see" its playlists, but not to a degree where I've been at all tempted to change its setting as Echo's primary music source.
posted by gnomeloaf at 6:54 AM on December 9, 2016 [1 favorite]


Google Home has a more robust internal logic engine that, over time, is expected to better understand its users and have greater flexibility. However, the Amazon Echo went with a developer-friendly setup that allows the creation of a seemingly infinite number of "skills" the Echo can do. And so, it does more stuff, right out of the box, right now. By a wide margin.

And yeah, Spotify works pretty well on it.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 7:01 AM on December 9, 2016


If they are willing to pay an ongoing subscription fee, which between the two will get them the most bang for their buck?

Amazon's Echo-only subscription is cheaper. If they want to be able to also use it on phones or computers, they're about the same. I personally find Google's generated playlists to be *vastly* better than Amazon's. The Amazon ones tend to be extremely bland and equivalent to turning on commercial radio. I could swear it wants to put No One's Gonna Love You by Band of Horses into every single mix. The Google ones throw in a lot more deep cuts and are overall more interesting. YMMV.

Echo is more advanced as far as the number of extra applications and interoperability with home automation and the like it has, but Google is likely to push to catch up fast.

My coworker has both and advises that the Echo has slightly better speakers.
posted by Candleman at 7:37 AM on December 9, 2016 [1 favorite]


Echo is more advanced as far as the number of extra applications and interoperability with home automation and the like it has, but Google is likely to push to catch up fast.

Just to follow up on this: Google announced yesterday it's opening up its Assistant (the Alexa/Siri of Google Home) to developers. So there could be interesting things on the horizon, but I agree Alexa/Echo does have the lead right now.
posted by bluecore at 7:47 AM on December 9, 2016


Prime's not necessary, and the $3.99 Unlimited Music is a screaming deal as long as they only want to listen on the Echo. The speaker on the Echo is ok, but I got a Dot and connected it to some M-Audio speakers and it sounds amazing. The big Echo is in the bedroom now.

We control half the lights in the house with it as well, and the Christmas tree.
posted by Huck500 at 7:47 AM on December 9, 2016 [2 favorites]


You didn't say whether you had Prime or not, but if you do, you can share it with your in-laws using Prime Households. I'm not sure if the Echo benefits are included, but I just set it up with my mom and it was really easy. Both folks had to already have an Amazon account and my mom had to sign in on the Households page while I was already signed in on my own account.

Just in case you go with the Echo, I wanted to offer that possibility.
posted by possibilityleft at 7:53 AM on December 9, 2016 [1 favorite]


I got an Echo for my birthday and ended up getting a Spotify subscription shortly thereafter; their catalog is MUCH, MUCH better than Amazon Music. I don't think I'd like the Echo half as much without Spotify.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 8:24 AM on December 9, 2016 [1 favorite]


So I don't like to mention where I work around here, but I don't like to astroturf either - I work on the Google Home team. So, you know, I am biased. I have both an Echo and a Home and have used them a fair bit.

First, I'm a Prime member so I really have no idea what the non-Prime Echo experience is. If you have Prime, there's Prime Music. It's OK. The catalog is limited.

There's a free tier of Google Play Music in the US that you can access through Home. It has a large catalog of music but it's not on-demand, only set playlists. It's the same as what you get through Play Music on the web if you're not a subscriber so you can see if you like it that way. If you're a subscriber the catalog is good.

Both Echo & Homer support radio via Tunein, Echo has iHeartRadio as well which has only been announced for Home, it should come next year. Both support Spotify if you're a paid subscriber. Spotify has the biggest catalog but to my usage it's the same as Play Music. Both support Pandora.

Echo has more third-party stuff for now but as others note, Google has announced their API so it should catch up. I'm not a huge user of the third-party Echo services and their setup UI is not that great IMO.

I think the Home speaker is better, but YMMV. The Home voice recognition is better. Home supports casting YouTube videos to a TV via Chromecast. Netflix support has been announced but isn't available yet ("OK Google play Narcos in the living room") Home has better generic search query support ("OK Google how tall is justin beiber?")

Echo's shopping features go straight t your Amazon cart ("Alexa buy toilet paper"). Home today only supports a shopping list that's in Google Keep ("ok Google add toilet paper to my shopping list"). If you want to buy stuff with voice commands, get an Echo.

Home has integration with a single Google account and can tell you stuff like calendar entries if you have it set up that way ("OK Google what's my agenda today?")

Both products have some home automation integration but I don't use it.

The top use cases for VUI in general are timers, weather forecasts and playing music. Both products do this pretty well.
posted by GuyZero at 9:06 AM on December 9, 2016 [6 favorites]


I should add my #1 use case personally is playing music via chromecast and not through the Home speaker. I have a chromecast audio+in-ceiling speakers+an amp in my kitchen and I say "OK google play christmas music in the kitchen" and it plays and the quality is hugely better than either the Home or Echo built-in speaker. When I'm done I say "OK google stop" and it stops.
posted by GuyZero at 9:10 AM on December 9, 2016 [2 favorites]


I don't have a Google home, but I just asked alexa, "Echo, how tall is justin beiber" and she answered correctly. So both should be adequate for all your celebrity measuring needs.
posted by JonB at 1:17 PM on December 9, 2016 [6 favorites]


Echo's shopping features go straight t your Amazon cart ("Alexa buy toilet paper"). Home today only supports a shopping list that's in Google Keep ("ok Google add toilet paper to my shopping list"). If you want to buy stuff with voice commands, get an Echo.

This isn't the full picture. The Echo has a shopping list feature and I use it to buy things at the grocery store. It is not connected to your Amazon shopping cart. You just say "add bananas to shopping list" rather than "buy bananas" and then it's just on the list, just like the Google version. You access the list via the Alexa app, or yes, in your Amazon account, but in the lists section not the shopping cart.

I will also say that I have been pretty disappointed by the limitations of the Echo's search queries, so I can believe that the Google product is better because that's a pretty low bar.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 2:38 PM on December 9, 2016


On further reflection, I think GuyZero was saying that the Home doesn't support buying rather than that the Echo doesn't support shopping lists, but for me if the Echo ONLY allowed you to put things into your Amazon cart rather than onto a shopping list that'd be a dealbreaker so I just wanted to note that the Echo does do both.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 2:41 PM on December 9, 2016 [1 favorite]


On further reflection, I think GuyZero was saying...

Yeah, that was unclear, sorry. It's not something I ever use either device for really but the Echo has both a list as well as direct purchasing. Honestly the last thing I need in my life is a way to buy more things from Amazon.

Again, saying what Home does today is sort of misleading as it will do a bunch of new stuff six months from now as will Echo so both of them are sort of a speculative purchase in that new stuff is always being released.
posted by GuyZero at 3:25 PM on December 9, 2016


Thanks, all, for the different perspectives. For what my inlaws are likely to use it for, I think an Echo + the $4/month for Amazon Music Unlimited is the best option. That said, I'm pretty convinced that I now want a Google Home. I'm also pleased that Alexa will tell me Beiber's height.
posted by Betelgeuse at 9:51 AM on December 12, 2016


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