Not so long ago, smart homes were the stuff of science fiction, but in 2021 they are very much a reality. Whether you have just moved into a new Waterloo Region home or are seeking to upgrade your existing home, creating a smart home, no matter how old the place is, is not as difficult or as expensive as you might think.
Before you begin pricing up gadgets like smart thermostats or smart bulbs, though, a very basic decision needs to be made; which smart assistant are you going to choose to act as the ‘brain’ of your high-tech home?
Right now, consumers have three major options to choose from; Google’s Home, Amazon’s Alexa or Apple’s Siri. Each of them comes with their own set of pros and cons, so the key to making the right choice for your Waterloo Region home is understanding what those are. Here, to help you, is a look at some of the most important for each device:
Amazon’s Alexa is now included in a slew of products from the retail giant, but to control a home you’ll need an Amazon Echo – or Echo Dot – Amazon Show or Echo Spot. And each device does come along with its own set of pros and cons. However, in general:
Alexa Device Pros:
If you want to get started quickly on the route to a smarter home, buying an Echo product is your best bet.
Amazon’s Echo products are easy to set up and plug in anywhere that you need to summon Alexa.
At around $50-60, the dainty Echo Dot, the smallest of the Echo smart speakers, is one of the most affordable smart home controllers available right now.
Alexa boasts more than 10,000 Skills, or third-party capabilities, and that number is growing all the time.
The smartphone apps for setting up and controlling certain aspects of the Echo products are available for both Apple and Android devices.
Alexa Device Cons
Amazon’s Alexa app for smartphones, required for setting up some smart home products, is rather clunky and sometimes even a little buggy
At the moment, Alexa sometimes has a surprising amount of difficulty responding correctly to what you are asking it to do.
The speakers on Echo devices are not great, they are mediocre at best.
Alexa Echo devices cannot be triggered by talking to it from a smartphone, you have to speak directly into the device in order for it to respond.
Google Assistant – it has no human name – is Alexa’s biggest rival, and although in many ways they are very similar, right down to the devices they are built into, Google Assistant’s pros and cons are a little different:
Google Assistant Pros
Google’s Home speaker and smartphones running newer versions of Android include Assistant.
At around $130, Google Home costs $50 less than Amazon’s standard Echo speaker.
In terms of artificial intelligence, Assistant tends to be smarter than Alexa and Siri because ‘she’ is powered by Google search, meaning you can ask her a broader array of questions and are more likely get a correct response.
Google Assistant Cons:
You have to summon Assistant by saying “O.K., Google,” or “Hey, Google’ which, to be blunt, gets annoying.
There are more smart home products supporting Alexa than Google’s Assistant, but that is changing, with a slew of products having just added support over the last few months.
Google Home’s audio quality is better than the Alexa equipped devices, but it’s still not that amazing.
While Google Assistant's grasp of search is smarter than other virtual assistants, it is still flawed and has trouble responding to some requests.
Siri has been around for a long time – she was ‘born’ in 2011 – and millions of iPhone users are very familiar with her. In 2021 she is now included in the Apple HomePad but you can also use her iPhone, iPad or Apple Watch functionality directly to control many of the gadgets that support Siri integration.
Apple Siri Pros:
With privacy in mind, Apple worked directly with home accessory makers to ensure that the data transferred between accessories and Apple devices is secure and encrypted.
The integration of Apple’s HomeKit into its mobile devices makes it much easier to set up Siri with various home accessories, and ‘she’ can control a number of them from a considerable distance if you make use of your iPhone.
Apple Siri Cons
Because Apple’s seriously stringent privacy and quality requirements, it has taken longer for smart home accessories supporting Siri to reach the market, meaning there are fewer available.
Siri sometimes has trouble understanding what you are asking it to do.
Siri is exclusive to Apple products. In other words, she is for igeeks only, which is not something everyone is.
What You Can Do With Your Chosen Home Assistant
Once you have made your home assistant decision – or not, as we have come across a number of households that make use of two or all three of the assistants we are discussing – you might be wondering just what they will be able to control.
All three are capable of controlling lighting – with the right bulbs – and can integrate with various smart thermometers. What some people don’t realize right away however is that you can make use of a smart plug to turn ‘dumb’ devices in your home into smart ones as well. Everything from your TV, stereo, coffeemaker and washing machine to your hairdryer, fans and even gaming consoles can be made ‘smarter’ with one of these plugs.