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Amazon Echo plays catch-up to Google Home w/ some new contextual awareness abilities


One advantage that Google Home has over the Amazon Echo is its knowledge on random trivia and facts. But Google Home has also had a leg up on Alexa since launch in its ability to converse with you about those topics in a contextual manner. For example, you can ask Google Home “tell me about nearby restaurants”, followed by the query “what about coffee shops?” and Google Assistant knows that you still want to know about coffee shops near you.

Now, it appears that Alexa is picking up some of these skills thanks to a quiet update pushed out over the last couple days…

Some users of the Amazon Echo first reported that contextual conversations went live a couple days ago in the Echo subreddit, and more corroboration of the new feature popped up yesterday (via AP). Users say that while some contextual questions work fine, it’s still pretty random in terms of reliability. One question might work perfectly fine, while the same question perhaps asked slightly differently might not work at all.

According to various user reports, the Echo can now handle questions like “Who is Kanye West?”, followed by “How old is he?” or “How old is Barack Obama?” followed by “Who is his wife?”. But other examples, like “When did Carrie Fisher die?” followed by “How old was she?” reportedly don’t provide any useful answer. So it looks like while this feature is now functioning to some degree, it’s still somewhat half-baked.

Amazon is definitely trying to beef up the Echo and bring it in line with Google Home in this respect, but it’s also worth noting — if you’re still trying to decide between the two devices — that Google Home will probably continue to have the advantage with questions like these. One particular example that just so happened to pop up today highlights this perfectly — there is just a ton of information that Google Home has access to thanks to Google’s Knowledge Graph.

I’ll admit, however, that Amazon Echo has the advantage over Google Home in some ways mostly thanks to its two-year headstart and close integration with third-party services. Be sure to also read our full review of the Google Home.

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Avatar for Stephen Hall Stephen Hall

Stephen is Growth Director at 9to5. If you want to get in touch, follow me on Twitter. Or, email at stephen (at) 9to5mac (dot) com, or an encrypted email at hallstephenj (at) protonmail (dot) com.