We are at the crossroads. We use our smart assistants mostly for listening to music, but how musical are our assistants actually? How to decide, whether Alexa, Siri or Google fits better to our musical preferences? And if we have decided already, how can we get the most out of our music subscription?
After looking into the many music commands of each and every assistant, we just need to compare them and draw a conclusion. No, it’s not as easy as the pictured guitar battle above, but together we will get there.
What to expect in this post, and what not: we will not look into sound quality or the countless apps, which we can use to stream music to our assistants. You can connect whatever excellent sound system to your assistant and stream whatever great music from wherever.
In this post, we are solely looking into the assistants supported music commands. This is how we define “musical” when it comes to smart assistants in this competition: being able to play the music we like -- hands-free -- on all of our Echos, Google Homes and HomePods.
If you’ve missed the dedicated post for your assistant, or want to look up specific music commands and features, you can bookmark them here:
- Alexa, Play Some Music: All The Music Voice Commands
- Hey Google, Play Some Music! All The Music Voice Commands
- Siri and Apple Music: The Many Voice Commands for HomePod, iPhone, Apple TV, Apple Watch and Mac
How to get there …
It makes no sense to write about my personal preferences when it comes to something as personal as music. What I’d like to accomplish with this post, is to give you a thorough overview, so you can decide for yourself, what is important to you.
- We will start with a high-level comparison, where we can see all music commands and which assistant/music service supports them. This gives us the first overview of all musical features and you can start to ponder, which fit your musical preferences.
- In the next section, guided by the familiar structure we already used in the dedicated assistant posts, we will look in detail into the features and how well they are supported by Alexa, Google, and Siri.
- Last, but not least, we will wrap up our findings, looking into the musical strengths and weaknesses of our assistants.
In the table below we can see the many music features on the left and the assistants with the supported music services to the right.
Siri supports only Apple Music.
Google supports Google Play Music and Youtube Music. Alternatively, you can use Spotify as default music service.
Alexa supports the native services Amazon Music Unlimited and Amazon Prime. Here we can also set Spotify as default music service.
Pandora, TuneIn, and iHeartRadio, which are radio-like services, are equally supported by Alexa and Google.
The musical libraries of the premium services Apple Music, Google Play Music and Amazon Music Unlimited are approximately the same size (more than 40 Million songs), Spotify is a bit smaller (more than 30 Million songs). The monthly subscription costs are comparable.
Here comes the surprise: If we count the fully supported features (2 points), kind of supported (1 point), not supported (0 points), we have a draw. Every assistant scores 31 points with its native music service. Though the supported features vary, overall we can say, our smart assistants are equally musical. This is only a simple mathematical view, weighting all features equally. It is up to you to decide, which feature is more important to you!
Note, below table of contents will help you to quickly jump to the features you are interested in. Just swipe back on your mobile to return here.
Controlling the Volume
Of course, all assistants support setting the volume with many different voice commands. Where Alexa only supports level 1-10, Siri and Google also understand percentages.
Controlling the Playback
Naturally, all assistants support playback and stop, skipping forward and back, repeating and shuffling. With radio-like services, we have limitations, whether and how many times we can skip songs.
As mentioned earlier the musical libraries of Apple Music, Google Play Music, Amazon Music Unlimited, and Spotify are huge. There are many ways to access your favorite music, that’s why we have to structure this a bit:
Playing by Title/Album/Artist
Accessing the library with the song title, album or artist name is equally supported by all assistants. The radio-like services naturally don’t support that.
Playing by Genre
Genres are just one way to structure music. Since the number of displayed genres is different from the internally supported genres and sub-genres, it is not a criterion. Anyway, here are the numbers: Siri supports 24 genres, Alexa 26 and Google 18. The detailed lists are in the assistant posts under this section.
All assistants understand activities and moods. Again, the number of displayed (and tested) activities and moods does not indicate anything about the available (curated) stations and playlists. You can find the tested activities and moods in the assistant posts under this section.
Only Amazon -- who actually released this feature latest -- mentioned a number of up to 500 activities and moods. Still, my impression during testing was, that especially Alexa often comes back with “I could not find … songs”.
Combining Moods, Activities and Genres
Siri, Google and Alexa support combining moods, activities, and genres. If there is a station or playlist which fits your request, they will find it. Google and Alexa also on Spotify. The tested mixes are in the assistant posts under this section.
Playing New Music
Playing brand new music or the latest songs by artist is equally supported by all of our assistants. They furthermore support playing the newest music for a genre.
Playing Popular/Regional Music
Our three assistants support popular music equally. It’s just Google which is a bit ignorant when it comes to top music by country unless there is an album for that. But Google supports finding the top regional playlists on Spotify, where Alexa fails.
Playing Something You Rarely Hear
Playing something which you have never heard, can only be tracked on the assistant’s native music service. It is a feature only supported by Alexa and Siri and though Alexa claims, that she can even play songs, which you’ve heard on a specific day and/or time, those commands did not work for me.
Playing Similar Music
Another feature which is only supported by Siri and Alexa: if you like the currently played song, you can ask for similar music. Siri goes a step further and can try to find live versions of the currently played song.
Alexa can search for similar artists, where Siri can differentiate between other, old or new songs by artist.
Playing Favorites and Liking/Disliking
We can tell all our assistants whether we like or dislike a song when using the native music service. This is a great way to tell our assistant, how to personalize suggestions for us.
Google goes the extra mile and supports thumbs up/down also for Spotify.
Playing by Lyrics
This is a powerful feature where you can identify/play songs by lyrics snippets. Unfortunately, Siri supports this only in the US. Alexa and Google do internationally, and Google goes the extra mile and offers this feature also for Spotify.
Playing by Describing the Album Cover
This feature is only supported by Google: you can describe whats on an album cover and Google will (mostly) get it right if your description is unique enough. You can find some examples in the dedicated Google post.
Playing by Location etc.
Another unique Google feature, which stems from the vast amount of data Google can collect from you and take into account when personalizing your music suggestions. I have listed the different data sources which Google can use, in Googles dedicated post.
Controlling your Library and Playlists
All our assistants support adding songs to the native music library. Although Alexa claims she can also add songs to your playlists, she failed in my case. So it’s only Siri, which supports both adding to your library and your playlist. Google supports maintaining your Spotify library as well.
Listening to Radio Stations
Our assistants support the radio “station” concept through their native music services. Google and Alexa furthermore support the radio stations from Pandora, TuneIn, and iHeartRadio.
Getting Music Information
This is an interesting feature for music lovers: how much do our assistants know about the music they are playing? Siri is the winner here.
Alexa and Google only provide basic musical information. Siri can provide additional information for an artist and sometimes even look up who plays which instrument in a song. She can also tell you what song you heard last and whats next on your playlist.
The coolest feature is Shazam, which Apple acquired end of 2017. If you hear a song you like, on for instance your TV, Siri can listen and identify it.
Manage and Listen To Podcasts
This is another feature where Siri shines, by being able to even change the playback speed of podcasts. Otherwise, Siri and Google provide a similar amount of features for podcasts.
Alexa provides only very basic podcast support.
Setting a Sleep Timer and Music Alarm
Alexa and Google support sleep timers and music alarms, which are nice features around starting and ending your day with music or natural sounds.
Siri doesn’t support either, but there is a workaround to simply play your custom playlist when going to bed, which will stop by itself (unless repeat is on).
Mathematically all our assistants are equally musical, but who calculates when it comes to music? It is a matter of your personal preferences, which features are important to you?
The assistants reveal strengths and weaknesses in following areas:
Strong in remembering what you (never) heard and playing similar music to what you’re currently listening to.
Weak in musical information, podcasts and Spotify support.
Strong in novel features like finding music by describing the album cover and personalizing your music suggestions based on location and other collected data. Great Spotify support.
Weak in playing similar music and trending regional music.
Strong in music information and unique in music identification (Shazam). Very good for podcasts.
Weak in missing sleep timers and music alarms. Siri only supports Apple Music.
Where to go?
- If you are musically just into radio services, like Pandora, TuneIn, and iHeartRadio, pick either Google or Alexa.
- If you are a Spotify lover and want most of the features supported, pick Google for now.
- If you are a music lover, you won’t get around subscribing to the native premium music services of Amazon, Apple, and Google to get the maximum of the supported features. Pick the assistant, with the musical strengths that fits best to your musical preferences.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this musical “showdown”. You can find other competitions here:
- Assistant Showdown with Philips Hue: Who will win, Siri, Alexa or Google?
- Assistant Showdown with Logitech Harmony: Who will win, Alexa or Google?
- Assistant Showdown with Nanoleaf Aurora: Who will win, Siri, Alexa or Google?
- If you’d like to read more about Siri, see: Apple Siri.
- For more Alexa posts, check out Amazon Alexa.
- More Google Home posts are here: Google Assistant.
Our assistants are pretty good at beatboxing and rapping. You can watch them in our AI-News episode rap battle (just rewind, in case you want to watch the full episode including news):