Google Home, the company’s competitor to the Amazon Echo, is now available for preorder. It will cost $129, cheaper than Amazon’s device. You can preorder it today in the US and it will start shipping November 4th. In our brief testing, it was a little smarter than Siri and a lot sharper than Alexa, able to understand context in a question and suss out information from around the web when Google's knowledge graph didn't have the answer.
The top of Google Home is touch-sensitive and can be used to change the volume or pause whatever is playing. It has three speakers, Google calls them "extrusion speakers" although it's not clear what that adjective means here. The overall sound quality is a little better than the Echo, but nothing you would replace a serious home sound system with. The device is white, and its design was apparently inspired by household items like candles and wine glasses. The bottom grille can be swapped out, and comes in multiple colors.
It lights up to let you know it's listening
Google Home works natively with YouTube Music and Google Play Music, and comes with six months free of YouTube Red. If Google isn't your service of choice for music, Home integrates with Spotify, Pandora, iHeartRadio, and TuneIn. You can set the default music service for voice commands to be one of these third-party services if you prefer that to Google's services. Home also acts as a Chromecast Audio receiver, so you can choose to cast the music to any Chromecast-connected television or speakers in the house, and you can play music in multiple rooms at once.
At this point there are a lot of devices that are listening for a prompt like "OK Google." The company's goal is to figure out which device is closest to you, and use that gadget to respond. It has only two microphones for listening, instead of the Echo’s seven. But in our brief testing it had a remarkable ability to pinpoint a speaker’s location, and responded on whatever Google device was closest: your Home, your phone, or your smartwatch.
Right now Google Home works with a few third-party services. You can use it to call an Uber or play music from Spotify. Google says an API for third-party apps is coming soon, but at launch there will be a limited number of services that can hook into Google Home. Amazon’s Alexa has a big head start here, having already integrated with more than 3,000 services.
Home is way behind Alexa on apps
In the future Google says that Home will work as a command and control hub for lots of smart devices. For now it can be used with Hue lightbulbs, SmartThings, and Nest devices. Integration with Sonos is supposedly coming soon.
There is one major question outstanding about Google Home: how will it work with multiple accounts? My wife and I each have a personal Google account, so who gets the privilege of being able to have the smart Google assistant dictate our daily schedule?
That quibble aside, Home is a strong competitor to Alexa, especially if you rely on Google services or have bought into the Chromecast ecosystem for your home entertainment. Its ability to understand queries and pull information from around the web seems best in class for now. Still, there are plenty of questions it can’t answer. "Hey Google, why do you have four different chat apps again?"