Google announced its Amazon Echo competitor back at its I/O developer conference in May. Today, it made Google Home official with a release date and price.
It also gave us a closer look at how the company plans to compete with the more established household assistant today, Alexa.
While Google has its work cut out in getting broad third-party support that includes other smart-home brands, there is already a healthy list of in-house features Google Home will be capable of out of the gate that Alexa could only hope to add in the future.
Here are nine things Google Home can do that Alexa can’t.
Both the Alexa speakers and Google Home come with physical controls for when voice input is less ideal.
You can spin the ring on the top of the Amazon Echo and original Echo Dot or volume control buttons on the Tap and second-generation Dot. There are also button controls to invoke a command or keep Alexa from listening with all Alexa speaker models.
On top of the Google Home speaker is a touchpad that can be used to control the volume, trigger the voice assistant and more. The switch to turn off listening for Google Home is around back.
Play Google Play Music and YouTube Music
Both Amazon’s Alexa and Google Home come with support for plenty of third-party streaming services, like Pandora, Spotify and TuneIn. However, both companies are keen on promoting their in-house music services, not their competitors’. The Alexa speakers put Prime Music first, while Google Home would rather you use Google Play Music.
Technically, you can stream any audio to the Alexa speakers if you pair them to your devices using Bluetooth. And Google Home will allow you to stream any audio service that has a mobile app with Chromecast support.
However, with Google Home, you can also stream your favorite songs from YouTube Music, so long as you’re a YouTube Red subscriber. And if you’re not, the Google Home speaker comes with a free 6-month trial of YouTube Red.
Play songs based on context
Don’t remember the name of a song? With Google Home, it shouldn’t be a problem. Using a little contextual awareness, Google Assistant can understand which song you’re talking about, find and play it.
During the press event, the example given was, “OK, Google, play that Shakira song from ‘Zootopia.'” The song “Try Everything” by Shakira started to play.
So long as you have some information on the song you want to play, Google can try to fill in the blanks and, hopefully, play the song you were looking for.
Act as an audio receiver for Chromecast
Naturally, Google Home acts as an audio receiver for Chromecast. Meaning, if you want to throw a song from your phone to a better speaker, you can tap the Cast logo from within a supported app and select Google Home, just as you could any televisions or speakers with Chromecast installed.
You can also create groups with Google Home and Chromecast devices, which will allow you to sync up multiple speakers and play audio around the house, much like Sonos.
This is one of the bigger complaints from the Alexa camp, since the speakers do not communicate very well with one another. You can’t use two Amazon Echos to play stereo sound in a single room or have multiple speakers play the same music around the house.
Send information to your phone
Google Home is powered by Google Assistant, which is the more intelligent and honed version of Google Now. What this means is the same AI is shared between your phone and home speaker, and information can be passed between your devices.
If you’re asking Google Home for information, you can also tell it to send that information — such as directions — to your phone, if it doesn’t automatically. This will only work if your phone has Google Assistant. For the time being, this feature will be limited to the Google Pixel and Pixel XL.
Throw images, audio and video to your television via Chromecast
Not only can you cast audio to the Google Home speaker, you can use the speaker itself as a controller for your other Chromecast devices.
As demonstrated at Google I/O, a kid is asking Google Home about stars. He says, “Can you show me on the TV?” and a YouTube video of Alpha Centauri gets cast to the nearby television. And as demonstrated earlier today on stage, you can voice search for content on Netflix or ask for search results of your own Google Photos to be cast to the television.
This Chromecast integration may be the single largest leg up Google Home has over Alexa, but that could be remedied in the future with the Fire TV Stick.
More natural, contextual conversations
You can have a back and forth with Alexa. When you ask for certain things, especially when using skills or ordering items from Amazon, you may have to answer questions for Alexa to fully understand what you’re looking for. But that’s it. You’re typically just answering questions to help Alexa better figure things out.
However, the interaction with Google Home appears to be more natural. You can ask additional questions which are contextually based on the original question. For instance, Google demonstrated asking for Adele’s real name, then following up the answer with, “How many Grammys has she won?” Google fills in the blanks and understands that “she” is Adele.
This is unsurprisingly reminiscent of Google Now’s contextual awareness, and it certainly gives Google Home an advantage over Alexa, if only in how natural your interactions will be with Google’s speaker.
Until recently, if you wanted anything other than a black Echo, Echo Dot or Tap speaker, you would have to disguise it, wrap it in an aftermarket skin or find a case to fit. Now you can purchase the Echo and Echo Dot in white. Beyond that, you’ll still have to look to third-party options for customizing the look of your speaker.
Color customization is a native feature offered by Google for Home. The top will remain a white polycarbonate, but there are seven total base colors to choose from: carbon, copper, snow, mango, marine, violet and painted steel.
Pricing for the bases has not been announced and they’re still listed as Coming Soon on the store page, so you can’t preorder a base color with the Google Home.
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