Google is going after your home.
Amazon last year announced a connected speaker equipped with a Siri-like personal assistant called Alexa. In our review of the Amazon Echo, we praised Alexa as well as the speaker's ability to serve as a control centre for all your smarthome devices. Echo has sold so well that Amazon has since launched additional versions and expanded beyond the US.
Now Google wants a slice of the pie.
At Google I/O 2016, Google introduced an Echo-like device called Google Home, and then at the Made By Google event, Google announced when you would be able to get your hands on the voice-activated speaker. Here's everything we know so far about Google Home, including what it is, how it works (especially that Google Assistant feature), and when you can buy it.
What is Google Home?
Google Home is a Wi-Fi speaker that also works as a smarthome control centre and an assistant for the whole family. You can use it to playback entertainment throughout your entire house, effortlessly manage every-day tasks, and ask Google what you want to know.
The device itself has interchangeable bases available in various colours and finishes (such as metal and fabric, allowing you to match it to your decor). Underneath that swappable shell there is a speaker that can playback songs and allow Google Assistant to talk to you.
At the top of the device there is a capacitive touch display with four LEDs. You'll use this interact with Home, like trigger the Assistant, adjust volume, etc. As for buttons, there are none at the top (just dual mics that listen for your voice). There is a single mute button on the shell. Google Home is able to filter and separate speech from noise and offers "best-in-class voice recognition", according to Google.
The speaker features dual side-facing passive radiators, which deliver full range, clear highs, and rich bass. And the entire thing is available in three colour variations: Mango, Marine, and Violet bases join Carbon, Snow, and Copper tops. The bases can be swapped out.
How does Google Home work?
Music and video playback
Because Google Home is a Wi-Fi speaker, it can stream music directly from the cloud. Google said it will deliver rich bass and clear highs - all from a compact form factor. With it you can access songs, playlists, albums, artists, and podcasts from your favourite music services just by asking with your voice. Or, if you prefer, you can send music from your Android or iOS device through Google Cast.
That last bit is important because, with Google Cast support, you'll be able to use Google Home to control other connected speakers in your home. You'll even get multi-room playback, meaning you can add one or more Google Home devices to a group of speakers in order to blast tunes throughout your house. But that's not all: Google Home will let you control your video content.
Let's say you want to watch the latest episode of Jimmy Fallon or some sort of cat video on YouTube. Just issue a voice command to Google Home, and the content will appear on your TV (again, thanks to Google Cast support).
Google Home can be a control centre for your entire home, because it has access to Google Assistant (see below). It will let you do the basics like set alarms and timers and manage to-do lists and shopping lists. It will also connect your smarthome and support popular network systems. That means you will be able to control smart lights, switches, doors, and Google's own Nest products.
Google plans to work with developers so you can control things beyond the home too, such as booking a car, ordering dinner, or sending flowers to a loved one. And the best part is you will be able to do this with just your voice.
Speaking of your voice, Google Home will let you ask Google anything. You can ask for the weather or check facts on Wikipedia. You will have access to Google's 17 years of search experience. That allows you to ask specific questions such as "How much fat is in an avocado?" or "What is Draymond Green's jersey number?" Those types of questions would stump Amazon Echo, but not Google.
Because Google Home has Google Assistant, you can be conversational and ask follow-up questions like "Where did he go to college?" Google Home will be able to connect the "he" pronoun to your previous question about Draymond Green or whoever in order to serve up an accurate answer. You can even ask complex stuff like "What was the US population when NASA was established?"
Google said Google Home will give you immediate answers each time. Also, Google Home can read the relevant part of webpages back to you.
Which services does Google Home support?
At launch, Google Home works with YouTube Music, Spotify, Pandora, Google Play Music, TuneIn, and iHeart Radio. With support for these services, you can ask, "OK Google, play that Shakira song from Zootopia." Without having to name the song, Home can figure it out and play it from your favourite app. Thanks to Google Assistant and its machine-learning capabilities, Google Home knows you and your preferences.
Also at launch, Google Home works with Nest, SmartThings, Philips Hue, and IFTTT, which means you'll be able to control these select smarthome devices and activate your IFTTT recipes using the speaker. Google Home also acts as a Chromecast Audio receiver.
What is Google Assistant in Google Home?
At Google I/O 2016 Google announced a new Siri-like bot that is an adaption of Google Now and Ok Google. It's called Google Assistant, and it basically improves the two-way conversation experience of those services thanks to AI and machine learning.
These advances basically add context to your questions. For instance, when you say "OK Google" followed by "What's playing tonight?", Google Assistant will show films at your local cinema. But if you add "We're planning on bringing the kids", Google Assistant will know to serve up showtimes for kid-friendly films. You could then say "Let's see Jungle Book", and Assistant will buy tickets.
You can even ask "Is Jungle Book any good", and then the assistant will display reviews, ratings, and a trailer. Notice Google Assistant is able to string your questions together in order to determine context and serve up the right information. It can do basic stuff like retrieve your travel itinerary, daily schedule, commute time to work, package delivery information, and more.
Google Home isn't the only device with access to the Google Assistant however. You'll also be able to use the assistant with Android Nougat devices and your Android Auto head unit. Here's how Google explained its new assistant:
"The assistant is conversational - an ongoing two-way dialogue between you and Google that understands your world and helps you get things done. It makes it easy to buy movie tickets while on the go, to find that perfect restaurant for your family to grab a quick bite before the movie starts, and then help you navigate to the theater."
Assistant on Google Home is the same as your Assistant on the phone. Data is shared across your Google stuff on both devices.
When will Google Home be available?
Google Home is now available for pre-order from Best Buy, Target, and Walmart in the US for $129. It will be in stores on 4 November. It's coming "soon" to the UK, Google told Pocket-lint, but it's not yet available to pre-order.