Google is going after Amazon.
Amazon last year announced a connected Bluetooth speaker equipped with a Siri-like personal assistant called Alexa. In our review of the device, which is called Amazon Echo, we praised Alexa as well as the speaker's ability to serve as a control-center hub for all your smarthome devices. Echo eventually sold so well that Amazon has since launched three additional versions. Now Google wants a slice of the pie.
While at Google I/O 2016, Google announced an Echo-like device called Google Home. Here's everything we know so far about it, including what it is, how it works (especially that Google Assistant feature), and when you can buy it.
Google Home: What is it?
Google Home is a Wi-Fi speaker that also works as a smarthome control center 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. It appears to be pretty small, as a Google executive was able to easily hold it in one hand while unveiling Google Home on stage.
Also, at the top of the device, there is a display with four small LEDs. You'll use these apparently to interact with the device. As for buttons, there are none at the top (just dual microphones that listen for your voice). There is a single mute button on the shell.
Google Home: How does it 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 HDTV (again, thanks to Google Cast support).
Google Home can be a control center for your entire home, because it has access to the 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, etc (including 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 a 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 will stump Amazon Echo and Siri, but not Google.
And because Google Home has Google Assistant (see below), 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 whomever 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.
Google Home: What is Google Assistant?
Google announced at Google I/O 2016 a new Siri-like bot that is an extension of Google Now. It's called Google Assistant, and it basically improves the two-way conversation experience of Google Now 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 the assistant will purchase tickets for you.
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 asistanr with Android N 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."
You can learn more about Google Assistant from here.
Google Home: When can you buy it?
Google said Google Home will be released "later this year". You can go to the Google Home website to register for notice updates.