Google revealed more information about their upcoming Amazon Echo competitor, the Google Home speaker. The device will be launching on November 4th and is available to pre-order now for $129 with 6 month’s of YouTube Red included. It’s very similar to the Amazon Echo speaker, with a few distinct differences.
Like the Amazon Echo, Google Home is a speaker with an array of always listening microphones. It listens for and responds to the phrase “Ok Google” before executing requests. You can use it to do the usual assortment of things like play music, answer questions, and control smart home devices.
One of Google Home’s unique aspects is its integration with Chromecast. Using only your voice, you can ask Google Home to begin playing content on your Chromecast equipped television. At first this will only work with YouTube, but Netflix will be adding support for this feature in the near future. Saying “Ok Google, play _____ on my TV” will perform a YouTube search and start playing the top video automatically. Saying “… from Netflix on my TV” instead will eventually do the same for Netflix content.
For this to work smoothly, your TV will need to have HDMI-CEC support so that the Chromecast can turn on the TV if it’s off and change to the correct input. Without HDMI-CEC support, this feature of Google Home is only usable if your TV is already on and set to your Chromecast’s input. Many Fire TV owners have been wanting this type of integration with Echo devices, but it’s just not feasible unless you have a newer television.
The top of the Google Home speaker is a capacitive touch panel used to adjust the device’s volume by running a finger in a circular pattern or to trigger the voice assistant. It also has 4 illuminated LED dots to indicate it heard you and is working on a response. On the back is a mute button to prevent the device from hearing you, and the base can be swapped for 6 color options to match your home’s decor.
Similar to the new ESP feature announced by Amazon for the Echo and Echo Dot, multiple Google Home devices will be aware of each other so only the closest one to you responds. Although, at $129 each, I don’t imagine many will fill their homes with Google Home speakers like Google invisions. Something like that is much more feasible with Echo Dots, since you can buy a 6-pack of Echo Dots for less than the price of 2 Google Home speakers. Obviously sound quality on Echo Dots is not sufficient for music, like an array of Google Home speakers would be, but for having voice control of smart home devices in every room, Amazon’s Echo Dot makes more sense.
Speaking of smart home devices, Google Home will work with devices from Nest, Samsung SmartThings, and Philips Hue at launch, but an API for other manufacturers and developers to integrate with Google Home will not be released until next year, so it will still be a long while before Google Home can control the wide assortment of smart home devices that the Amazon Echo can control.
Google’s biggest advantage with Google Home over Amazon’s Echo is its knowledge graph. Google has been working on and improving their natural voice recognition technology much longer than Amazon, and it will be evident through the assortment of questions that Google Home can answer. One example is Google Home’s ability to understand what you want when you say something like “play that Shakira song from Zootopia,” which is an example demonstrated at Google’s event today.
Amazon’s Alexa-enabled devices have had a great head start to the voice controlled future that all the major tech companies are working towards. Google Home is Google’s first dedicated device to grab a piece of that future, but I’m sure it won’t be their last.