Alexa's smart home rival is limbering up for a November launch, but what can Google Home actually do?

In May this year, Google announced a smart Bluetooth speaker called Google Home that looked set to rival Amazon’s hugely popular Amazon Echo speaker. Well, Echo’s virtual assistant, Alexa, finally has a date in the diary to meet her match, because Google just announce a US launch date of 4th of November this year. That’s really soon. So what’s Google Home got to offer?

What is Google Home?

It’s a voice-activated Bluetooth speaker that basically wants to be your personal Google. By saying the wake phrase “OK, Google” – just like when you Google stuff on your phone – you can get the speaker’s attention to perform all kinds of handy tasks. Read your upcoming calendar appointments, for instance, or even add items to your shopping list, set reminders and book a table for dinner. It plays music, controls your smart gadgets and looks pretty fancy.

What’s it got that Echo hasn’t?

Being made by Google and all, Google Home works perfectly with Chromecast, acting as an audio receive to let you send a song to a better speaker in your house. You can even use it to create groups with your Chromecast devices to create zoned multiroom audio. And for the ultimate hands-free experience, you can then control your awesome Chromecast system via Google Home using your voice.

Another Google Home trick that might leave Alexa green with envy is its ability to sync information with your phone. If you’re asking Google Home for information about a trip, for instance, it can automatically send that information to your phone for backup. It seems like a simple function, but it’s something our current smart home queen can’t do. Awkward.

Google HomeGoogle Home wouldn’t be Google through and through without superior search abilities, and it looks like it certainly delivers in that department. You can pretty much ask it anyway, and it will even use contextual awareness to work out what on earth you’re talking about if you ask an ambiguous question.

For example, if you ask the question, “What’s her husband called again?” directly after Googling Angelina Jolie, Google Home will know exactly who you’re talking about.

Same with searching for music. Say, “OK, Google. Play that Aretha Franklin song from Bridget Jones’s Diary” and it will instantly fire up the song “Respect”.

It controls smart gadgets too, getting cosy with the Next thermostat, Philips Hue and Samsung SmartThings to put you in control of gadgets using your voice. It also comes with a free 6-month trial of YouTube Red, which lets you watch stuff ad-free, play videos in the background, and save videos to watch offline.

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Is Google Home always listening?

Not if you don’t want it to. There’s a little mute button round the back of the speaker that turns off Google Home’s ears if you fancy some privacy for a bit. Otherwise the rest of the time, Google Home will keep listening out for its name. You can do this with Echo too – it’d be dodgy if you couldn’t, come to think of it.

Google Home does seem to have the edge on Echo when it comes to onboard controls, though. A hidden touchpad on its slanted top lets you control volume by drawing a circle, trigger the assistant by pressing and holding, and tons of other handy functions.

When can I get Google Home?

Like we said, Google Home is launching in the US on the 4th November, with a price tag of $129 (around £100). There’s actually no news on when it will be launching in the UK and elsewhere for the moment, or how much it will cost, but we’re hoping Google isn’t going to keep us waiting like Amazon did; Echo launched in the UK nearly 2 years after its US debut.

In better news, though, Google Home is much more customisable than the monochrome Echo. Its base is removable to let you swap in one of seven colour decals; carbon, copper, snow, mango, marine, violet and painted steel are the current options.

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