Google Home, the search engine giant's newest entry in the smart home market, will be available on Nov. 4. Google showed off the new voice-controlled speaker alongside a number of other new gadgets in San Francisco on Tuesday. The other new products included two new phones, a VR headset, routers, and a 4K-ready version of the Chromecast streaming media player.

The Home device was announced at Google’s I/O keynote earlier this year. It promised to challenge the Amazon Echo with a similar mission: to provide weather reports, news, and other information from the web; stream music; and help users manage everyday tasks.

At the event today, Google CEO Sundar Pichai said that the goal is to provide "an individual Google for each individual user" with Google Assistant, driven by artificial intelligence, as the centerpiece. An improved version of the company's AI will be coming first to the new Pixel phone and Google Home, he said.

Here's what you need to know about this release.

What Is Google Home?

Home uses far-field microphones to hear user commands from across the room. It can control internet-connected devices and can also answer questions about the solar system or the day’s news without users pulling out a smartphone.

Using the cloud-based Google Assistant, the Home will respond to prompts to make phone calls, read a weather forecast, search for specific images on Google Photos, or even hail an Uber ride. 

Mario Queiroz, Google’s vice president of product management, said the company “set out to create and design a beautiful product that’s warm and inviting and fits naturally in many areas of the home.”

Physically, it’s a rounded white cone that resembles an aromatherapy diffuser, with interchangeable bases that owners can swap out to match their home decor. On top is a capacitive touchpad to control music and a few LEDs to tip off the user that the device is in listening mode, or conducting a web search.

Amazon Echo products face competition from Google Home.
The family of Amazon Echo products, shown here, now faces competition from the Google Home.

How Does It Stack Up Against the Echo?

With this release, Google needed to do a year-and-a-half’s worth of catch-up for smart home interconnectivity to be ready to compete with Amazon’s assistant, which has sold about 3 million units since 2014, according to Consumer Intelligence Research Partners.

Mitchell Klein, executive director of the Z-Wave Alliance and smart-home expert, told Consumer Reports that Amazon helped make the smart home a comfortable concept to millions of people by letting them control appliances through the spoken word.

Google's advantage over Amazon is its larger ecosystem, which includes users' calendars, contacts, and other tools. The My Day feature summarizes your daily schedule, provides local weather, and gives information on traffic along your standard driving route.

Multiple Home devices can also work together, like a Sonos system, to play music all over the house.

Google will also make the Google Assistant's SDK, or software development kit, available to developers next year, so that it can be used in other internet-connected devices.

Google also announced compatibility with IFTTT, Philips Hue, and Samsung SmartThings. It shouldn’t be much of a surprise, but Nest’s series of products, Android smartphones, Android TVs, and Chromecast devices will also be compatible.

Google Home undercuts Echo by about $50, and is available for pre-order for $129, with a six-month trial of YouTube Red. (Amazon will start shipping an updated version of its stripped-down Dot for $50 later this month.)

For speaker sound quality test results, make sure to check our ratings later this year.