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Mossberg: Google Home shows promise, but needs work
Like many tech enthusiasts, I've been using a $180 Amazon Echo intelligent speaker at my home for a year or more. And, while I love using it for some things — playing music and podcasts, setting timers, and re-ordering items from Amazon — I've come to realize that, like Apple's Siri and all other virtual assistants, its Alexa voice-driven artificial intelligence system disappoints a lot.So I was excited to test Google Home, the $129 Echo competitor that puts the search giant's much-touted new Google Assistant intelligence technology inside a small, but powerful Echo-like speaker and microphone unit. Surely, I thought, after collecting all that info about the world (and about me) for years and years, Google would crush Amazon in the home-intelligence race.But after nearly a week of using two Google Home units in two different rooms, my conclusions are decidedly mixed. Google Home does beat Alexa and the Echo in some ways, but it's remarkably dumb in others. It needs enough work that, if I were Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, I wouldn't be losing any sleep about it, at least not yet.Really? It looks so good!In my opinion, and, more importantly, that of my wife (whose taste is much better than mine and whose tech addiction much less) the Google Home looks a lot better than the Echo. While the Echo is a tall black metal cylinder, Google's contender is a smaller, more stylish, white plastic cylinder with an angled top and a mesh speaker base. You can get alternate bases in different colors. The top is touch sensitive, and has built-in lights that show when the Home is ready to accept a command. It snaps to attention when it hears the trigger phrases “OK, Google” or “Hey, Google”. (The Echo's trigger phrase can be set to simply “Alexa”, “Echo” or “Amazon”.) You can raise or lower the volume, or pause or resume something, using voice commands. Or you can control the volume by tracing a circle on the top and play / pause by gently tapping it.