Daily Report: A New Helper in the Virtual Assistant Race


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Google Home, right, with a Pixel phone. The Pixel came out last month; Home will be available on Friday.

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Eric Risberg/Associated Press

Gadget geeks will get their chance to size up a new toy at the end of this week when Google brings out Home, its voice-activated smart speaker powered by a virtual assistant.

If that sounds familiar, that’s because the new gadget, which can play music and respond to questions people ask it, bears something of a resemblance to Amazon’s Echo, which is — you guessed it — a voice-activated smart speaker powered by a virtual assistant. Echo, whose virtual assistant is called Alexa, has been a hit with consumers since it became available last year.

Google has been hyping Home for quite a few months. The search giant, which now looks late to the smart-speaker market compared with Amazon, has a lot riding on Home, including its reputation for inventiveness and its prowess around artificial intelligence. Home is also the second new hardware device from Google in two months; the company released Pixel, a new smartphone, in October.

Brian X. Chen, the New York Times’s personal technology writer, recently took Home for a spin and compared it with Amazon’s Echo. His verdict: Home delivers as a smart speaker, with an ability to answer all manner of user questions, as well as strong sound qualities for playing music. Read more about his results here.

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