Google Home: what does it cost, what can it do and is it better than Amazon Echo?

Google's stylish and ever-so-helpful Alexa rival is on sale April 6. Here's what you need to know…

Google Home goes on sale April 6, priced £129. 

You'll be able to get it from the Google Store, obvs, and also Argos, Currys, Dixons, John Lewis, Maplin and 'soon' at EE. 

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To fit in with the widest possible range of home decor, Google has knocked up three metal and three fabric, coloured bases to replace the white one that comes as standard, exclusive to the Google store for now. The choice of hues is as follows. 

Metal (£36 each): copper, snow, carbon. Fabric (£18 each): violet, marine, mango.

Google Home, like Amazon Echo, lets you play music, radio and podcasts, hear the news from key 'partners' (The BBC, Guardian, Sun, Telegraph, Sky and others), set timers and alarms, and control smart home tech

Where it differs is that, at present, Amazon Echo's Alexa AI can also execute a sizeable range of 'Skills' from all manner of service brands, from Amazon retail to Domino's to Uber. Google says similar functionality will be coming to Home 'soon', and it's hard to imagine it won't rapidly catch up, once that happens. 

For now, however, Echo has the edge in terms of versatility.

From what we heard at the UK launch today, Echo is also a better music speaker.

In terms of voice recognition and ability to strip out background noise, there is little to tell between the devices, and Home has an incredibly similar voice to Alexa, being clear and a reasonable facsimile of a human, although it is still very clearly not.

However, Home has major advantages as a member of your pub quiz team. It can tap into the full power of Google Search to answer questions you throw at it.

It also allows slightly more natural conversation than Echo, because you can chain together questions without having to use the 'Okay Google' trigger phrase every time.

A clever example of this at the launch was to give a series of translations of 'Hello'. After the first question, "Okay Google, what's French for 'hello'?" it was possible to then say, "and in German?", "in Spanish?" and so on

With Alexa, you have to say "Alexa, what's French for 'hello'?" "Alexa, what's German for 'hello'?" which soon gets tiresome. 

As an interesting side note, it transpires that Alexa can't pronounce foreign words, so it had to give the answers in text form only, via the Echo app. 

Google Home also sightly scores over Echo with control of video applications, via Chromecast plugged into a TV. Although to be fair, Amazon does allow voice control of its newest TV Stick streaming device, via the Stick itself (not Echo), so that's only a marginal gain for Google.

Perhaps the most obvious differences that might sway AI-hungry punters are that Google Home is £20 cheaper than the full-size Echo, comes in a lot more colour options, and is arguably a more pleasing design.

This probably needs to be balanced against several things in Echo's favour, however. 

Firstly, judging by today's demos, the Echo appears to be a much better music speaker than Home (although we'll reserve judgement on that until we've got a review sample in).

Secondly, Amazon also does the Echo Dot, which offers all the same functionality in a cut-down puck of a thing, for £50.

Thirdly, with a year's headstart, Alexa currently does a lot more than Home. What happens next is obvious: nothing short of total war, until either a single victor emerges, or it becomes apparent that the market can support more than one home AI assistant.

We say: bring it on.