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9 things Google Home can do that Alexa can't

The Google Home is the first major competitor to Amazon's Alexa speakers, and Google came out of the gates swinging. Here are nine things the Google Home can do that the Echo, Dot and Tap still can't.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET
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Since the Google Home ($129 at Dell Home) launch in 2016, Google has been frequently updating the voice assistant speaker to close the gap between what it and Amazon's Alexa speakers can do. Among many other things, Google has rolled out support for third-party services, voice shopping and a wide range of smart home devices.

Google continues to close the gap, and there's still plenty of work left to do. However, here are eight things the Google Home can do that the Amazon Alexa speakers can't.

Editors' note: This article was originally published October 4, 2016, and has been updated to include new Google Home features and information.

Play Google Play Music and YouTube Music

Like Amazon's Alexa devices -- currently, the Echo, Echo Dot, Tap and the new Echo Look camera -- the Google Home supports plenty of third-party streaming services, like Pandora, Spotify and TuneIn. However, both Google and Amazon are keen on promoting their in-house music services, not their competitors'. The Alexa speakers prioritize Prime Music, while the Google Home would rather you use Google Play Music.

Technically, you can stream any audio to the Alexa speakers if you pair them with your phone or tablet using Bluetooth. And the Google Home will allow you to stream any audio service that has a mobile app with Chromecast support.

However, with a Google Home, you can also stream from YouTube Music, so long as you're a YouTube Red subscriber.

Play songs based on context

Don't remember the name of a song? With the Google Home, it shouldn't be a problem. Using a little contextual awareness, Google Assistant (Google's equivalent to Alexa) can understand which song you're talking about, find and play it.

During the press event, the example given was, "OK, Google, play that Shakira song from 'Zootopia.'" The song "Try Everything" by Shakira started to play. Trying the same command with Alexa either returns all songs by Shakira or all songs from 'Zootopia.'

So long as you have some information on the song you want to play, Google can try to fill in the blanks and, hopefully, play the song you were looking for.

Act as an audio receiver for Chromecast

Naturally, Google Home acts as an audio receiver for Chromecast. Meaning, if you want to throw a song from your phone to a better speaker, you can tap the Cast logo from within a supported app and select Google Home, just as you could from any television or speaker with Chromecast installed.

Throw images, audio and video to your television via Chromecast

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Not only can you cast audio to the Google Home speaker, you can use the speaker itself as a controller for your other Chromecast devices. Just say, "OK, Google, play 'Stranger Things' on the Chromecast." You can do this with music, YouTube videos, Netflix movies or TV and pictures from Google Photos.

This Chromecast integration may be the single largest advantage the Google Home has over Alexa speakers. Of course, you can use Alexa on a Fire TV ($40 at Amazon.com) device, but that's not quite the same, is it?

String commands together

When using a Google Home speaker, you can group two commands into a single sentence. For example, you might say, "Hey, Google, play Flogging Molly and set the volume to 10." This works with virtually any Google Home command, though, you might have to tinker with wording to string certain commands together.

Alexa, on the other hand, can only handle one command at a time. That said, Alexa has what is called routines. Routines allow a user to issue a single command to control multiple smart home devices and play parts of their Flash Briefing. Routines can also run on a schedule, but you can't use them to run just any command.

Command shortcuts

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While Google Home has no feature quite like routines yet, what it does have is called Shortcuts. Think of these as a text expander for your voice. You can create a shortcut where the command is, "OK, Google, play my favorite song," and Google Home understands that command as, "OK, Google, play 'Ad a dglgmut' on Spotify."

Better yet, you can pair Shortcuts with two commands strung together. So you could say, "OK, Google, movie time," and the full command could be something like, "OK, Google, turn on the TV and turn the living room lights purple."

Routines with Alexa can accomplish virtually the same thing as the latter. But if you have a favorite song you can't pronounce the name of, you can't create a voice shortcut with Alexa.

Hold more natural, contextual conversations

You can have a back-and-forth with Alexa. When you ask for certain things, especially when using its "skills" or ordering items from Amazon, you may have to answer questions for Alexa to fully understand what you're looking for. But that's it. You're typically just answering questions to help Alexa figure things out.

However, the interaction with Google Assistant appears to be more natural. You can ask additional questions that are contextually based on the original question. For instance, Google demonstrated asking for singer Adele's real name, then following up the answer with, "How many Grammys has she won?" Google Assistant fills in the blanks and understands that "she" is Adele.

This is unsurprisingly reminiscent of Google Now's contextual awareness, and it certainly gives Google Assistant an advantage over Alexa, if you can have more natural interactions with Google's devices.

Change voices

Don't like the default Google Home voice? Change it. Select between a male or female voice in settings under More settings > Preferences > Assistant voice and either Voice I or Voice II. With both Google Home and Alexa, you can change the dialect, but with Alexa, you're limited to the standard female voice.

Night mode

You can keep Google Home from waking people around the house during after hours with a feature called Night mode. When Night mode activates, the sounds will be reduced and the indicator lights on the speaker will be dimmed. When you set up Night mode, you can select the days on which it activates, the time it starts and ends and the brightness and volume level.

Currently, Alexa doesn't have a similar feature. Though, you can use it as a nightlight.