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The Google Home is the search giant's answer to the Amazon Echo smart speaker, a breakout gadget with Alexa's virtual intelligence built right in. With Home, it's the Google Assistant answering your every question and command -- and it has a few extra tricks up its sleeve to help it compete.

Published:Caption:Photo:Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Conversational intelligence

The Google Home's first display of one-upsmanship: It can answer follow-up questions. Here's an example. Ask it who played Katniss in "The Hunger Games," and it'll answer Jennifer Lawrence. Then, try asking it "What else is she in?" The Home is intelligent enough to understand that you're still talking about Jennifer Lawrence, so it'll start rattling off her filmography. Alexa can't do that -- though she isn't as far behind as you might think.

Published:Caption:Photo:Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Customizable bases

You may have noticed that the base of the Google Home device in that last shot was bronze, not blue. That's because the Google Home lets you switch out base covers to help customize its look. Amazon Echo and Echo Dot are both available in both black and white now, but they still don't offer as much customizability.

Published:Caption:Photo:Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Whole-home audio

Here's a biggie. The Google Home is designed to offer whole-home synchronized audio playback from multiple devices. That's something that Echo and Echo Dot owners have long been clamoring for.

Published:Caption:Photo:Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Casting

Here's another biggie: casting audio and video. If you're a Chromecast owner, you'll be able to ask the Google Home to cast music or YouTube videos to your Chromecast-equipped speakers and television sets. Options are a bit limited on the video side (no Netflix!?), but it's still something that Alexa flat-out can't do.

Published:Caption:Photo:James Martin/CNET

Color control

Do you own Philips Hue's color-changing LEDs? You can turn them on and off or dim them up and down using either Alexa or the Google Home -- but only the Home can change their color.

Published:Caption:Photo:Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Auto-grouping

Speaking of smart bulbs, let's say you've got a bunch of them in one room, and you've labeled them things like "living room lamp one," "living room lamp two," "living room chandelier," and so on. You won't need to create a "living room" group in order to control them all at once like you will with Alexa. Just say, "turn on the living room lights," and the Google Home will know what you mean.

The same goes if you want to turn everything on and off all at once. With Alexa, you'll need to create a group called "all of the lights" before she'll be able to "turn off all of the lights." The Google Home understands what you mean, no all-encompassing group necessary.

Published:Caption:Photo:Chris Monroe/CNET

So what about Alexa?

Just because the Google Home has some new tricks up its sleeve doesn't mean Alexa's dead in the water. Here's where she edges the Assistant out.

Published:Caption:Photo:Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Flexible understanding

From our tests, it's become clear that the Google Home is more forgiving than Amazon Echo when it comes to your phrasing. This is especially true once you start using it to control smart home devices. Say you have a smart bulb that you've named "entryway light." If you tell the Google Home to turn on the "entry light" or the "Entryway lamp," it'll still be able to figure out what you mean. Alexa is more of a stickler.

Published:Caption:Photo:Tyler Lizenby/CNET
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