Google’s new Home Max speaker might outsmart HomePod

Google’s new Home Max smart speaker wants to hit Apple’s upcoming HomePod where it hurts: in the ears and in the brains.

Home Max promises high-end audio, thanks to “premium hardware” and Google’s perpetual strong suit — artificial intelligence.

The smart speaker, announced today during Google’s Pixel 2 event, is a clear shot at HomePod. Apple says its smart speaker, which launches in December, will bring the sort of high-end audio not possible from other devices. But Cupertino has been skimpy on details about the HomePod ever since announcing the smart speaker at this year’s Worldwide Developers Conference.

Perhaps the only place the Home Max can’t compete (or dominate) is on price. It retails for $399, while HomePod will cost $349. Both price tags are much higher than competitors’ price points. Even the new Sonos One, unveiled earlier today, costs just $199.

Apple is late to the smart speaker game. Amazon’s surprise hit Echo started a smart speaker arms race in 2015, with Google’s original Home following a year later. Since then, these companies and others have scrambled to add features and deliver higher-quality audio.

Google Home Max, an AI-powered smart speaker

“Max redefines audio, in a way that only Google can — with AI,” Google says on its product page. “Its high-fidelity sound is built on a foundation of premium hardware. With dual 4.5-inch high-excursion woofers, you’ll get deep, balanced bass.”

Google’s Chromecast technology lets the Max work with other Home speakers to deliver multi-room audio. A wide range of Home Max partners means the new speaker will work with audio services like Pandora and Spotify (including the free tier) as well as smart home devices by Nest, Philips and many others.

Google Smart Sound brings added functionality

The Home Max is Google’s first speaker with what the company calls “Smart Sound.” The AI-powered audio feature lets the speaker adapt to various home environments. It sounds similar to the type of smart, adaptive audio Apple promises for HomePod, although Smart Sound might offer even more functionality.

“Max is our first speaker with Smart Sound, a new audio experience powered by Google’s artificial intelligence,” Google said. “It’s what allows Max to adapt to you — your environment, your context, and your preferences. Smart Sound automatically adjusts for where you place Max in a room, so if you decide to move your speaker a few feet, it will dynamically tune itself within seconds.”

Like Google’s new low-end Home Mini, the Max uses Google’s new Voice Match to recognize various users. Add that to the rapidly expanding capabilities of the AI-powered voice interface known as Google Assistant, and you’ve got a smart speaker that should give the Siri-powered HomePod some serious competition on the brainiac front.

Home Max emphasizes high-end, high-volume audio

In a Home Max demo video featuring DJ and producer Diplo, Google showcased the speaker’s ability to respond to voice commands and kick out the jams. Google says the Max is “20 times more powerful than the original Google Home.”

The Home Max comes in two colors (chalk and charcoal). The rounded rectangular speaker works vertically or horizontally. The speaker supports Bluetooth and comes with an auxiliary port for connecting other devices.

You can join the Google Home Max waitlist today to get in line to purchase the speaker when it ships. It comes a free 12-month subscription to YouTube Red, Google’s ad-free version of its streaming video and audio service.