Hands-On With the Google Home Max Premium Smart Speaker

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The Google Home Max is a product that launched without many rumors and speculation as Alphabet's subsidiary managed to keep it a secret almost until its very unveiling and only had the device leaked last week. The firm's Wednesday hardware event hence managed to surprise many industry watchers, with the tech giant launching a gadget that's meant to be its most premium Google Assistant-enabled offering to date. So, it's time to take a look what Google has in store for audiophiles with a product that was supposedly codenamed after late Biggie Smalls.

If the Google Home Mini is meant to be a competitor to Amazon's Echo Dot, then the Google Home Max was most certainly designed for taking on the likes of Sonos Play:5 and the upcoming Apple HomePod. Just like many other premium offerings in this product segment, the Google Home Max can be used both vertically and horizontally, being suitable for quick repositionings depending on your needs. The Mountain View, California-based tech giant made a bold claim that the Google Home Max is meant to "redefine" one's audio experience in the context of the living room and while it's far from the first consumer electronics maker to be confident in its product, it may be one of the few with such a solid backing for its proclamations; as it turns out, the Google Home Max sounds really great. The device is equipped with 4.5-inch woofers that the company claims are of the high-excursion variety and features a rigid case structure specifically designed to maintain the compositional integrity of the audio it produces. The fabric seen on the front of the device was described as being "acoustically transparent" and feels extremely soft, seemingly being identical to the material covering the Google Home Mini.

The fabric itself is also thin enough to allow for LED lights beneath it to visibly light up when you address the Google Assistant, making the device look like a unique blend of a traditional speaker and a high-tech gadget and doing an incredibly good job of illustrating the fact that this soft-looking object is "talking" to you. Also beneath the simple and consistent surface of the Google Home Max are two custom tweeters which are supposed to provide you with maximally clear and sharp high notes, with the package itself being extremely loud if necessary. It's hard to tell exactly how loud without more thorough testing, though the internet giant claims that the device is 20 times more powerful than the 2016 Google Home. While that may seem like a lot, there's no denying that the Google Home sounds like a toy compared to the newly announced product and it's not like the original model wasn't touted as one of the best speakers in its price range last year, so Google most certainly outdid itself this time around.

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To make the premium package even more impressive, the Google Home Max is the company's first audio device with Smart Sound, an artificial intelligence-powered technology allowing it to determine its relative position in a room and adjust its performance so as to fill its entire surroundings with rich audio. In practice, this means that you can literally pick up your Google Home Max and place it somewhere else in the room and it will dynamically recalibrate itself in order to account for its new location and figure out how to maximize its acoustic potential. It sounds impressive in theory and doesn't disappoint in practice, though it remains to be seen how the speaker's automatic reconfiguration systems will perform in environments that are less controlled than Google's convention venues. Finally, this is is still a full-fledged member of the Google Home product family in the sense that it's compatible with the Google Assistant and hence just as capable of helping you perform everyday tasks, discover information, and manage your IoT devices as its predecessor was.

Whether all of that's enough to justify the $399.99 price tag is hard to tell and will probably depend on your exact preferences. Sure, few people really need a $400 speaker but if you have some disposable income at hand and are seeking a high-quality audio experience that warrants little to no compromises and raises the bar in terms of overall versatility and functionality, the Google Home Max certainly seems like one of the best products that money will be able to buy this holiday season. On the other hand, first impressions can often be misleading, especially when relatively new technologies are concerned, so waiting for actual reviews before jumping on the pre-order train is probably the wisest thing to do here.