The Google Home Max is the first smart speaker we've seen with serious audio performance.

Finally, there's a smart speaker where the "speaker" part is as important as the "smart." If you're interested in big, room-filling sound with voice control, the Google Home Max ($399) is your best bet right now. Measuring 7.5 by 13.3 by 6.1 inches (HWD), the Home Max is available in white/light gray ("chalk") or black/gray ("charcoal") models.

It's rather heavy, weighing in at 11.7 pounds, but that's fine since it isn't meant to be portable. Adjusting the volume is done using the touch-sensitive surface that runs lengthwise along with the speaker's top panel—slide your finger left to lower or right to raise the volume. These levels work in conjunction with your mobile device's master levels when you are connected via Bluetooth. The center of this panel, demarcated with a short straight line, is the play/pause button.

We found these controls to be exceptionally responsive, but, of course, you can also just talk to the Home Max. You can say, "set volume," from one to ten, or use percentages. Along with the back panel, there's a mic switch—this turns the mic for Google Assistant and the speakerphone on and off. The speaker utilizes an array of six far-field mics to pick up your voice commands from a distance.

Max isn't just a speaker, of course. It's a Google Assistant speaker. You set it up using the Google Home app on your Android or iOS phone (yes, you need a phone) and then can say, "Hey, Google," to play music, control smart home devices, or answer internet-based queries.

The Google Home Max is the best smart audio experience you're going to get right now. While new smart home brands and third-party skills still come to Alexa first, Amazon doesn't have an integrated solution that satisfies people who want a true bookshelf speaker, or a stereo pair that can fill a big room.

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