Google Home Review

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Google Home is potential personified. An intelligent speaker that can do a lot right now, but has the potential for so much more.

That sentence may seem like I am underwhelmed, but it’s actually quite the opposite. I am incredibly excited by its potential and what the future may hold for Google’s artificially intelligent speaker.

That’s assuming Google doesn’t ditch the platform, like they have with a few of their prior hardware ventures. But I don’t think that will happen, Google has far too much time, effort, and cash invested in what they call “Google Assistant” to let it go the way of Google Glass, or the Nexus Q. I believe Google Home is here to stay. Even if the hardware fails to sell, Google Assistant will live on as a service. Google Assistant is the heart of Google Home and is essentially the next iteration of Google Now, Google’s ever-evolving voice assistant.

Google took the lid off of its Amazon Echo competitor at 2016’s Google I/O conference. But that was but merely a preview of the Google Home platform. The real unveiling came just a few months later at Google’s Pixel event. Google Home and Assistant were heavily featured throughout the opening keynote.

Always Listening

Listen, and understand! Google Home is out there! It can’t be bargained with. It can’t be reasoned with. It doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop… ever, until you get your answer!

– Direct quote from The Terminator

These always listening voice assistants are new (relatively speaking), and I’m not sure if everyone is eager to embrace such an intrusive technology. Google Home, as well as Amazons Echo, are going to generate some kind of emotion. It’s hard not to feel a slight personal connection with something you can talk to, even if it’s only semi-human like. I actually felt semi-guilty for asking it so many unrelenting (and stupid) questions. Most of us aren’t used to this level of artificial intelligence just yet. I even found myself saying please after I gave it a command. It may not seem like an emotional product, but it does have the ability to generate some unique emotions that I haven’t felt in many tech products.

I could see the always listening aspect of Google Home being bothersome to a distinct segment of the population. You won’t see Google Home on the desks of many conspiracy theorists. If you think 9/11 was an inside job, and have a constant fear of big brother looking over your shoulder, Google Home is not going to be for you. If you’re not open to an always listening microphone inside your home, or you’re worried Google is selling your conversations about your favorite Netflix shows to the Russians, then Google Home is obviously not for you.

All kidding aside, Google Home probably isn’t for everyone, especially right now. Always listening issues aside, until the platform matures a bit, non-tech enthusiasts may come away a bit underwhelmed with Google Home as a whole. But we will get into that in a little bit.

Design

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Call it an air freshener, a candle, or an urn, whatever, design is completely subjective. But you can’t say the design isn’t unique. Personally, I’m a fan of its sleek, geometric and symmetrical appearance. Careful thought was given to the industrial design and considerations about matching your home’s decor, which is more than you can say about the competition. It’s at least nice to have the option. All Google Home devices come with a gray fabric base by default, but you can pick up a different color base from the Google Store if you need some color in your life. The bases come in a total of six separate color variations (3 colored fabrics and 3 colored metal bases) and can be had for $20 a pop.

The slanted top of the device features an array of 12 multi-colored led dots that represent variousstates of operation. The dots will change based on a given function. A circular array of 11 white dots will display when changing volume, and a spinning array of 4 colored dots when Google Home is listening or thinking. These are the most common examples, but the dots also represent several other device functions. The dots are a subtle and unobtrusive way to recognize when Google Home is paying attention or giving a response.

Features and Performance

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So what can you do with Google Home? Quite a bit actually (if it’s in a good location), but you’re going to need to wait for the platform to mature a bit before we see its true potential. To make optimal use of Google Home you’re going to have to put it in a common area of your home or buy more than one device. I figured the best location for my home was our kitchen. Our kitchen is within easy voice range of our family room and dining room. It’s where we spend the majority of our time when we are home. It’s also where we are most likely to use Google Home. Music and unit conversions when we are cooking, asking about the weather when we leave the house, and entertainment for our daughter when she is eating breakfast. Picking the most useful location is key.

Google Home is really good at answering fact-based questions. Need to know how many cups are in a quart? How far away the sun is from earth? What’s the weather like? What was the score of the game? Google Home can handle these types of questions with ease. It can also carry on a conversation about a given subject if you ask the right questions. Home is contextually aware of what you are talking about and doesn’t forget what you were doing before your conversation began. If you were listening to music before going off on a tangent about the size of the universe, Google Home will remember the song you were listening too and resume playback when you are finished with your search for random knowledge.

Google Home can tell you about your upcoming appointments, and give you a low down about all of the happenings around the globe. You can configure preferred news sources, sports news sources, and even preferred music sources. If you prefer Spotify to Google Play Music, you can set it as the default music source. So you won’t need to say “Play my rock playlist from Spotify” it will simply go there by default. But you can use any music service (YouTube, Googe Play, Spotify, Pandora) at any given time as long as you specify the service in your request. As of this writing, all Google Home devices come with a six-month trial to YouTube Red, which also includes a six-month trial to YouTube Musc and Google Play music (awesome freebie).

Another cool feature of Google Home is its ability to act as if it’s a Chromecast Audio device. If you can stream audio to Chromecast, you can probably stream the same audio to your Home. This essentially eliminates the need to connect your phone via Bluetooth (excluding phone calls). Just cast the audio source to Home and you are good to go. I actually prefer this method to standard Bluetooth, it allows for multiple users without the hassle of pairing/unpairing. Plus your phone isn’t tied down, you can leave the room or the house without having to worry about your connection dropping. I wish every speaker had this ability.

Google Home is also reasonably fast to answer your quires, but it greatly depends on the complexity of the request. Easy questions and playing songs, don’t take much effort, but the more complex the question the longer it’s going to take to figure it out. But it’s still going to be significantly faster than pulling out your phone and typing the question into the search box.

We’re just scratching the surface of what Google Home is capable of, you can expect a slew of new and 3rd party features to start popping up in 2017, once Google releases the API. Here is a list of just about everything Google Home is capable of. It seems like a lot, and it is, but Google Home/Assistant is far from complete.

Google Assistant is pretty damn smart, but it also has aways to go before it becomes an indispensable part of your daily life. There’s still a bunch of things Google Home just cannot do yet. You can tell Home to send a YouTube video to your TV (via Chromecast) which is awesome, but that is pretty much it in terms of video. I’d imagine Netflix support isn’t too far off, but it’s not there yet. Even though several functions were touted at Google I/O, many of them are not available at launch. You can’t make a call, send a text, or add an event to your calendar. In other words, functions you’d expect to be there, are currently missing. I’m sure these features are very high on Google’s to-do list, but the fact that they aren’t there at launch is going to disappoint a bunch of people. Home (currently) also lacks the ability to use multiple Google accounts on one device, so unless you have more than one Home device in your household, someone is going to need to be the primary account. This is number one on my list of needed/wanted features. Google says they are working on it, but there isn’t a timetable as of yet.

Google Home can also control most of the”smart things” around your house. I had no problem integrating my Phillips Hue bulbs to work with Home.  It can easily turn on/off or dim any of the light I have in my home. Set-up might require a bit of configuring to get it right, but once you have it the way you want it, it just works, so I’ll take that.

The hardware is solid, but the software still needs some time to evolve. It will get better with time, no question. But for now, with no real timetable for device updates, you’re just gonna have to wait. It would seriously surprise me if just about everything listed above isn’t addressed within the next six months or so. On the same note, if a multi-user update was pushed tomorrow, I wouldn’t be surprised. The goods are coming, just be patient.

Sound Quality

Google Home is smaller than I thought it would be, that being said, I think its sound quality and power are quite admirable for such a small device. It sounds like a high-quality Bluetooth speaker. It provides pretty great, room filling sound. It doesn’t have exceptional bass, but it is a pretty decent all around speaker. It’s no Bose Soundlink Mini, but all things considered, it’s still a great value, even if you only used it as a semi-portable (non-wireless) speaker.

Final Words

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Should you buy Google Home? Well, it’s not a quite a “yes or no” answer. If you like being on the cutting edge, or if you’re an early adopter, absolutely. It’s seriously cool as hell, and only going to get better. For the non-tech savvy crowd or your average consumer, I would also have to say yes, but with a few caveats. You need to understand that you are buying a product that is both finished and unfinished. Home doesn’t feel rushed, everything works perfectly from a functionality perspective, the hardware is finished, but the software (Google Assistant) is still developing and will continue to evolve. So if you’re willing to put up with that, then sure. It’s a fantastic conversation starter and is sure to wow just about everyone, tech enthusiasts and common consumers alike.

Google Home is priced right too. For $129, it’s $50 cheaper than its Amazon counterpart (the Echo Dot basically requires another speaker) and less focused on Amazon’s enclosed ecosystem, which might be good or bad for you. I think you are getting a tremendous value, especially if you are already a subscriber to one of Home’s featured music services. It’s only a matter of time before it’s ease of use is eclipsed by its usefulness.