Google Home-Since the search giant launched its first smart amplifier at this time last year. Now, finally, Google has a bunch of smart headphones to rival Amazon with a smaller, cheaper unit to keep up with the bigger Google Home.
The time has come, too. Until now, if you want to dip your finger in the water from the smart speakers – but you’re not sure if it is for you – the only way to try it for less than £ 100 was the “Echo Dot” of £ 49, the drug portal The price in the Alexa universe.
Google Home Design and features
The Home reminds us a little of a nesting doll that’s had its top shorn off at an angle. It’s white and comes with a gray base, but for another $20 you can get orange, purple, or teal fabric, and $40 will get you a metal version in black, white, or copper. They actually have fancier names, but we’re not going to call something mango and expect you to know what we’re talking about.
The angled top is touch-sensitive and illuminates with multi-colored dots when you summon the device with an “OK, Google” or “Hey, Google,” the phrases that signal it should start listening. You can use the surface to change the volume, start a request, play or pause music, or turn off an alarm or timer. There’s a microphone button in the back, so you can ensure the device isn’t listening.
Getting Google Home up and running takes just minutes. We downloaded the iOS Google Home app (obviously also available for Android), added the device, and were walked through a few basics on our phone. Then it was ready to start doing our bidding.
Tell me all your thoughts
It’s only natural to compare the Home and the Dot, which sits right next to it in our one of our test living rooms. The first thing we noticed is that saying “Hey, Google” feels less personal than asking Alexa for information or assistance. That being said, the Home knows its name. One DT staffer tried to rouse it by calling it “Noodle” and got no answer. It also doesn’t listen when we call it Goober. We wish it did, though. We’d feel like it’s a little less formal.
The Home is quite good at figuring out exactly what you’re asking, even if you don’t phrase it a super-logical way. We did a head-to-head comparison between it and Alexa, and while the Amazon speaker added a jacket to our shopping list when we asked if we needed a coat, the Home gave us a weather report. Google pulls from its knowledge graph to answer questions, and it often results in more detailed answers than Alexa gives. That said, sometimes the top answer is a bit out of date or incomplete. When we asked for the seven wonders of the world, for example, Google Home listed a couple and then said: “and others.”
The Google Home initially called us “Caleb” when we said good morning because at the time you could only have one account linked at a time. When we were first testing it out, we had to do a factory reset on it (by holding down the microphone button for 15 seconds) to delete our Senior Editor’s account, because he’d gotten his mitts on it first. Now, up to six people can have their own accounts, and the speaker uses Voice Match to tell who’s who. That means we get our responses linked to our accounts, like music, flight information, and shopping lists. While Amazon Alexa now has this feature, Google Home was the first to implement it.
Google Home Assistant
Google Assistant now has six different voices to choose from, including a male voice, which is something that Alexa doesn’t yet have. Soon, Google will be adding the voice of John Legend as a choice as well. In addition, a just-announced “continued conversation” feature allows you to ask a follow-up question while having a conversation with Google Assistant without having to repeat “Ok Google” or “Hey Google”. Alexa has a similar ability, called “follow-up mode,” but you have enabled it in the Alexa app.
Alexa launched with limited ability to control smart-home devices, and Google Home started with a similar small number: Philips Hue bulbs, SmartThings devices, Nest, and If This Then That recipes. Now Google says Home works with more than 5,000 devices. That list includes the August smart locks, Neato Botvac robot vacuum, and a GE washing machine. Google also has a Routines feature, which allows you to ask Google Assistant to perform multiple actions with a single command.
Home goes beyond just bulbs and thermostats, though, working with your Chromecast to stream content to your TV. That means you can toss videos or photos up on your TV, a way to get around the device’s lack of a screen. You can also play Google Play movies with your Home device.
Recently, Google started allowing users to turn the speaker into a hands-free phone. It can call any number in the U.S., except 911. It’s handy but can get a little frustrating when your sister changes her name and shows up as two different contacts and Google keeps asking which one you wanted to call. Finally, just shouting, “The first one!” works.
Crank it up
Google Home supports Google Play Music, YouTube Music, Spotify, iHeartRadio, and Pandora. You can select a default player to handle all your music-related requests so that you don’t have to specify an app each time. We linked a Spotify account and asked Google Home to play our “‘Ello, Charlie” playlist,
which is the one we made for our sister when she was giving birth. We specifically chose it because Alexa has trouble playing that one (we suspect the apostrophe is the culprit), but the Home had no trouble firing it up.
As a speaker, the Home may not be able to top the Echo or Echo Tap, but considering its intended use, we think most folks will find it sounds just fine. Don’t get too excited about the notion of 360-degree audio,
though. While the Home does use passive drivers to emit sound in multiple directions, it has hot and cold spots. Still, especially if placed near a corner, the Home can deliver a room-filling punch.
What can’t it do?
Right now, the Home’s biggest limitation is its “skills.” Alexa seems to gain skills at the rate of one per second, and it has more than 500,000 now. Some of these skills are pretty gimmicky, and you do have to enable them to use them. The Home just adds them as it gets them, which means you probably don’t even know what you have access to.
If you go into the Home app, hit menu, and press the Explore button, you’ll see all sorts of skills. Food Network can give you recipes, Domino’s can order you a pizza, and you can get nutrition facts. There are non-food-related capabilities, too, like reminders, sports scores, and dad jokes. Google also features a bunch of kids’ content, like stories and games, including Disney-related tales.
Overall, it’s come a long way since its debut. It quickly caught up to where the Echo was after a year in terms of smart-home control, and it keeps adding features that go way beyond skills. The Voice Match and calling are both great additions, and now there are a couple of new additions to the Home lineup.
Is there a better alternative to Google Home ?
In case you can’t tell, the $129 Google Home’s biggest competition is the range of Alexa products from Amazon, including the new $100 Echo and the $50 Dot. If you’re looking for a screen, the $230 Echo Show is the only way to go right now, although several third parties, including Lenovo, are launching displays with Google Assistant built-in later this year. But it also has some competition from its own backyard, with the Google Home Mini and Home Max.
How long will it last?
In the immediate future, Google Home should only get better with new software updates and more third-party integration. But we can’t promise the company won’t eventually roll out a newer version with a screen.
Should you buy it ( Google Home ) ?
Yes. If you have a Chromecast, Google Home is the clear choice over an Alexa device. Amazon is rolling out some new competition, but we think Google Home has Alexa beat when it comes to what’s on the inside, namely, Google Assistant.