Google has become indispensable, it’s the first place you go whenever you need to find information on anything. Its on our computers, on our phones and for the lucky few, they have it in their cars and wrist. Now Google wants to be in our homes and apartments and the company believes its new $129 (UGX 460,000) voice activated speaker and is exactly how its doing it.
It’s not impossible to talk about Google Home without also talking about Amazon’s Echo, –a product we thought was doomed from day one–, but looks like Amazon proved us wrong. One thing is for sure, both these products are very similar. Both are voice activated connected smart-speakers; they can play music, control a bunch of smart-home devices (bulbs, TVs), add things to your to-do list or shopping list, and do a bunch of web searches all with just your voice.
” It doesn’t stick out as an obvious piece of gadgetry”
Google seems to have further ambitions for Home that go beyond what Amazon’s currently doing, but lets start by understanding the device it’s self. Compared to the Echo, the Home is shorter and as we’ve said before, it looks more like a home air freshener. Well that’s not a bad thing as it makes it easy to integrate into home and it doesn’t stick out as an obvious piece of gadgetry. It’s only available in white but you can buy various fabric and metal shells that come in different colors so that you can customize with your home decor. Also, and here is the sad news, its not being sold out side the US for now but you and always get in online in various ways if you feel like it.
On top of the Home, there is a touch panel that lets you control volume, play or pause your music and activate the speaker’s listening feature. Google also Integrated some far-field microphones so that it can hear you from across the room. You can activate it with just your voice by saying “Okay Google” or “Hey Google” and it can apparently hear you when you are playing music or other audio.
For those who have used both the Home and the Echo report that these two are head-to -head when used as Smart-speakers. It can fill a room with sound, and in addition to the built in sources of; Google Music, YouTube Music and Spotify, you can cast audio to it from your smartphone or laptop. More sources say that its not the kind of speaker you will use to drive a house party, but for everyday listening, it does the trick. Now if you do want more power you can send the Home’s audio to a Chromecast that is connected to a larger speaker. You just say “Hey Google Play Iryne Ntale’s music” on your Chromecast audio and the music will shift right over.
Google has made these speakers to be able to speak to each other in case you have more than one in your house. You can pair multiple Home devices and simultaneously play music through all of them. In addition Google has added the capability of sending video from a Home to a Chromecast, but it is limited to only YouTube at the moment.
Finally, the Home can also control smart-home gadgets. Right now it supports Nest (a smart thermostat), Phillip’s Hue smart bulbs and Smart Things, which means you can control your thermostat, your lights and other gadgets with just your voice.
Google Assist, Powered by the search engine
The biggest thing that sets the Home apart from the competition is that its powered by Google Assist that sits on top of Google’s powerful search engine. This means you can ask it any of the things you would usual search for on the computer and get similar results. For example you can ask, “Hey Google How long will it take me to walk to Jinja from Kampala“.
Even better Google Home is built such that you can remember the context in which you ask it, the same way it works in Allo, their Chat messaging app. You can ask it, “Hey Google, Who is the president of Uganda” and of course she will tell you his name but with out mentioning his name again, you can also ask a follow up question like “Hey Google, when was he born?” and she will answer accordingly assuming it has the answer. You can also further ask a follow up question “Hey Google, who was the president before him“. The only thing that spoils this experience is that you have to say “Hey Google” before you ask it a new question. But, we think it will be a good way for parents to teach or learn with their kids at home in the future.
The Bad Things
There are limitations to Google’s smart speaker, apart from the the obvious privacy concerns, the Home can only work with only one Google account at a time. This means it’s really hard to use it as a family device. For example, if your spouse asks Google Home (which is connected to your account) to add something to their to do list, you will also be able to see this list on your devices and your spouse won’t see it on theirs. Google says that it is working on this and it does plan to add multiple account support in the future.
You also can’t do things with the Google Home that you are used to doing with your smartphone such as sending messages or making phone calls. She will most likely give you a “Sorry I can’t send messages yet” response.
Google really want’s its home to be the access point to its services in your house, for all those times when your hands are full or when you are not looking at a screen. Right now, its mostly just a better Echo; it looks nicer, easy to set up and with Google Assist, it is a it more reliable. But the Ultimate question remains are you ready to have an always listening Google bar in your house?
Image Credit: The Verge