Voice assistant services have infiltrated nearly every aspect of technology, but it has profoundly been more prevalent in smartphones. Its usefulness continues to grow thanks in part to iterative improvements that have made them “smarter” over time, however, it’s still going to be a while before it gets to the same level as Star Trek’s voice assisted system. Regardless of that, we’ve already begun to see voice assistant services moving into the home space – like Alexa, Amazon’s voice service powering its Echo speaker.
For a long time now, Google has been refining its own voice assistant service in its mobile devices, but just like Amazon, they see a promising future in the home. And that’s where Google Home comes to light, which just like the Amazon Echo, is aiming to go beyond being just a smart voice assistant services by commanding your audio, delivering relevant answers to queries, learn more about you, and integrate seamlessly with other smart connected devices in the home.
It’s the first step, but is it a good one?
Unlike the Amazon Echo, Google Home opts for a more inviting design that allows it to blend into wherever it’s placed – without being too obstructive in the process, or clashing with other décor lying around. It’s a stark contrast to the hard-lines of the very distinctive speaker design of the Amazon Echo. That’s a good thing, especially more so if you prefer a more homely styling, as opposed to how our electronic gadgets can sometimes be pervasive and overrun our spaces.
It’s diminutive in size and features a peculiar looking shape, one that can be mistaken for one of those Glade air fresheners you might find throughout a home. Adding to its warm and inviting design, the bottom compartment of the Google Home that’s shielding its array of speakers feature a mesh-like fabric, which does a better job we feel in complementing your furniture. And if you want some customization, the base can be swapped out for other colors to match the ambiance of where it’s going to be placed.
The apparent emphasis of favoring a discrete design continues in how the Google Home has a clean look to it, such in the way you won’t find a ton of buttons on it. In fact, there’s only a single one used to mute the microphones. Looking at the top surface, it appears completely flush and free of any buttons, with the exception of two small holes used for its far-field microphones, but it’s been ingeniously designed with touch controls. When we place a finger on it, the embedded LEDs light up to indicate the volume level – or alternatively, it’ll light up in those familiar Google Assistant colors when you speak the activation phrase (okay Google).
All of this helps Google Home to come off as being innocuous with its design, favoring simplicity and discreteness above all. Those characteristics alone, propel it to integrate nicely with other furniture and décor. The only thing you’ll need to decide is where to place it, just because it requires a constant power source via its power chord. At first, we felt as though it was restrictive, but given its always-on premise, it makes perfect sense going with this implementation.
Software and Performance
You’re going to need to download the new Google Home app to initially connect it to your home network, and subsequently, it’s also the hub that allows us to link various services to it. The setup process is a breeze, so once it’s connected to your Wi-Fi network, all that’s left to do is tell Google Home what to do by speaking the activation phrase; “okay Google.” Unfortunately, this can’t be customized at all, so if you have other Google Assistant activated devices around, they’ll also be initiated by this verbal command. We will also say that Google Home can’t distinguish one voice over another, so if you happen to be watching a video when someone says “okay Google,” Google Home will initiate and listen for a command.
Being a Google product and all, there’s no surprise at all that it integrates seamlessly with most of Google’s services. That means playing songs via Google Play Music, watching a YouTube video on your TV through Chromecast, and leveraging all the power of Google Assistant. Anyone that has used the Google Pixel will know Google Assistant’s effectiveness in delivering relevant actions and answers, so there’s nothing out of the ordinary here with Google Home. You ask questions, it’ll try and produce answers. Trivia, of course, seems to be the kind of thing Google Home was bred to handle, since it’s tied intimately to Google’s Knowledge Graph – a service that enhances searches using information procured through various sources.
For example, Wikipedia is heavily source when asking things like “who signed the declaration of independence?” Right now, its functionality is limited, seeing that it can’t yet do simple voice assistant functions such as asking it to read our last text message, or read the last email sent to us. Despite that, it’s always learning and evolving, such in the case when we ask it obscure questions, such as “what’s my favorite camera?” Google Home follows it up by asking what’s your favorite camera, which we then proceed to say, and then it ends by saying it’ll remember that.
Impressively enough, Google Home’s far-field microphones do an excellent job of recognizing our voice – even while it’s playing a song. It’s accurate in deciphering “okay Google” even while it’s playing tunes on high volume, and it then proceeds to lower the volume to listen to our voice command.
While all of this is fine and dandy, it’s just the tip of the iceberg, so even though its support for services is still rather light, you know that it’ll be only time before it reaches the same level as the Amazon Echo. Music services supported out of the gate include Google Play Music, YouTube, Spotify, and Pandora, but Amazon Prime Music is noticeably absent – no shocker there!
Another intriguing prospect about Google Home is how it’s able to integrate with connected devices in the home. So far, that support extends to only a few products consisting of Google Chromecast, Nest, Philips Hue, and SmartThings. That’s not a whole lot, which is a shame because right now, for us to be exact, Google Home is mainly a stationary speaker first and foremost with a very light voice assistant service. We have several other connected devices in the home, such as the Ring Doorbell, other network connected speakers, and a couple of Piper’s all-in-one security camera system.
Google Home can’t integrate with them yet, but Google promises to get more devices supported over time – so to that degree, there’s hope on the horizon for its support grow. Faster would be better, naturally.
Don’t underestimate its diminutive size for a moment! Yes, its quaint design might lead you to believe otherwise about its punch, but we’re astounded by how much bite that comes along with that punch. Right from the get-go, there’s no hiding its preference for the audio in the low ranges – producing a thumping level of bass in the process. That noticeable hum is evident even at the lowest volume setting, so if you’re the kind of person that loves the beats, you won’t be disappointed by Google Home’s punchy quality.
Conversely, though, its quality is tested when it’s placed to its highest volume level. Even though the roar of the bass continues to be distinguishable, its speaker array seems to be inept in retaining a moderate, clean tone at the loudest setting. You get a sense that it’s straining, which makes for an unpleasant listenting experience, so we wouldn’t recommend adjusting it any higher that ¾ of its volume level.
The beauty of Google Home, though, is that multiple units can be arranged throughout a space to deliver a unison audio experience. Meaning, all Google Home speakers connected in the space will play the same song simultaneously, which is one way to delivering a better audio experience throughout a space – as opposed to cranking a single one to the max, which would be a lot more unpleasant.
Should you buy the Google Home?
There’s a promising future for Google Home, even with its price tag of $129.99. Indeed, that might be a hefty sum for a speaker by itself, but the lure of it being the ambassador for the home with its voice assistant service is enough to recommend it – just as long as it continues to add support for various services and home-connected products in a timely manner. In its current form, however, some will certainly say that it pales in comparison to what Alexa is able to provide with the Amazon Echo.
From its warm and inviting design, to its astounding immersive audio quality, Google Home is a pleasant complement to the home. While it’s not entirely integrated with Google’s ecosystem yet, you know that it won’t be long before it can do additional functions – such as read your last text message, scour old emails for reference, and even behave more like a human with some of its responses. Obviously, if you’re the kind of person that religiously uses voice assistant services, Google Home is a no-brainer complement to how we live and interact with our devices in the home. However, if you’re not, then it’ll be nothing more than just another audio speaker to you.