Google Home Review – what a digital assistant can do for you
Typing is for chumps.
Savvy techies today are talking to their devices, using their voices to interact with technology, rather than typing commands into a web browser online. You’ll see it in a series of new smart home digital assistants; Amazon’s Echo (not yet available in Canada) Apple’s soon-to-be-revealed Home, and of course Google’s Home device is now available in Canada.
What is Google Home?
Google Home is a voice-activated speaker that’s able to provide hands-free help from
the Google Assistant. You can ask it questions, or get it to do things for you just by starting your instructions with “Ok Google”.
The device is a small slightly tapered cylinder with a flat angled top. Hidden in that top are two small microphones which are always listening for you to call it into action.
The flat top also hides a small coloured LED light display which shows when the device is working or responds when you are using the touch pad which is also embedded in that flat top to turn up the volume for example. I really like the fact there that there are a whole host of controls hidden in the device yet not a single button that’s visible.
Customize Google Home
You can also get custom coloured bases to match your taste and decor. While a gray-ish coloured base and white top worked just fine for my mid century modern aesthetic, there are many other fun options available which I’d look at also.
What can Google Home do?
There’s an ever growing list of what Google Home can do:
- Play music from popular music services by artist, song, genre, album, playlist, mood, or activity
- Get the latest news
- Listen to popular podcasts; just ask for the one you want
- Listen to radio stations
- Control TVs and speakers
- Ask for traffic and travel times
- Ask for current weather or forecasts
- Get your schedule for the day from Google Calendar
- Get status updates on your upcoming flight
- Set, pause, check, resume, and cancel timers and alarms
- Add items to your Shopping list and check what’s already on it
- Ask about current individual stock prices or current points of an index, like NASDAQ
- Ask for sorts scores, live updates, or next game date, location, and time
- Perform complicated calculations
- Get translations for words or phrases in supported languages
- Get unit & measurement conversions
- Get nutrition information for ingredients or food
- Get definitions and spellings for words
- Control your home
- Control your thermostats — Control the temperature with supported smart thermostats
- Control your lights — Turn on/off, dim, and check if lights are on with supported smart bulbs
- Control your plugs — Turn on/off devices around your home with supported smart plugs
- IFTTT – If this, then that — Control countless online services and third-party smart devices that aren’t directly integrated
Reviewing Google Home – Set up
Getting the Google Home device set up is ultra easy. Just plug in the power cord and it boots up right away. You’ll download the Google Home app, then launch it. The app should find your device immediately, as mine did, then it will connect to Wi-Fi, and ask you if you’d like to sign into your Google or Gmail account. After running a short firmware update, it’s ready to go.
Once that’s ready it will walk you through a short tutorial on the Google Home app.
Just say, “OK Google”
You can ask it to tell you the weather, or ask it how your day is going to go and you’ll get a time temperature and weather update along with the latest news cast. All you have to do is preface your request with “OK Google”.
Google Home is your own private DJ
Ask it to play you some music and it will automatically put something on thanks to Google Play Music… There’s also a free 14 day trial of the music app so you can really see what you’ll get and how well Google’s Assistant can play to your tastes. From jazz, to pop, ambient, rock and rap, Google Home was able to play me a random selection of music from a variety of genres.
Play soothing sounds with Google Home
I found myself talking to the Google Home constantly. It was just so much easier to call out instructions for it to set a timer, than to fuss with my phone.
Also getting quick answers from the home device about things like measurement or recipe conversions, a quick check of the weather or other instant information was super handy. I was also surprised and impressed by how often the device was able to help me. I know sometimes with Siri or OK Google you’ll simply get a, “sorry I did not understand your request” response. I would say 99% of my requests to the Google Home device were answered and resolved.
Google Assistants don’t compete
I also noticed that when I was in a room with one of my Android smartphones, when I did issue the OK Google command, it seemed as though the speaker would take over. I could see my phone screen lighting up with the Google Assistant, but it’s as though the devices were speaking telepathically to each other and the Home device was taking command. I don’t know if I’d always want that to be the case, but in my testing it was exactly what I wanted and what I got.
Google Home is quick & responsive
I found the response time for the device to be nearly instant. From the time I requested a command to the time it was able to execute it was just a split second. That was even true if I was trying to make a request over loud music or other ambient noise in the room.
One thing I was grateful for what is that the device could hear me not just in my shared open concept living room dining room kitchen area, but from pretty much any place on the main floor of my house. That meant I could get a lot of versatility out of it despite having it placed at one end of the main floor.
Getting reliant on Google Home
I found myself becoming increasingly dependent on the device because it was so easy and fast. There was no need to seek out my phone, enter the passcode to unlock the device, then open an internet window to perform a Google search. Using Google Home meant that all the tasks I would normally rush to my smartphone for could be done standing in the middle of a room without clicks or typing.
Google Play Music trial
I also got attached very quickly to Google play music. The system will give you a 14 day free trial one to unboxed and set up the device. After that you have the option of another three months free trial, but that requires inputting your credit card number. Billing only begins after the three month trial has expired. Google Home works with Spotify, Google Play Music and tunein radio.
When I wanted some music on it was super easy to request a vibe or genre and have the device seek out playlists and curated songs without me having to search for something. If I wanted something chill I ask for chill. Poppy and upbeat? No problem. Smooth jazz? Old school jazz? Upbeat jazz? Gospel? You name it you can get it all just by asking your new personal assistant.
I have a fairly extensive music library on my devices, so I have not experimented too deeply with music streaming services, even the popular ones like apple music and Spotify. So in our way this was a whole new experience for me and I loved it.
It will integrate with your Android Smart phone
If you have an Android Smart phone, the Google Home device can integrate with your smart phone to pass on important information to you if you want. Primarily, it can access your calendar to give you a snapshot of the day as you wake up in the morning. Just ask the device to tell you about your day.
Real-time data and information
When asking for updates on things like time, temperature, traffic, or weather information, all the information is current. Asking for a check of the news will bring up the most recently hourly newscasts from a couple of different news sources. It’s not as though you’re getting information that is hours or even a day old.
How to control smart home devices with Google Home
It’s no secret to regular readers I love smart home gadgets. I’m pleased integrating my many smart home devices is easy with Google Home.
A whole host of devices can integrate with the Google Home; I paired my LIFX smart light bulbs as well as my Philips Hue kit. Set up is easy, though it must be done in the app; the Assistant can’t get you set up. For the How-To, read my blog “How to set up smart home devices with Google Home“ here on the blog.
Getting smart home devices to work is easy, just ask the Google Assistant to help you by saying, “Turn on the Living Room lights,” “dim the lights”. it’s also possible to adjust colours of smart lights by asking, though I struggled with the Assistant being able to recognize the custom colours I’d set up like “Warm bright light” or “New Mexico sunset”.
Overall review of Google Home
When I first started reading about home speaker-slash-assistants I honestly thought, ‘who needs that?’ It wasn’t until I tried this device that I became an instant convert.
It’s so easy to ask for tasks, searches and commands than to seek out a smartphone or tablet or computer, and sit down to type.
The Google Assistant is able to execute virtually every task I’ve thrown at it, so I’ve been really impressed with how useful it’s become in a short time.
I’m already working on integrating more of my smart home devices into Google Home so I can have full control, just by asking. The hardest part about getting smart home gear to work with Google Home is remembering the proper names of the lights so Google Home knows exactly which device to control.
Google Home speaker & digital assistant sells for $179 CAD from places like Best Buy and Google’s online shop.