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8.1
Google Home Review | Tech Thursdays
Overall
Google Home is a heavy featured tech package that is easy to use, but not all that useful for all.

The voice-activated tech assistant industry is rapidly escalating.  Many companies have or are working on their own version of a virtual assistant.  Take a look at Amazon’s Echo, Apple’s Home Pod, or Samsung’s Bixby.

Google recently entered the voice activated speaker battle with its own entry: Google Home.

Quick Specs

MSRP: $179.99 CAD

Where to Buy: Best Buy

Release Date: June 26, 2017

What is Google Home?

Google Home is defined by Google themselves as a hands-free Google Assistant.  The device itself is essentially a stationary speaker that provides answers to commands given via a built-in microphone

What Does it Do?

A lot actually.  Think of this as Google in robot form.  Instead of you having to physically type into a search engine and being provided a response via a Search Engine Results page, you verbally ask Google Home and you are in-turn spoken to.  One of the most popular uses for Google is of course simple answers for simple questions.  You can ask it:

  • To calculate something
  • To define a word
  • To provide relevant or irrelevant facts and information such as what temperature does gold melt at (because who doesn’t want to know that). Let Google Home settle the score between you and your significant other about bits of trivia.
  • To tell you about itself – it will give you suggestions about how best to use it
  • To provide nutritional information
  • To tell you to score of a sports game
  • To translate a word
  • To convert to Fahrenheit or Celsius
Google home review tasks

In addition to being a fully functional Google Search Engine, it can do a lot more of the productive tasks in life such as: set alarms, set a timer for cooking, add groceries to shopping lists, add and check your agenda, check the weather or traffic.  Or you can be less productive and ask it to play music, change the channel, dim the lights, decrease the temperature in the room, play built in games, cheer you up, and more!  This is just a broad range of what the little Google machine can do.

 

How Does it Work?

Google Home operates primarily via microphones and speakers.  Google claims that it will hear you reliably with its “far-field” microphones and has industry leading natural language processing so you won’t have to talk like a robot.  Google Home speaks via a Hi-Fi (high-excursion) speaker for clear and rich sounding response or music.

To interact with Google Home, start by saying, “OK, Google” then follow this with a command or question.

Setup

The setup process isn’t too hectic.  For the most part, like all new tech items these days, you plug it in, download an app, and follow the on-screen instructions.  There will likely be a few accounts you currently use that you want to sync to your Google Home such as Netflix, but Google will also highly suggest you sign up for a few other services.  Some of these services are required for the full enjoyment of your device while others can be done without.  If you would like Google Home to play a specific song, you will need to have a Spotify or Google Music Account; both of these require annual or monthly payments for the premium versions.  You will likely find yourself looking up several different “how-tos” for setting up and linking other tech such as dimmer lights, but Google Home can help you with that too.

What We Think

Setup

The setup took some scrounging around (consequently on Google Home) in order to get everything up to speed and we still aren’t fully integrated with everything in our home!  It was a little frustrating that I had to change from my default Samsung calendar, email, and music apps to the Google counterparts in order to fully integrate our experience with Google Home.  Google obviously wants to suck you in deeper into their Google product family; this is both brilliant and frustrating.  Though not too far off, Google does manage to offer some customizability in comparison to the claws that Apple digs into its users.

Voice Recognition

Google Home definitely gets me.  She (Even though Google Home self-identifies as being “gender neutral”, I’m going to call it a she due to the fact that she has a female voice), is able to clearly understand me.  Even during times of music-blaring lounge sessions, a comfortable “OK, Google” is still well recognized.  There have only been a couple times where my wife wasn’t able to get through to Google despite her best efforts.  In instances such as this, you can also utilize Google Home’s touch interface located on the surface of the device.  Various touch gestures can be used to perform a few simple tasks such as volume control.

Usefulness

As a self-claimed assistant, it is important that Google Home assist us effectively.  Let’s first talk about how the device is useful to many individuals.  The ability to control smart TVs is nice, especially if you are one of those couples constantly fighting over who has the remote, (which is clearly on her side).  Dimming lights and brewing coffee is all well and good, but you will need to make sure that the technology in your house is both present and compatible with Google Home.  A good bulk of the initial use will be spent simply asking random questions in order to test Google Home’s knowledge and responsiveness.  I was pretty disappointed that though she does a lot of neat things, the device currently lacks a lot of functionality at this point.  Google has informed us that phone call integration is coming to Canada at some point in addition to a few other useful abilities.

Much of my time spent interacting with Google Home has been devoted to asking the same question over and over again: “Ok, Google.  What can you do?”.  More often than not the response produces a response equivalent to that of someone watching a synchronized diving contest: It’s good, but you likely already forgot how great it was by the time the team surfaced.  I do enjoy the ability to check my calendar events for the day or week as well as the ability to set reminders and alarms, but for the most part it’s a mediocre assistant.

As a piece of entertainment or a simple cure for temporary boredom, Google Home serves its purpose.  You can spend hours looking up different questions and facts or playing several games.

Overall

The bottom line is most people simply don’t need this product.  Most of the younger generation will have their cell phones nearby and almost as quickly look something up on their own.  If you are a home owner with lots of awesome automated tech, then Google Home will help provide further voice control for it.  Or, if you are someone who hosts a lot of social gatherings, it will definitely be a great discussion piece and environment controller.  For those that simply cannot stop what they are doing in order to take 10 seconds to look something up on their own, Google Home has a place.

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