We live in the future, and you didn’t even realise it!
No really, think about it. J.A.R.V.I.S has been living in our pockets for a few years now in the form of Google Assistant and Siri. Agreed, they’re baby steps but they’ve been executing basic commands, settings alarms and sending messages for a while now.
Well now, they live in our homes too! What sounds like supreme stalking is actually tech giants try to get AI assistants to carry out chores and generally smarten up our daily lives. Amazon struck first with its highly Indianised 2nd gen Echo devices, and then, Google’s followed suit.
Yes, the Google Home smart speaker is a well over a year behind its international launch but in that time, Google’s used its software wizardry to smarten up its AI-assisted speaker even further. Time to find out how it stacks up in the battle to become your house’s invisible servant…
GOOGLE HOME: DESIGN AND BUILD
White and grey, short and stout, Google Home has an incredibly friendly appearance — like a humble tech servant that can do no harm. If anything, it looks like it’ll spray you with lavender if you get too close, like a battery-powered air freshener. The angled, cylindrical top rounds off its handsome design and completes the unobtrusive look. Compared to the Echo’s, it’s the design we positively prefer.
A circle of LEDs hide just beneath the top surface, and a quick circular swipe in either direction lowers and raises the volume. Taps pause and resume your music too. You can also long-press the top to wake up Google Assistant, but where’s the fun in that when you can summon her from across the room...
Google’s AI assistant can be summoned with two hot phrases - ‘OK Google’ and ‘Hey Google’. Both are annoyingly awkward to say, though we’ve settled on the latter.
The Echo’s ‘Alexa’ is is quicker and easier to say and, unlike Home, you can choose from four wake words, including 'Computer'. The day we can get either of them to respond to 'Kif' will be a happy one indeed.
If you like the familiarity of a Indian accent, you'll be pleased to hear that the Indian version comes with a new voice in that style. Which is good, because we found Google Assistant's American voice to sound a bit more jarring and synthetic, although maybe that's just us being biased. You can still choose the American voice if you prefer, we won't judge.
GOOGLE HOME: MUSIC
We warm the little guy up with our preferred music streaming service, Google’s Play Music. Alternatively, you can choose between Gaana and Saavn as well. Once you’ve picked your service of choice, it’s just a case of asking Home to play a specific song, artist or album.
How often does it get it right? Almost always. You can play, pause and change the volume all with your voice. Better yet, if you have either Chromecast Audio-connected speakers or a Google Cast-compatible device, the Home app lets you group them together and synchronise music from the likes of Play Music. It’s a breeze to setup and works like a charm.
As far as sound quality is concerned, it’s a mixed bag. Not that you’d expect it to match anything from the likes of Sonos, but crank it up a bit and the sound’s a bit muffled. There’s bass aplenty and it easily filled up our large living room with sufficient sound but to avoid distortion-free audio, stay away from anything near max volume.
We never expected Google Home to match the likes of a Sonos speaker for sound quality, but we’re still a little disappointed in its performance.
It’s not terrible by any means, but considering you can get very good portable sound out of the ₹15,995 UE Boom 2, we were hoping for something a little better.
Music on the Home sounds a little muffled, especially if you’re cranking out a song with a lot of bass.
While Home can get loud enough to fill a room, we soon learnt to stay away from max volume to avoid the distortion that creeps in.
You’re better off with a proper set of speakers connected to a Chromecast Audio device, letting Home act as a voice control relay for it.
This is a particularly good setup, as it's now possible to make a voice-controlled, multi-room system using these components (as well as any device that supports Google Cast).
Right now, this is something the Amazon Echo can't do. Yet the Echo range does potentially have greater multi-room music potential. It'll support Sonos later this year, and while the Chromecast Audios are cheaper than Echo Dots, the former doesn't have built-in voice control - which means you'll need multiple Google Homes to get voice control around the house.
GOOGLE HOME: TV SMARTS
Here’s where you can really flaunt your Google Home’s party tricks and something that sets it apart from Amazon’s Echo devices. How it works in sync with Google Chromecast devices is a sight to behold. If you’ve got a Chromecast hooked up to your TV, you can use Home to fire up YouTube videos directly to your big screen, without having to go via your phone or laptop.
Google’s search skills shine to find the specific content you search for quite quickly. Just to see the entire ecosystem work effortlessly in sync takes the sweat out of smart home control. Lazy gadgeteers such as ourselves can rant endlessly about the perks of coming home and firing up our favourite content before we even plonk ourselves on the couch.
GOOGLE HOME: THE SMART HOME
If you think you’ve blown your pup’s mind by mere voice-powered content, see how your furry fam reacts when you control the rest of your house with it. We paired our Google Home device with Philips’ tried and tested Hue lights to get a taste of some smart home shenanigans. As long as you’ve got the compatible tech, Home’s smart home controls will genuinely make your life just a little bit easier.
At the time of writing, Home is compatible with several smart home systems that include - Philips Hue, Nest, Honeywell, WeMo, LIFX bulbs, Insignia Connect, TP-Link, Wink and the Samsung-owned SmartThings. If you're a fan of Tado's smart heating, you'll be pleased to hear that it's announced Google Home support.
GOOGLE HOME: KNOWLEDGE
Speak of knowledge and the Google Home beats all competitors hollow. It’s the undisputed king of the crowd. Amazon’s Alexa can answer basic questions, but Home goes above and beyond, often providing you with supplemental information taken from the top search results. With Translate baked into the device, it’ll even teach you a new language.
Ask Home for directions, and it’ll throw at you the fastest route available along with expected travel time depending on your vehicle of choice. It’ll go a step further and send those directions to your linked phone for easy access. Furthermore, if you’re amidst a heated family debate on some facts, Home will end it instantly. With a continuously sharpening brain, it’s hard to foresee any competing AI come anywhere near Google’s capabilities.
GOOGLE HOME ORGANISATION:
Adding appointments and reminders is something you’re going to rely on your Google Home device for a lot. Those tasks are dismissed with ease. However, ask the speaker to make a call or send messages and the smart party comes to a grinding halt. These features are yet to make it to the device at the time of writing.That’s a bummer ‘cause while our Pixel 2 XL device performs all of the above, Home can’t pass off these unachievable tasks to your handset to carry out instead. These departments could certainly improve but as is always the case with Google’s services, they’re usually a mere download away. We’ll wait for this one.
GOOGLE HOME: VERDICT
Entering Google’s ecosystem is like coming home. Even Apple addicts can’t deny their reliance on services such as Gmail, Calendar, Docs, Maps, Search, we could go on. How often do Google’s users rely on Apple products though? Well... If you could excuse the juvenile jibe, the point we’re trying to make is this: Google Home is amazing, for everyone. It’s the all-in-one J.A.R.V.I.S.-like butler we’ve dreamt of for years. Well, almost.
Its smart home controls are no gimmick - it really will make your daily life just a little bit easier, to the point where using anything but your voice to set the temperature or dim the lights will seem archaic.
As Google tweaks and improves its AI baby, Home will get smarter, gain more features, and become more and more useful. We’ll obviously be reporting constantly improving services of the device, but even in its current state, Google Home makes a phenomenal first impression.
It’s more than earned its spot in our living room, so rest assured, this one’s here to stay.