“Hey Google, add a little more pepper to my eggs benedict tomorrow morning. Oh, and drive me the scenic route to work. I want to see some ducks”.
The future is a glorious place, where plutonium-powered smartphones never need charging, and personal AI butlers serve us with unfaltering loyalty, tending to our every whim.
The first baby steps to the latter began around five years ago, when the likes of Siri and Google Now began listening to our basic commands, setting alarms and sending garbled voice-dictated messages, but we've come a long way since then.
AI-powered speakers like the Amazon Echo and Google Home are now infiltrating our homes, turning on our lights, playing is music, setting our heating and making sure we never run out of milk.
Amazon’s Echo has already impressed us with its soothing voice and home automation smarts, so we’ve taken it upon ourselves to import a Google Home from across the pond, to see how it gets on.
Google Home: Design and Build
Y'know those automated, battery-powered air fresheners that insultingly puff out a whiff of lavender whenever you walk by?
Yeah, Google Home looks a lot like one of those.
That’s no bad thing, mind. Its angled, cylindrical top and rounded base give it a handsome, modern, and unobtrusive look, which is exactly the sort of thing we want to see. AI butlers should be heard and not seen, after all.
Home also has the advantage of a removable base, with various different finishes and colour options available to buy separately, letting it blend in with its surroundings even more.
Whether you’ll prefer it to the Echo, which is twice its height and more noticeable, is down to personal preference.
Unlike Echo, which has a physical volume ring that lights up like the bottom of a rude boy’s modded Vauxhall Nova, Home’s main controls are purely touch-sensitive.
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 long-press the top to wake up Google Assistant too, but where’s the fun in that when you can summon her from across the room…
Google Home: Music
So what exactly can Google’s little cylinder actually do? Let's start off with its music smarts.
Currently, Google Home supports four music services - Google Play Music, YouTube Music (not currently available in Singapore), Spotify and Pandora.
You can set all of these up in the Home app, and select which one you want to have as the default.
Once that’s done, it’s just a case of asking Home to play a specific song, artist or album. More often than not, it’ll reward you with exactly what you’re after. Magic. You can also play, pause, and adjust the volume without having to lift a finger.
Unlike Amazon's Alexa, Google’s Assistant is a little smarter when it comes to searches too. Ask it to play “that Enya song from Lord of the Rings”, for example, and it’ll trawl through the movie’s soundtrack until it finds an artist match. Clever stuff.
Home does fall short in some areas though.
If you’re using Spotify as your music service, you can add songs to your library, or to specific playlists - an incredibly useful feature if you’re discovering new music to add to your collection. Oddly though, that's not true if you’re using Google’s own Play Music service instead. That seems like a gigantic omission to us.
Sure, you can ask Home what song is currently playing if you’re not familiar with it, but with no way to add it to your Play Music library, you have to fire up the Play Music app on your phone and add it manually, defeating the entire point of having a smart speaker in the first place.
Google Home: TV smarts
One of Home’s most impressive party tricks, and the thing that sets it apart from Amazon's Echo, is how it plays nicely with Google Chromecast devices.
If you’ve got a Chromecast hooked up to you TV, you can use Home to fire up YouTube videos directly to your big screen, without having to go via your phone or laptop.
Home’s natural search skills also come into play here. If you ask it to play a trailer for the latest Pixar movie (because you’ve forgotten the name), it’s clever enough to work out what you’re after, before serving it to you in seconds.
Currently you can only tell Home to play music videos and Google Play Music songs on your TV, but support for other apps like Netflix is apparently on the way.
Being able to come in after a long day and start watching your favourite programme before you’ve even landed on the couch will be a game-changer for lazy gadgeteers.