As we at AlphaBlues work extensively with teaching language to computers and automating customer service with chatbots, it was only natural to give the Google Home a try. There are plenty of reviews out there but after testing it for a month, here is our take on the product and some interesting insights that we found.
What is Google Home – it is a voice activated speaker that is connected to the internet. You can ask it questions and it will answer back. Google launched it in November 2016 in the US. While currently not available in Europe, we got it through eBay for around $150.
Design and setup – the device has good design and you can put it on your kitchen table or in the living room without cluttering the space. Setup takes literally a minute, you can connect it to your Google account and do the whole thing from the Google Home app on your phone. The microphone is sensitive and speakers loud enough to hear throughout the room. The top of the device is a touch screen and you can always manually turn the thing off if you ever need it.
What can you do with it – you can ask it questions. All kinds of questions. As it is connected to the Google search engine, it can give you answers to anything that you would normally search on Google. You start each question with “Ok, Google” and then ask what you want. Such as “What’s the melting point of gold?” or “How far away is the moon?”. It is also good at party tricks such as asking it “What sound does a sheep make?” or “Tell me a joke”. Other features include setting up your smart home – you can insert voice operated lightbulbs, connect to your music player, play YouTube videos on your TV.
Where it is good – voice control is incredibly easy to get used to. No more opening the phone, opening an app. Just talk and you will get an answer. There is a lot of delight in this. Still the usefulness of the device (like any other B2C app) resides in whether one would use this on a daily basis. Having tested this at home for a month, here are the things of all the features that I still use:
- Weather – yes, it is simple but something that is useful to know each day. “What’s the temperature today” or “What is the wind forecast on Monday” (if you kitesurf 🙂 ) gives you quick answers
- Playing music – connecting with Spotify has been super useful as with simple commands “Play that 80s jazz cover playlist” it will play your music. No more need for additional speakers or audio systems or endless chords and wires and tapping the phone for changing songs. I actually wonder why Spotify did not make its own “Home” device, would have been a great move strategically.
- Calendar – asking “What’s on my calendar tomorrow” and you’ll get your events for the next day.
- Random Google queries every now and then.
Where it falls short –
- The accuracy in understanding what you say varies. As an example it will understand when you tell it to “Play awesome snowboarding videos on YouTube on Chromecast” but does not work when you say “Play awesome snowboarding videos”. Having to specify YouTube and then Chromecast (to cast to the video to the TV) is something that it should improve on.
- Also whenever it does not understand you, it is somewhat off-putting and we found that having to repeat ourselves feels kind of senseless.
- It should also be integrated with Gmail – so that you can read and dictate emails.
- All the IoT and connected home is promising but the lightbulbs today are simply too expensive to justify switching them in the whole house.
Should you get it – if you play a lot of music at your home or office, then yes, absolutely. Really convenient for that. Also for random queries it is great. But it takes some time to get used to that such assistant is there for help. So train yourself to get in a habit that you have an assistant that is eager to help out.
Google has entered a very interesting space with this device to face Amazon’s Alexa. Home automation systems such as this will become more useful the more accurate they become but as of now the Home is good enough for simple daily tasks.