Last year Amazon finally relented and brought Alexa, in the form of the Echo, to the UK. We started playing with it immediately and she became an instant part of our household. In the last month Google’s competitor the Home arrived in the UK and it came to our living room as well. That last couple of sentences should be telling – Alexa is subconsciously an immediate she whereas Google Home is an it.
On the surface the Home is straightforward. A connected speaker and microphone system that has an Assistant system behind it, but there’s a little more there. Ask it to play music and it will. Ask for a calculation and get an answer. Ask what’s going on and get a rundown of the weather, your schedule and the news. Control your home with IOT devices. Cast music to a Chromecast Music speaker or Youtube to the TV. That’s the more obvious stuff. Less obvious than that is the other side of the Home – Google is at heart a search company and the Home gives you some access to it. This is everything from the obvious things like “What is a Whopper burger” to stock options. As someone with a child who has Type 1 Diabetes, Home’s ability to tell me the carbs in almost any food is also impressive.
If you want to customise your Home there are several ways to do it. The easiest is via IFTTT which lets you hook into a wide range of other services. I’ve got a customised voice command that transcribes what I say to Evernote if I say “Take a note”. If you want to get more advanced there are API’s available and people starting to write for them. Among the most interesting looking is Phlex that lets you control the excellent Plex on your TV by voice. Most of these are still in the early stages but there is good potential.
There are also the now expected Easter Eggs – for an old time classic try “OK Google, I’m feeling lucky”.
The Google Home does what it sets out to do and comes in a stylish shape. It provides Google an innocuous way into your home and starts to chip away at Amazon’s Alexa lead. If you already have an Amazon Echo, then the Home isn’t going to give you much beyond what you already have, but if you are considering a smart speaker and are Google user, it does have the edge. The Home has less skills and integrations than the Echo, but it’s a more open developer environment and with the power of Google behind it has just as much potential. Dedicated users will get the most out of it, but even it’s surface functionality is useful. Recommended.
Buy it from Google +
Price: ± £ 129
Google as a company needs little introduction being one of the world’s biggest tech companies and holding dominant positions in search, email, mobile operating systems. They have a number of media and cloud services perhaps most notably YouTube. Over the last decade, they’ve gradually released more consumer hardware devices and the Home builds on the success of the Chromecast and Android.
The Home is a short curved cylinder with a slightly sloped top. The top has multiple hidden LEDs that indicate when it’s listening or thinking and is touch sensitive. The touch interface lets you adjust volume, start and stop the music and start the Home listening.
The bottom of the home has a cloth weaved cover that is replaceable. By default it’s dark cream but there’s also Mango, Marine, Violet and Carbon. Finally, there’s a single mute button on the back of the Home that mutes the mic and the speaker while displaying four orange LEDs.
Setup is the now normal dance with smartphone and device created wifi hotspot. Turn on the home, connect to it’s wifi network with your smart phone, tell it your wifi access details and both connect back to the main wifi network. At that point you pick a few defaults such as which music service you want to use and from that point it can be almost entirely controlled by voice and the occasional tap.
Product dimensions: 9.6 x 14.2 cm cylinder
Item Weight: 477 grams
Colour: Cream by default with changeable bases
Power cable length: 1.8m proprietary power connector. 16.5 V, 2 A DC
Wifi: 802.11b/g/n/ac (2.4 GHz/5 Ghz)
Supported OS: Android 4.2+ and iOS 9.0+
The Home needs a consistent Wifi network with internet access and access to either an iOS or Android device to set it up and get the best out of it. It is possible to setup a Home without tying it to a Google Account but it won’t answer questions or stream music.
The Home works with several external services including, Spotify, TuneIn Radio, Youtube, Play Music and IFTTT. It also integrates with a number of iOT devices including the Chromecast (TV and Audio), Nest, SmartThings, Hue, LIFX, TP-Link Smart Home, Vivint Home Security, Rachio, Logitech Harmony, Geeni Connected Tech, August Smart Locks.
We based our Ergohacks Verdict on – 3 weeks of tinkering, testing and using the Google Home provided by Google. This article was first published on 2nd May 2017.