Google has announced a number of new features for Google Home at its I/O developer conference in Mountain View, California. Users in the US and Canada will get free hands-free calls over the next few months.
Proactive assistance will add alerts for upcoming events – flights, meetings and so on – when circumstances change. And Google Home owners will no longer need a Spotify premium account to stream their favourite tunes to the speaker. They’ll now be able to stream music from the free service as well.
Google Home is also set to get a set of features that allow Google Home to interact in a more meaningful way with Chromecast. Ask Google Home to “show my calendar”, for instance, or search YouTube for videos about whatever’s on your mind and it will now have the ability to show the results directly on your TV screen.
Google Home review: In full
Google Home is the firm’s feature-packed digital butler. It will help with your organisational mis-steps, play soothing tunes, boost your pub quiz chances and dim your lights with the power of your voice. But you want to know the best thing? Google Home isn’t just a gimmick. Google Home is the future.
I was never sold on Amazon’s Echo. The idea of having some strange circular tower in my home that listened in on my every conversation didn’t interest me. It doesn’t help that it’s so insistent on promoting Amazon’s own shopping services, either. Google Home, thankfully, has no such motive.
The concept of the digital assistant is nothing new to Google, of course. Google Assistant and, before it, Google Now have been at our beck and call for a few years now. Google’s gone all sci-fi thriller on us in 2017, though, transferring its AI consciousness into physical form. This is Google Home.
Google Home review: Price, specs and competition
|Power cable length||1.8m|
|Supported audio formats||HE-AAC, LC-AAC, MP3, Vorbis, WAV, FLAC , Opus|
|Speaker||– High excursion speaker with 2″ driver + dual 2″ passive radiators
– Far-field voice recognition
|Ports and connections||microUSB, DC power|
|Supported operating systems||– Android 4.2 and higher
– iOS 8.0 and higher
Google Home has some stiff competition in Amazon’s Echo, which has had a five-month head start on it, certainly in UK homes. If you’ve already invested in Echo, Google Home might be a hard sell, then, but if not, Google has a pretty big leg-up. That advantage? Home costs just £129 – £20 less than the Echo.
On the other hand, Amazon’s digital assistant does comes in two distinct flavours – the bog-standard Echo speaker and the cheaper, dinkier Echo Dot for those who don’t want to spend more than £100 on what might turn into a paper weight in a couple of years’ time. However, with better audio quality than the Echo Dot, Google’s offering represents a decent compromise option.
Google Home review: Design
Of the two systems, I prefer the look of Google Home. It looks a bit like one of those motion-activated air fresheners and, while it won’t go “poof!” when you walk by, it does blend right in. At least, far better than Amazon’s stark black cylinder, and it’s significantly more compact, too. You can even swap out the base with a colour of your choice, for it to blend in (or stand out) even more.
As far as physical buttons go, there’s just the one: a large microphone mute button on the back, should you be a little privacy-conscious and don’t want Home listening in on you 24/7. There’s also a capacitive touch panel on the top, which you can use to adjust the volume – with the speaker’s four LED indicator lights changing to a radial volume indicator as you do so – or play/pause your music with a tap. A long press and Home will start listening, saving you from having to bark “OK Google” prior to every request.
Google Home review: Features
If you’re already invested in the Google platform, you’ll fit right in with Home. It syncs directly to your Google account and can help manage pretty much any aspect of it, should you let it.
Ask it any question and Home will answer. Ask: “Tell me about my day” and it will tell you the weather, inform you of any appointments and reminders you have coming up and will give you a quick rundown of the latest news via your chosen news source. Home is also a great resource for inquisitive minds, too. How far away is the moon? 384,400km from Earth if you were curious. Google knows everything.
It’s not just a gimmicky trinket, either. Where Google Home excels is in its interaction with the other tech in your home. Its Chromecast pairing is wonderfully slick, able to cast Netflix shows straight to your TV with minimal effort. Want to skip forward 30 minutes to get to the best scene? You can do that. It works with all the usual apps, too, including BBC iPlayer, Now TV, Netflix and Spotify.
Home can connect to many IoT-enabled smart devices in your home, too, and you’ll be dimming your lights with the power of your voice and controlling your heating with Nest in no time flat. There’s a long list of third-party devices you can connect to, from Samsung SmartThings to Philips Hue and, excitingly, anything that supports IFTTT as well.
Now, it could be my thick Lincolnshire accent, but I found Home wasn’t so good at picking up a few of my commands. I was in the mood for Daft Punk’s Alive 2007 album on Spotify the other night, but Home insisted on playing Babybertè Live 2007 instead, whatever that is. It called me “Nay-thon”, too.
Another thing? Parts of the YouTube casting functionality don’t yet work in the UK. Ask Google Home to play your YouTube “watch later” playlist, and it tells you it’s locked behind the paid-for YouTube Red service, something that isn’t available in the UK.
One disadvantage Google Home has in comparison to Echo is that there aren’t yet quite as wide a choice of third-party integrations available. That should change over time, however, with developers able to produce their own integrations via Conversation Actions and the Conversation API.