- Great design
- Decent sound
- Reasonable price point
- Conversational assistant
- Easy setup
- Limited smart home compatibility
- Speaker isn't very loud
- Needs to be plugged in at all times
- Review Price: £129.00
- Voice activation
- Built-in speaker
- Smart home control
- Google Assistant enabled
- Content from third-party services
What is Google Home?
The Google Home wasn’t the first smart speaker on the scene, but don’t let that put you off.
The reason is that software is the priority here. Google Assistant, the voice-activated AI that powers the smart speaker, has improved over time. In the past year, Google has significantly upped its intelligence and added new features. Given that the hardware remains up to scratch, replacing the Google Home with a newer device wouldn’t necessarily achieve much anyway.
The bigger issue for Google is the continuing dominance of the Amazon Echo, which has had a couple of years’ headstart when it comes to smart home product integration.
BUY NOW: Google Home for £129 at AO.com
Google Home – Coming Soon
At Google IO 2018, several improvements to the Google Assistant were announced, due to launch in the coming weeks. As I get to use these new features, I’ll update the review; for now, here’s what you can expect to see.
Custom routines look like one of the most interesting additions. These will let you use a single keyword to perform multiple tasks: “OK Google, it’s movie time” could dim the lights and turn up your thermostat, for example. Currently, Google only supports six built-in routines, and only in the US; it’s unclear when routines will be launched in the UK.
Continued Conversation will let the Google Home continue listening after you wake it, so you can continue to ask more questions. That’s a far more natural way to talk to the assistant. And, you’ll also be able to string commands or questions into one sentence. For example, “what’s the weather in London and Paris” or “turn on the kitchen and dining room lights”. That should make a lot of tasks far easier.
Google Duplex looks really interesting, if not a little scary. Following on from the ability to make phone calls with your Google Home, Google Duplex goes one-step further and lets the AI do the talking. Ask to make a reservation at a local restaurant, and the Google Assistant will be able to call, understand the replies and make the booking for you.
Related: Google Home Guide
Google Home – Design
Google Home still looks fantastic. It’s been designed as something you’ll want to put on show, looking less like a speaker and more like a fancy lamp or diffuser.
To keep the speaker’s design as uncluttered as possible, there’s only one physical button on the Google Home. It disables the microphone, if you don’t want the speaker to listen in on you.
The entire top surface of the Google Home is touch-sensitive. It can be tapped to pause and restart musical playback, or long-pressed to activate the microphone. You can alter the volume by swiping clockwise or counter-clockwise in a circular motion. This feels a little laggy at times; it’s often easier to set the volume using your voice.
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One of the key things about the design is the customisable base, which can be twisted off and replaced with a unit in a different colour. It lets you match the Google Home to your décor and update its look in the the future. The Amazon Echo has no such customisation options.
Related: Best Bluetooth speakers
Google Home – Features
Google Home – Smart home
One of the main reasons to buy a smart assistant is so that you can voice-control your smart devices. Google Home supports products from the major manufacturers, including Nest thermostats, Samsung SmartThings and Philips Hue lights. But the range of supported devices pales in comparison to those available on the Echo. My advice is to check before you buy to see which smart speaker supports the devices you want to control.
Supported devices are, for the most part, easy enough to control. Changing my Hue lights, both in brightness and colour, is just as easy with the Home as it is with the Echo.
There are areas of difference, some of which are quite frustrating. For example, with my Amazon Echo I can set my Nest to Eco mode, and then bring it up to heat by changing back to Heat mode. With the Google Home, I can’t set Eco mode, but if the thermostat is already in energy saving, I can change it back to Heat mode.
Google Home – Sound quality
When comparing audio playback on Home and Echo, both have their pros and cons. Google Home offers meatier bass and a more rounded sound, but the new Echo goes much louder. Google Home’s 100% volume wasn’t as loud as I’d expected it to be, and once you get to about 70% it starts to feel a little distorted.
It doesn’t come close to the sound quality of a dedicated Bluetooth speaker, such as the UE Boom 2, but then you wouldn’t expect it to be at its much lower price. The Google Home isn’t a gadget you’d want as the primary speaker at a house party, but for general, everyday use it’s fine. Most importantly, the audio is detailed enough to hear voice responses clearly and is perfect for radio or audio books.
Pairing with services such as Spotify, Google Play Music, YouTube and TuneIn was easily accomplished within the Home app, which also enables you to choose a preferred provider. There’s a quirky range of voice commands for accessing news, playlists and podcasts from all of those services, too.
Unfortunately, there’s no ability to pair a Bluetooth device, as you can with the Echo. I missed this functionality, as I often pair my phone with the Echo when listening to sources without Google Cast support. Thankfully, those are few and far between these days, but it might peeve Apple Music users, for example.
Cast support means that you can send audio directly to a compatible speaker or Chromecast Audio. Plus, you can control playback directly using your voice. Intelligently, when Google Home picks up a voice request, it dips the volume on any devices it’s casting to so that you don’t have to shout.
You can create groups of devices, casting to multiple speakers at once, which is a neat trick for house parties. However, casting isn’t as flexible as using a Sonos system, particularly if you’re using Spotify. With Spotify and Cast, you can only play one track; with Sonos, you can play different tracks on different speakers using the single account.
Google Home can also voice control video and image casting to a Chromecast, letting you send Netflix shows or your photos to a compatible TV. It’s a handy trick, and often more convenient. When the doorbell rings, asking Google Home to pause the action is often far quicker than scrabbling around for a phone and then finding the playback controls.
Why buy a Google Home?
Google Home remains a great product and, in many ways, the Google Assistant is easier to talk to and gives better results than Amazon Alexa. Whether it’s the right product for you comes down to what you want to achieve.
Related: Google Home vs Amazon Alexa
If you want a powerful voice assistant with control for Chromecast and a few smart home products, Google Home certainly does the job.
That said, the Echo range is larger and includes devices with screens, too; it also supports more smart home kit. In addition, the new Echo 2nd Generation is now cheaper than the Home. To my mind, that makes Amazon’s smart assistant a better investment today, with a wider range of products to choose from if you want to devices in every room in your home.
The Amazon Echo and Alexa maintain their crown for now, but the Google Home and Assistant still make a powerful combination.