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« Chrome update brings support for VR on Android and PC | Main | Nintendo’s ‘Fire Emblem Heroes’ has already earned US$5 million »
Friday
Feb102017

First impressions on Google Home

By Gadjo Cardenas Sevilla

One of my biggest frustrations is that it takes so much time for a lot of technology to make it from the US to Canada. Certain items like voice assistants, streaming boxes, and apps take longer to come to Canada and when they do make it here, their features are often hobbled compared to the US versions.

This is true with Amazon's Echo product, which was ubiquitous at this year's CES, and this is also true with Google Home. These voice assistant speakers and hubs are supposed to be the next big technology and they're not openly available in Canada.

I picked up a Google Home during a recent US trip knowing full well that the smart speaker might not be fully supported in Canada. Here are my impressions.

I did some research and while some functionality isn't available, Google Home should work outside the US.

Comprising of a small speaker and a power cable, Google Home is lavishly presented in a well designed but bulky box. The device itself is more appliance than tech gadget. It features a button to trigger the microphones (which I have yet to use) a touch surface with coloured lights that can control volume and multiple speakers at the base.


Audio is sufficiently loud but I found it to be a bit on the bassy side, which makes some voice audio sound muffled. There's still no way to fine tune or equalize audio. Google Home is loud enough to fill a bedroom or small office.

A plug and play device, you control Google Home using the Google Home app on iOS and Android. You do need to change your system's language to US English to get it to work.

Google Home is tied to your Google account or Gmail address. This means that it is a one Home to one user ratio right now (not ideal for families or multiple users).

One installed, the app will update Google Home so you can get the latest features. Once connected to your home Wi-Fi network, Google Home can be triggered by the 'Ok Google or Hey Google,' trigger words.

I connected Google Home to my Spotify account to play my favourite songs, genres and playlists. For some reason it will play the first two songs on a playlist and then stop.

Google Home is great for playing podcasts and news, which I listen to throughout the day. Simply say "Hey Google, what's the news?" and it will cycle through different news sources.

There's some limited Google Assistant functionality as well. You can check the weather, ask for traffic update (i.e. 'how long for me to get to Pearson Airport?'). It is possible to ask more complex sequences of questions. I asked Google Home when Stephen Curry was born and got the answer. I asked Google Home who his father was and got the answer (Del Curry), I didn't have to say Stephen Curry the second time, which means that the A.I. is quite robust.

Google Home can be expanded to Cast audio to Chromecast-connected speakers, which is something I plan on trying. With Chromecast devices attached to TVs, Google Home can even start streaming Netflix shows, which is helpful and saves multiple steps provided Chromecast is the default input on your TV.

Google Home is also supposed to act as a hub for Internet of Things or smart-home devices, which I also plan on trying out once I get some smart switches and bulbs for my apartment.

I like the freedom of not having to reach for my smartphone to get quick bits of news and information, listen to my podcasts and music. This is useful for me when I am cooking or washing dishes and need some entertainment or information (I currently move Google Home from kitchen to bedroom to office but this is mostly because I want to be near the speaker not because the mics don't pick up my voice because they do.

Conclusion


While it isn't ready for prime time, specially in Canada where it isn't being offered, Google Home does offer impressive potential for a smart hub that ties into the Google ecosystem. 

While Amazon's Echo has a definite head start in this area, I am not familiar or confident in their ecosystem as it hasn't really been available in Canada. Google, I am very familiar with and Google Home is a great extension. The device is useful and reasonably fast to respond (faster, it seems, than Siri or even Google Assistant on my phones). The feature set is limited right now, but what does work are mostly features I use a lot, which makes this an ideal system for me to explore. Your mileage may vary.

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