Google Home is a personal assistant smart speaker, and it comes from a company that literally knows everything (about you). Like the Amazon Echo, the $130 Google device answers questions, turns on smart home devices, plays music, listens to your problems, and informs the FBI of your plans to become the next Walter White (we’re kidding on the last one… we think).
The main Google Home speaker is a bit cheaper than the Echo, which tips the scales at $180. However, Amazon also offers the Tap for the same $130, and the far cheaper Dot at $50. Google doesn’t offer any cheaper models for its assistant, which also doesn’t leave any confusion for consumers.
Check out a demo of the device’s features and what we thought of it below.
Let’s reel this in a bit and talk about the actual look of the speaker first. As much as I want to just look at the Home on its own, there’s really no avoiding Echo comparisons. Obviously, the look is based on personal preference. It does appear that Google is aiming to make its device look less like a speaker and more like a piece of modern art, however. It has that sort of IKEA design. Google even offers different color bottom caps to customize it with the look of your home. The default is gray, so it’ll match most households, but it’s nice to have options.
Of course, it is a speaker, and it needs power, so there is a cable. Google does include a 90-degree plug and a recessed port, so it sits flat and hides well enough.
Personally, I like the size and look of the Home better than the Echo, but again, that’s subjective. They both look fine, and if you buy a device like this, it’s really more about what it does! You could argue that Google Home looks a bit like an air freshener, though.
Welcoming Google Into Your Home
Before we dig into exactly what you can connect to your magical Google speaker, let’s look at the setup process. Once you plug it in, you’ll need to download the Google Home app on one of your devices. From there, you just follow the instructions to get Google Home on your network.
Now, as far as the process of connecting it with your devices, that’s quite easy, too. Again, you’ll use the Google Home app and give permission for Google Home to get access. I tried it with Spotify, Belkin WeMo, Pandora, IFTTT, and of course, my Google account. Each one was easy, and they all worked on the first try for me.
From there, it’s just a matter of getting the hang of the voice commands that work with the services. The app tells you some commands you can use, and they’re all obvious.
The only issue I had was with using multiple music services — in my case, it was Pandora and Spotify. I wanted to listen to “Back in Black” by AC/DC, and I told Google as much.
“Hey Google, Play AC/DC Back in Black.” Unfortunately, Google decided to play a Pandora station based around the song instead of choosing to play the actual track on Spotify.
The fix was easy, I just needed to add “on Spotify” to the end of the spoken command, but it’s still something to think about.
Outside of that small issue, I found getting everything up and running to be a breeze. Even if you’re not very tech-savvy, Google has done a good job of guiding you through the process, and you should have no issues.
Microphone and Audio Quality
Google Home Features a far-field microphone array, so you can speak to it across the room without yelling at the top of your lungs. Well, most of the time you don’t need to be loud. If you’re blasting music and you want to tell Google to change songs or turn the volume down, it will occasionally have issues hearing you over the music. Once it does pick up your voice, it automatically turns the volume down really low to hear the command clearly, which is convenient.
Most of the time, it picked up commands easily. In fact, I was on a separate floor in my house explaining to a friend how the device worked, and I told him you just need to say “Hey, Google” to wake it up, and next thing I knew, I heard “How can I help” coming from the speaker downstairs.
As for the speaker itself, it comes with a 2-inch driver and two 2-inch passive radiators. For a small device, it packs some punch. I live in a condo, I couldn’t comfortably listen to it at maximum volume without my neighbors being quite annoyed.
On top of being loud, the sound is considerably clean, even when pushing the volume. Of course, it will not rival a high-end speaker, but it also costs $130, and that’s with all the other stuff it can do.
Basically, if you’re looking for a speaker that’ll play your music loud enough for a small party, it’ll do the job. If you’re planning a rave, you might need a little more.
Fortunately, for those situations, you can sync multiple Google Home speakers together and have them play in sync, or you can beam to a Chromecast Audio and jam on your more powerful system.
Hey Google, Can You Entertain Me?
Google Home connects to quite a few entertainment services, but not all the big ones you might want.
- YouTube Music
- Google Play Music
- TuneIn Radio
- YouTube (with Chromecast or built-in Chromecast on display)
- Netflix (with Chromecast or built-in Chromecast on display)
- Google Photos (with Chromecast or built-in Chromecast on display)
Some of the notable omissions there include Apple Music, Amazon Music, Rhapsody, Tidal, Hulu, and so on. These services could be added down the line (though it seems unlikely we’ll see Apple or Amazon added), as it stands, users of these services are missing out.
Additionally, podcast listeners don’t have a lot of options here. We would have at least expected to see Stitcher or something along those lines.
There would be any easy way to make up for those missing services, except that you can’t use Google Home as a regular Bluetooth speaker. For many, this might not be an issue if everything they listen to is on the services offered, but for me, there’s a premium, password-protected wrestling podcast that I listen to daily. There’s no way to play it short of finding a different podcast player that supports Google Cast. If you have a similar situation, it’ll make it where the Home can’t be the only speaker in your home.
Okay Google, But What About My Smart Home?
Buying one of these devices is a lot like interviewing for an actual personal assistant. The question you really need to ask is simple: “what can you do for me?”
As it stands Google Home offers support for quite a few popular smart home services. Here’s the complete list as of this writing:
- Nest andHoneywell climate control
- Phillips Hue and LiFX lighting
- IFTTT cloud service
- SmartThings hub
- WeMo switches
- OpenHAB DIY hub via HABridge
The key thing in that list is IFTTT and OpenHAB. They open up support for all kinds of other devices that aren’t directly supported, by acting as a bridge.
For our testing, we purchased a Belkin WeMo smart plug, and it works flawlessly. I set it up so I could say “OK Google, turn on the light,” and it would turn the plug on (and off) every time, without issue or significant delay.
As time goes on, Google is planning to add more services, both on the entertainment side of the fence and on the smart home side.
So, that brings us to the big question: should you buy Google Home? The simple answer is yes, as long as you use the services it supports.
If not, it’s still a great device, but you’ll need to switch services or wait until they’re added (if they ever are). Even if you’re not particularly enthused by the smart home features, being able to walk in after a long day and command Google to play you something relaxing is nice.
However, Amazon’s Echo is a slightly more capable device at the time of writing, with thousands of ready made skills for you to customize functionality, but it’s really going to come down to personal preference.
Google Home is fun device that excels at answering questions from the Google knowledge graph and integrating with Google services and products. Is it better than Amazon’s Echo? Ultimately that’ll be down to personal preferences and the services you need.