For long, we all have relied on Google to search for something and is also the first place in all our digital lives to find information on virtually anything. Until now, our interactions with Google have always revolved around screens. But, the way technology is evolving, there is a very good chance that the next interaction will have no screen involved and we will be able to access information without having to type on keyboards, or even hold anything in our hands.
So it no wonder that Google is trying its hand on voice interactions and to make it easier for you, the company has launched Google Home – an artificial intelligence powered smart speaker that can do things on your behalf.
Google Home is a compact device designed to sit anywhere in your house or apartment and acts as an access point to all of Google’s services. With Google Home, you can play songs, playlists, artists, and albums from your favourite music subscription services like Google Play Music (free subscription for six months), Saavn and Gaana. You can also pair Google Home or Home Mini with your favourite Bluetooth speaker and set it to be the default output for all your music.
Just ask “Ok Google, tell me about my day” or say, “Hey Google, how long will it take to get to work?” and you’ll get up to speed on everything you need to know. It can wake you up in the morning (or let you snooze), set a timer while you’re baking, and more. And the best part? Up to six people can connect their account to one Google Home, so if you ask your Assistant to tell you about your day, it can distinguish your voice from other people in your family, and give you personalised answers.
But, you must be thinking that this sounds familiar to Amazon’s Echo which was launched two years ago. And while they both are identical to use and wait for a command to do things, Home has something that the Echo doesn’t: the world’s most powerful search engine at its core, so it’s far better at answering your questions and providing useful information.
Google has smartly designed the Home to blend in with most of the home interiors and is also nice to look at. It is also easy to place the speaker anywhere in your home be it kitchen, bedroom, living room, etc. – thanks to its compact design. The Home is only available in white.
There is a touch sensitive panel on the top of the Home which can be used to control the device’s volume, play and pause music, and activate its listening mode. The colourful lights integrated in the panel come to life every time the Home is commanded by voice. For me, it was easy to look at the Home lights than the Echo’s blue light that feels like it’s stares at you when you talk to it.
Unlike Echo’s seven microphone system, Google Home has been designed with two microphones that utilise a technique called neural beam forming to enable accurate far-field voice recognition. Google has simulated hundreds of thousands of noisy environments and applied machine learning to recognise patterns that allow it to filter and separate speech from noise.
But I did not find any issues with Home hearing commands, even when it was playing music and the speaker never performed a different action than requested.
Similar to Echo, the Home comes to life with a "OK Google". Google says it is still experimenting with different wake words and phrases, but nothing has been official yet. The Home sends and retrieves information with Google’s cloud for processing. The company has clarified that it only does so after it’s heard the wake word, so it’s not constantly eavesdropping on every sound it hears. There’s also a mute button on the back of the device that turns off the listening feature entirely. The data that the Home does send back to Google is stored with all of the other data in your Google account, and can be reviewed anytime at myactivity.google.com.
Two passive radiators are housed at the bottom half of the Home and the company claims Home is designed to fill a room with loud sound without distorting at full volume. And surprisingly, the speaker lives up to its claim with booming sound, but it’s not like it will win any awards for sound quality. It acts like an average Bluetooth speaker, but for everyday listening it’s more than enough.
And while it does not have Bluetooth connectivity like the Echo, you can also wirelessly cast audio from your phone or laptop to the Home. A simple "OK Google, play some rock music” command will play rock songs. The Home also works with specific requests, such as “OK Google, play Maroon 5 Sugar” and it will comply. And all of this is performed without the need to open an app, device or anything – isn’t it convenient.
And while Home is great enough to be your home alone companion, Google, however has different aim with it. Google wants Home to be a control centre for all your smart home gadgets, allowing you to turn lights on and off or adjust the thermostat with a simple voice command. Currently, the Home supports Nest, Hue, and SmartThings, which covers the most popular smart lights and devices.
You can also ask it to play video on your TV. Right now, it can cast YouTube video to a Chromecast, so a "OK Google, play Venom trailer on the Chromecast" and it will comply. Or you can also command it to play something over Netflix on your TV.
Another interesting thing to know is that it also contextual meaning remembers your prior questions, so you can follow up, which is something Alexa on the Echo cannot do. An example is asking "Who built the Qutub Minar?” and then asking "When was he born?" or and so on. It will even tell jokes. The only thing that really annoys this contextual experience is the fact that you have to say "OK Google" before each and every question.
Despite Google’s ambition for the Home to be a virtual assistant, most people will still use it as a voice-controlled connected music speaker, and it’s quite good for that purpose. While Alexa powered Echo is more efficient in terms of skill-set and works with a wide variety of third-party apps, such as National Rail Enquiries, Uber, Lyft, Hive, Expedia, Fitbit, Amazon Music, and even with Google Calendar, the Google Assistant, on the other hand, doesn’t fully support even all of Google’s services. But boldly intelligent and versatile, Google Home is evolving quickly to be one stop destination to your smart home command centre but still has a long way to go.