Sometimes the hype can be blinding. Sometimes the hype matches the product. With Google Home there’s no shortage of Hype. The device was launched late last year but as is often the case with technology it had a limited worldwide release and Australia was not part of the hype.
However, after almost a year teaching the computers of Google to understand an Aussie twang, and the Aussie slang it’s finally here.
Google Home has been on-sale in Australia now for a few weeks, and at $199 it’s been flying off the shelves. A mixture of the early adopters for which Australia is famous and plenty of people caught up in the hype.
In the United States, the voice-assistant market is enormous. Amazon’s Alexa through their Echo and Echo dot products, Google with Google Home and later this year Apple with the Siri enabled HomePod. Make no mistake, this is a huge, huge market.
But to be honest, outside of the United States, Amazon isn’t a thing, even when it launches in Australia it will be a shadow of the US version, and we’re a long way off a genuinely connected society.
Google Home is the first product in Australia that genuinely gives you the ability to speak and get answers without having your smartphone with you. But – is that really a big deal?
I’m going to say it right here, up front, this is $199 of hype. Loads of fun, eye opening and awe inspiring right out of the box. But the novelty wears off fast.
Google has the best voice recognition available today. Using Ok Google on the most recent Android phones should give you more than a hint of this. On Google Home its exceptional.
Sitting with the Google Home on your desk you can command it with ease. There are though two ways that this device’s voice recognition really excels. Firstly it’s ability to understand every word, Secondly it’s ability to hear you in a noise environment and from way across the room.
I’ve been using and testing voice enabled systems for years. They frustrate the hell out of me. I’ve not had a single frustration with Google Home. I think the work they did on the Aussie accent has proven itself worthwhile, as is the work they did on the Aussie slang.
When it was announced – at the same event as the Google Pixel last year, Google spent some time talking about their Artificial Intelligence engine – the computer knowledge that allows Google to understand what you mean when you ask questions. It’s this that gives them a superior advantage. Other companies can do voice recognition, but Google has tens of millions of search requests to learn from – this is where they get their knowledge.
Head to head, Siri and Alexa have a lot to learn. Google has a solid advantage.
What does it do well?
Aside from the voice recognition, Google Home is going to entertain you. Linked to your Spotify, Google Play Music or YouTube Red subscription, you can summons music at any time. A particular artist, a particular playlist or just a mood.
And with compatible speakers around the home you can play that music anywhere you choose. Likewise with connected streaming services.
If you’re in the middle of a Netflix Binge, continue where you were when you get home from work by just asking Google to play your show on the screen of your choice.
Then there’s the smart home functions. A simple “Hey Google, turn the kitchen lights on” will do just that – if you’ve got the compatible gear – like Philips Hue.
Now one of the things that Voice assistants do badly is names. If you’re not John or Jill there’s a big chance it will stuff it up. I’ve had Chris Bowen testing out a Google Home too – his wife’s name is Gillian – more often than not a computer will say “Jillian” – Google have a setting to allow you to spell out a name so it’s right every time.
It’s the simple things that make it worth it.
Struggling to do what?
I’m going to try and contain my frustration here, but I am really annoyed at Google. I pay $10 a month for a premium Google service. It used to be called Google Apps, these days it’s G-Suite. A G-Suite account enables your Google Account with more storage, and your own domain name can be linked and you’re running a business with the full suite of Google Services. Mail, Calendar, Drive, Photos – Google really know their stuff.
But when I first linked my account to Google Home – it told me my account was not compatible.
I’ve tried it a few times, I’ve delved into the account settings for my G-Suite account, nothing. Not possible. It’s quite frankly a joke.
Siri knows what’s coming up in my day, she knows what time I need to leave to get to my next meeting. Google Home – nothing. “Sorry, I’m not sure how to help with that”.
Finding a song on my phone and playing it on a Bluetooth speaker really isn’t that much of a difficult task – so, I don’t need Google Home for that.
I’ve got Siri trained to turn all my lights on and off – and I don’t want to break it to you, I have my phone with me everywhere I go – So I don’t need Google Home.
Google Home is outstanding at doing conversions from litres to gallons, or miles to kilometers, and I could almost be convinced to use it for that – instead of a simple Google search on my phone or computer.
Should you buy it?
$199 is ridiculously cheap. Apple’s HomePod is going to come in around $600 – hopefully less. Google Home offers an insight into the future of digital assistants, the future of voice command and a leap into Artificial Intelligence like you’ve not seen yet.
It’s playing music for you, but it’s about as good as a $100 Bluetooth speaker – at best. But for background music to keep you entertained, it’s perfectly fine.
Even if just to see what it’s all about – it’s worth the $199. But if you do buy it, get some Philips Hue lights as well – start your Smart Home journey at the same time.
I really can’t say if it’s right for you – those curious about what’s possible – go buy one. If you think it’s the second coming, save your cash.
Web: Officeworks ($198)
Trev is a Technology Commentator, Dad, Speaker and Rev Head.
He produces and hosts two popular podcasts, EFTM and Two Blokes Talking Tech. He also appears on over 50 radio stations across Australia weekly, and is the resident Tech Expert on Channel 9’s Today Show each day and appears regularly on A Current Affair.
Father of three, he is often found down in his Man Cave.