Google Home is finally on sale – but what exactly is it and is it worth your money?
The tech giant’s answer to Amazon’s Alexa, Google Home is a so-called smart speaker housing a virtual, voice-activated assistant that can access the web to answer questions, stream music and link up with other smart devices.
It goes on sale in the UK today for £129 and, having spent a couple of days with it, here’s what we reckon you can expect if you take the plunge.
Luckily, Google Home keeps things very simple in its initial set-up. There’s a single power cable to connect, and then it’s a case of downloading the free Google Home app to your smartphone – on either iOS and Android – to complete the process.
Google Home connects to your home WiFi connection via your phone, and then you’re asked to sign into your Google account – this crucially can give Home access to your Gmail and Google Calendar, which means it can answer questions about your schedule and other personal items, but more on that later.
The Home app itself is also relatively easy to understand. At its centre are links to useful items based on its record of what you ask it. This is found under the Discover tab, but there’s also the Watch and Listen tabs, which offer video and music streaming options.
This is where other aspects of Google’s ecosystem come in handy…
If you have one of Google’s streaming devices – a Chromecast, Chromecast Audio or Chromecast Built-In – then you can link it to your Google Home and send music and video to the relevant device.
This means you can control your home speaker system and TV with your voice.
Commands such as “OK, Google, play some jazz on my speakers” will automatically send the music from your preferred streaming service – Google Play Music and Spotify are among the connected services available to link to, provided you have a subscription.
Should you not have any separate speakers to link it up to, you don’t have too much to fear – Home’s own built-in speaker is more than adequate for casual listening. It carries an impressive amount of bass and, though not a crisp enough sound to rival a home speaker system, for background music in the kitchen or living room it more than fits the bill.
Where Google Home has an instantly noticeable advantage over Amazon Echo and Alexa is in looks. While Echo is an imposing black tower that stands out, Google Home is a more subtle, smaller white top with a coloured base. Without knowing you could mistake it for a vase or candle holder – in short it looks more like a product you wouldn’t worry about placing in your living room or kitchen.
The angled top of the Home also doubles as its touch control point, with users able to start and stop music with a single tap, as well as rotate their finger to adjust volume levels, or long-press to activate Google Home’s microphone.
Elsewhere it’s difficult not to be impressed by the power that Google Search and its other services bring to the Home. Ask it to translate words and phrases for you and Home can do it in seconds, as well as using Search to offer in-depth answers to questions you may have.
The integration of Google services such as Maps, Gmail and Calendar is noticeable too – Home will know your name as soon as you sign in, and without inputting any new information could give accurate commuting information between home and work because we had both locations saved to our Maps account.
We had also already encountered some early Easter eggs hidden within Home too – in a nod to Britain and the device launching in the UK, Home will tell you it’s heard Ploughman’s sandwiches are supposed to be nice, while it was also very magnanimous about Amazon’s Alexa, calling her “pretty smart” when we asked what she thought of her.
In our early encounters we’ve been impressed with how far Google Home appears to have come since its US launch. A lot of the blind spots and unfortunate references to questionable search results seem to have been ironed out, leaving a system that has very good voice recognition and is more than smart enough to handle a busy home.
For example, Google Assistant also works on many Android smartphones these days, which we feared could lead to voice command clash, with two or more devices all chipping in. However, Google has programmed Home to override over Assistant units and to take command itself.
It has the edge over Echo in terms of looks, as well as the depth and detail in answers, and is available for £20 less.
The Google Home, then, is off to a promising start.