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Tech Review: Google Home gives your house a voice

Who can forget the infamous Hal 9000 in 2001, A Space Odyssey?  It seems the “future” always included a computer that we could talk to.  Well, 2001 came and went without that talking computer.  Now, the future is here.  Amazon first introduced us to “Alexa” and now Google is taking a stab at it too.  I took the new Google Home for a test.

Hardware

The Google Home is about the size of one of those jumbo cans of beans.  You know, the ones you get at Costco?  It's a good size, smaller than I expected it to be.  It looks good!  For many of us this will be sitting in our kitchen or in our living room and I think the Home looks great doing that.  The bottom speaker screen is a dark grey but can be swapped out with colored screens to accent your decor.  Google sells those for $20 a pop.  On top, you'll find some cool colored LEDS that spin when the Home is thinking.  You can also slide your finger around in a circle to control the volume.  Tapping on the center of that circle quickly mutes the Home.

Inside of the Home is a decent speaker.  For it's size, I think it does a good job.  If you crank it up all the way it starts to sound less than stellar.  I suggest keeping it at about 80% and you'll be happy with the sound in a medium-sized room.

In terms of ascetics, the Home is exactly what it needs to be.  It looks good but doesn't stick out.  It's there but you wouldn't notice it if you weren't looking for it.

Setup

Google makes it easy.  The Home app on your phone walks you through the process in just a few minutes.  It connects to your Google account (only 1 account for now, hopefully we can add others in the future).  You can pick your preferred music app, Google Play Music, YouTube Music, Spotify or Pandora.  You can also add smart home devices including the Nest thermostat, Phillips Hue lights or a SmartThings hub.  Unfortunately there are some omissions.  No EcoBee thermostat, no Wink hub, etc.  Hopefully more are coming.

Using Google Home

"OK Google" or "Hey Google" triggers the smart home device.  You'll hear a familiar Google chime and know that Home is listening.  From there, ask away!  If you've ever used Google Now on an Android phone, you'll feel comfortable here.  Questions like "what's the weather" and "How many cups in a gallon" elicit appropriate responses.  Ask home to add items to your shopping list and it creates one for your on your phone in the Google Keep app.  Asking Home to "Play Christmas music" cranks out the holiday tunes.

Connected to other device

Google Home shines when it connects to other devices in your home.  If you have a Nest Thermostat connected, you can change the temperature with a simple command.  If you have a Google Chromecast or a Chromecast Audio, Home can send content to those devices too.  You can ask to play Youtube videos on the Chromecast or play music on the on the Chromecast Audio.  It works well and exactly as you would expect!  This is where the Home excels above other smart home devices.  It's the beauty of the Google ecosystem when these devices talk with each other.

Work in progress

It's no secret that the Home is still learning.  In fact, Google Home will tell you that from time to time when you ask it to do something that it doesn't know how to do you... yet.  The Amazon Echo went through the same growing pains for the first year.  The nice thing is that the Home continues to be updated with new features and skills and I can't wait to see what Home learns next.

Overall

For Google's first stab at a smart home hub, I like the Google Home!  I'm anxious to see it learn more skills and work with more devices.  Google is clearly working on that right now, just announcing developer access in early December.  None the less, the things it does do, it does really well.  For $130 it's a great little speaker that shows immense potential to soon be the center of your smart home.

The Google Home is available right now in stores and online at Google's Store.