Review: Google Home and Home Mini

Smart Speakers:

love them or hate them - since the initial release of the Amazon Echo in 2014 (full public release 2015) the market have flourished. While Amazon, as well as Apple, have yet to announce plans to officially release their speakers in Sweden, Google is full set on a release on the 24th of October. Retailers have not been shy to import and sell these speakers in Scandinavia already though and the biggest improvement is the native support for Swedish (also available on imported devices of course).

 A Google Home mini, situated at the window counter above our couch.

A Google Home mini, situated at the window counter above our couch.

The Google Home was released first 2016 but has been working it self up on the sale charts. Google is also hell bent on reaching a multitude of markets across the globe, and not just in hardware but also software and language support. Swedish is amongst the languages that are supposed to be released in 2018.

We picked up our first Google Home in December -17 and thereafter two Home Minis in January. This review will include our daily usage, experience and if it's worth a purchase.  

upload.jpg

What is it good for? 

The question often asked about smart tech is do I need it? And I'm going to be honest. No, you don't need a smart speaker. But then again there are a lot of things you don't need. Water boilers, as an example: if you want tea you can boil your water on your stove. But a lot of us have a specific device for boiling water. 

I can press a button on my remote to power on our projector or use my phone to start casting music. But I can also use my voice now, which is pretty damn cool to me.  

Of course, like my fiancé pointed out to me: These speakers wouldn't be as useful if we didn't have other smart home products for it to work with and command. My father bought one as well but at this moment it is basically an expensive kitchen timer that sometimes answer questions about the population of different cities (special interests and all that). But somehow, like with smart watches, the old Minority Report future inspired nerd in me really likes our Google Home speakers and the functionality they bring. 

Hello, World!

The Basics  

As you probbly know the Google Assistant records your command, writes it down and sends it to the cloud to interpret your desired action which is sent back to the device and to which it responds accordingly. This sounds like a lengthy process buy usually takes but a few seconds. 

Through Actions for Google third parties like Philips, Logitech and even Microsoft Xbox can create voice based apps that users can sign up for. The more apps you have the more functionality and so forth. There are plenty of games and funny additions but the Smart Home Actions gives the Google Home an additional legroom. The worth of your Google Home will vary based on the amount your other products you have and what you want it to do. 

In addition to smart home interaction the Google Home is of course a speaker. With Google Chromecast built in streaming music is as easy as it's ever been and with Google search in the background it can also answer most questions in one way or another. 

Our original Google Home is a dedicated Kitchen Speaker.

Sound Quality  

I am not going to sugar coat it. I'm no audiophile. I appreciate good sound, but I'm also a product of the mp3-generation.  

To me the base model Google Home fills up a room nicely, the bass is satisfactory and I'm content to have it playing on its own. The Google Home mini is of course no contender in audio quality, but it weighs in as a small, easily positioned voice assistant. For the bedroom it's an OK music player. Our other one is placed in the living room and defaults music playback to our other speakers. Each of these speakers can also be connected to Bluetooth-speakers for a better audio-experience, if you so wish, or cast to Chromecast-enabled devices.

Different Products

Google Home now comes in several forms and sizes.

  • You have the original Google Home, even if it is fated to be compared to an air-freshener in design. This was Googles first entry to the smart speaker market and the design lends it-self to be rather iconic.

  • The Google Home Mini is compared to a Doughnut by Google it self. Mostly to describe its size in simple terminology.

  • The Google Home Max is the bigger brother of the three and aims to give you the best sound-experience from Googles in-house line-up. This one is not available in northern Europe though.

Multiroom Audio

So you have a Google Home speaker and a lot of dumb speakers all around. We set up our living room soundbar as well as hallway speakers with Chromecast Audios to enable Multiroom audio and voice controlled streaming. Our Home mini in the living room that I mentioned defaults to a group of three speakers for music playback. Kitchen (Google Home base model), Hallway and Living Room. These can of course be controlled from your smart phones as well and you can have any combination of speaker groups you'd like. A simple command like Play music on Group Speakers [name of the speaker or group] will activate the specified group or speaker. You can also specify which song, album, playlist or artist you want it to play. 

I treasure this feature.  

Smart Home controller

The Google Home can function as the ultimate remote controller for a whole lot of third party smart home services. The speaker cannot control these directly though, but requires another hub or Wi-Fi connected products that are compatible with a dedicated Actions-app.

I am making a full article about recommendations and how We use the Google Home for more than music and answering questions. Click the button below:

Long story short, we have a Raspberry Pi 3 model B set up as a Home Assistant Hub interconnecting every smart home product we currently own. This communicates with the Google Assistant and Home speakers through a simple custom made Google Actions app.

Home Assistant also offers a cloud-service in the community supprt package with a fully compatible Actions App if you do not feel like making it yourself. This is expected to be priced at $5 after the open beta ends and offers a similar app for Amazon's Alexa assistant and support for Apple Homekit.

I will publish my own tutorial on how to set up Home Assistant, as well as a dedicated Google Assistant and Apple Homekit tutorial soon.

What does the Google Home do?

As I said, the Google Home does not function as a smart home hub on its own, but can communicate with several hubs through their respective apps. So whilst it cannot control Zigbee or Z-wave devices directly, it can do so by communicating with the hubs mentioned in the other post. 

So in reality our Google Home devices can:

  • Turn on/off most of our lights

  • Turn on/off our projector and speaker (media center)

  • Control what is playing on the Chromecast in the living room through Netflix

  • Play music throughout the apartment

  • Turn on the Coffee-maker (if it is pre-loaded)

  • Set and activate morning alarms

And best of all, it also works on my smartphone when I am not home. You can also ask it what is on, or if you forgot to turn something off if you are in the car for example which is a great addition.
Through Home Assistant it is also possible to create various scripts and automations, or it is possible to use the ruotines in Google or shortcuts in Homekit through Siri.

The overall Experience

The Google Assistant is a conversational helper. I like that we can personalize it by choosing different voices for the assistant, and even what voice should answer whom based on voice recognition. 

Continued Conversation was released not to long ago and it makes the experience more stream-lined by removing the need to say "ok google" after every successful command. This does however mean that the Assistant keeps listening afterwards, in case you don't like surveillance. 
At events like parties, when the ambient volume in the room is high, the speakers do have a hard time catching the wake-up command and guests have been observed shouting "OK/Hey Google!" to get it to work. It is a great party trick though, and every time someone gets an answer it is met with joy(or sometimes sadness and sympathy since the Assistant sounds lonely at times).

Google Assistant have been a part of our home for over eleven months now, and I feel like we easily got used to talking to our appliances. Voice controlled products like the media center, lamps and music is not something you absolutely need in 2018, but it feels undeniably right to have. 

Our home is situated with a Google Home device in every room used in day-to-day life and I am even contemplating getting one for the bathroom.

I’m working on publishing posts on Home Assistant as a Smart Home hub. If interested, be sure to check it out, and don’t forget to sign up to the newsletter to not miss future posts!