Google Home review

You’ve heard of the Amazon Echo, now meet Google Home. A new smart home speaker from the daddy of online search and services, it should be the smart device to rule them all. It’s behind the Echo in development, and still has much to learn, but even today the Google Home is a top buy. Also see: 100 funny things to ask Google Home

I’ve been wanting to get my hands on Google Home ever since it was announced at Google I/O in May 2016. It became available in the US later in 2016, and as of 6 April 2017 you can finally buy it in the UK too.

Costing £129 (direct from Google or via Argos, Currys, John Lewis or Maplin), I’d recommend it over any budget Bluetooth speaker. But that’s not strictly what it is. Actually, that’s not what it is at all.

So what is Google Home?

Google describes its new Home device as a hands-free smart speaker. Always-on, it wakes to the command “Okay, Google” or “Hey, Google”, and though you can’t currently change this wake-up command you can alternatively tap the centre of its capacitive-touch top surface should you begin to get a little tongue-twisted.

It plays music, sure, but doing so isn’t a case of hooking up your phone via an AUX cable or Bluetooth and using it to blare out tunes. Instead, you stream music via online radio services, Google Play Music or Spotify Premium, or Cast-enabled apps. Right now Google Home doesn’t support Bluetooth at all, with setup completed via Wi-Fi (dual-band 802.11ac is supported). Also see: How to play music on Google Home without a subscription

Google Home

Google Home is perhaps better thought of as the physical home to the new Google Assistant voice assistant that debuted in Android Nougat on the Pixel and Pixel XL. Also see: How to use Google Assistant

It’s not yet as intelligent as the Assistant demoed during Google’s presentation, which could find a restaurant and place a reservation on your behalf, but it is possible to hold a conversation with Home. You might ask it, for example, what is the nearest pharmacy and then separately when do they close, but the need to say “Okay, Google” both times is a pain - we wish it would keep listening until we’re done.

Today, Home is a voice-operated speaker that can answer any question for which you might Google the answer - whether or not you need an umbrella, how long it will take you to get to work, what are the latest headlines, where you should go for dinner and even the answers to complicated mathematical sums. In most cases it’s clever enough to understand natural language, though trying to get it to do too much at once can confuse things.

It’s more than that, though. Tying into a Google account it can tell you what’s on the calendar for your day, add items to your Google Keep shopping list, and even pull up a slideshow of images from Google Photos via Chromecast.

Home’s integration with Google apps isn’t universal, and the ability to add only one Google account is a limitation, but keep watching this space. We’re sure it’s only a matter of time before Google Home is able to send navigation instructions to your phone, pull up your most recent Gmail messages and allow you to dictate notes. Even placing a phone call over Google Home could become a reality. Also see: How to add user accounts to Google Home

The multiple user accounts issue is also going to become a thing of the past, with Google Home now able to support up to six users in the US - and it can do so instantly by recognising their voices. That change is coming to the UK in the coming months.

Google Home

Google Home can set alarms and timers, and if you have any other smart-home tech installed in your home chances are it can control it. Google still needs to nail down more third-party partnerships, but Home is already compatible with popular smart devices such as Philips Hue, Nest, Samsung SmartThings and WeMo, while IFTTT support means there may well be a simple workaround for devices not on the list.

Using IFTTT we were able to use Google Home to complete tasks it isn’t technically able to do yet - send a text message to one of our contacts via an Android phone, for example, or modify its answer upon completion of a task (you really can get it to say anything you want). More practically, through IFTTT Google Home was able to turn on and off LightWave lights and switches in our home.

Google Home has a fun side too, and will happily tell you a joke or a fun fact, attempt to beatbox and even host a game of Trivia or Crystal Maze. It will sing you Happy Birthday, ably demonstrate various animal noises and appeal to your childish side by giving you audible definitions of any term you like. Just tell it you’re bored and see what happens.

Right now the Google Home stands out against the £149 Amazon Echo only in price and design, but with time on its side and Google in charge Home could eventually mature into one of the best smart home speakers money can buy. Let’s take a closer look.

Google Home design and build

It’s very rare that you would find yourself wanting to buy a bad-looking piece of consumer tech, but for smart-home tech appearance is more important than ever. And especially for a device such as this, which by its very nature will become a talking point in your home.

Google has done a great job designing Home to blend into any environment. It’s a reasonably compact device that stands just 142.8mm high and weighs 477g. It has an angled white matte plastic top half and a coloured mesh base that conceals the speaker. Compare it to the tall black cylindrical tower that is Amazon Echo and we know which we prefer.

Google Home

These bases are interchangeable, magnetically snapping into place, so you can swap the grey slate version that comes in the box for a coloured fabric (£18) or metal (£36) base that may more comfortably slip into its surroundings. Fabric bases are available in Mango, Marine and Violet, and metal bases in Carbon, Copper and Snow.

No buttons are visible from the top, but with capacitive touch you can tap a finger on its centre or say “Okay, Google” to activate a ring of Google-brand-coloured LEDs that show you it’s listening. By drawing a circular gesture around this area you can also adjust the volume.

Our home is clean (OCD bleaching clean), but we did find dust collected rather quickly on top of the speaker - and that’s not ideal if people are routinely going to be wanting to take a closer look. But we have a duster, we can deal with that.

Google Home is wireless in terms of its connection to the internet and to your devices, but to power the device itself you’ll need an available mains socket.

As power cables go, Google Home’s is largely inoffensive - white in colour, reasonably short in length, and with a neat white Google-branded plug to sit in the socket. That said, if you can hide it out of view then you should - Google Home is designed to be left on at all times, so there’s no need to be able to quickly access the socket.

Just a single button can be found on Google Home, with a mute button for the mic at the rear.

Google Home review continues on the next page >>