The battle for your pocket was won a few years ago with Android and iOS leaving little room for competition. While Amazon tried to enter the smartphone market, it failed miserably but didn’t give up on devices and has a major hit with the Echo. The Echo is powered by Amazon’s AI assitant named Alexa who can not only help with playing music, audiobooks or podcasts, but it can also order an Uber or even order products from the Amazon store.
Upon seeing Amazon’s huge success, Google entered the smart home market with the Google Home. The Google Home is powered by its Google Assistant which is what is now found on its smartphones in the Pixel and Pixel XL. The Google Assistant is the next generation of Google Now which adds in more conversational type intelligence versus the older voice search method of the previous generation. The assistant is arguably smarter than Apple’s Siri and Microsoft’s Cortana, but it is still in its infancy which means there are basics that are left out that Google Now could handle with ease.
The Google Home is a 360 degree cylinder styled speaker with three drivers, that point in different directions, to create room filling sound. The Home weighs in at 1.05 pounds, is 5.62″ tall with a diameter of 3.79″. It’s a small device but isn’t portable like Bluetooth speakers you bring along with you on trips. There is one active 2″ driver that is flanked by two 2″ passive radiators that creates a rich sounding experience.
Instead the Home stays plugged into a wall and connects to your home Wi-Fi network so it can stream music, answer questions, control smart home connected products, set alarms, integrate into your calendar, give weather updates and read the news. All of these features can be given through voice commands using the keyboards “OK Google” to turn the microphones on.
There are basic functions built into the touchable interface on the top of the speaker. You can control the volume or turn the speaker on/off with simple taps. At the top of the Home is where you will also see the LEDs that show volume or Google’s Assitant colors when giving it a command or asking it a question.
When I play music on my Home it serves its purpose well when I am using it in the kitchen while cooking, or in the bathroom while I shower. It’s nice not to have to touch my phone to pick the songs I want to play and I can change the loudness with simple voice commands. However when it comes to music, there are far better sounding speakers that I would choose over the Home. Those speakers aren’t smart, but they are portable and are designed to sound good. The Home lacks in detail and is a bit too bass heavy for my taste, and the sound isn’t truly 360 degrees. It is a direction speaker and to get the most from the sound you should have the main active driver pointed towards you or else it will sound even less detailed.
The Home is certainly only designed to be used in single rooms, so if you truly want to use it to control your home’s smart devices with your voice, you’re going to need to invest in more than one. At $129, it won’t be cheap considering you’re probably going to want at least three of them to maximize your usage. This is one area where being two years behind hurts Google, as Amazon already has three smart speakers in its lineup. The full sized Echo, the cheaper $50 Echo Dots which can be connected to external speakers or can be used alone, and a portable Echo Tap. As someone who has used the Echo lineup since it was released, I find myself turning to them for music over the Google Home because they sound better as they are connected to other speakers I own. I have yet to come across a situation where I think the Home is better than the Echo. The Home is nothing more than an alternative to Amazon’s Echo. The microphones work equally well, and they perform most of the same functions.
Google’s willingness to give up on products makes it extremely difficult for me to recommend the Home. Google has experimented with dozens of products that have gone without updates or next generation releases. It recently killed of its Nexus smartphone lineup. It has killed off its Chromebook and seems to have given up on tablets altogether. Google tries lots of things and hopes one is a hit. While some of its concepts are fantastic, it leaves many early adopters searching for alternatives when it decides to quietly shut down its programs.
Amazon has a deep interest in the continued development of its Echo lineup. The smart speakers are a gateway to sell Amazon products such as Prime, Music and products from the Amazon store. Google’s bread and butter is advertisements from searches. I’m not sure how Google can monetize the Home unless it starts to generate advertisements. Amazon also has a two year head start on the Google and is already in millions of homes. I can’t imagine there would be many people who would want to make the switch from their Echos to the Home. Given Google’s limited functionality of its devices on iOS, I’d imagine Apple users going with the Echo over the Home too.
While the Home is a great idea, it’s not an original one and is already dominated by Amazon. Overall the functions are similar, but there are some basics that can leave users frustrated. Unless Google fully commits to the Home and updates it with features that aren’t available on the Echo, I won’t be recommending it anytime soon.