Google wants to embed itself in your home, to one-up Amazon.
As a result, we have the Google Home family. Here's everything you know about it, including what it is, how the original Google Home works (especially Google Assistant), and where you can buy these speakers.
What is Google Home?
Google Home is a Wi-Fi speaker that doubles as a smart home control centre and a personal assistant for the entire family. You can use it to playback entertainment throughout your home, effortlessly manage everyday tasks, and ask Google things you want to know. It's basically an Amazon Echo device, but it's Google version.
The device itself has interchangeable bases available in various colours and finishes (such as metal and fabric, allowing you to match it to your decor). Underneath that swappable shell there is a speaker that can playback songs and allow Google Assistant to talk to you. And at the top, there is a capacitive touch display with four LEDs.
You'll use this display to interact with Home, trigger Assistant, adjust volume, and so forth. As for buttons, there are none (just dual mics that listen for your voice). There is, however, a single mute button on the shell. Google Home can filter and separate speech from noise and offers "best-in-class voice recognition", according to Google.
The actual speaker insider features dual side-facing passive radiators, which deliver full range, clear highs, and rich bass. And the entire contraption is available in three colour variations: Mango, Marine, and Violet bases join Carbon, Snow, and Copper tops. The $20 bases can be swapped out, too. So you can buy several of them, if you want.
What about Google Home Max and Mini?
In 2017, Google expanded the Google Home line to include the Google Home Max and Google Home Mini. Think of Google Home Max as the Sonos-level version of Google Home. It's a premium speaker product. Meanwhile, the Google Home Mini is more like an Amazon Echo Dot. It's a compact, affordable speaker. Both have Assistant.
These three speakers make up the Google Home family. Although they have different speaker specs and tech specs, the important thing to remember is that you can use any of them for music and video playback, smart home control, and usual voice command queries. To see how they technically differ, check out our guide here:
How does Google Home work?
Music and video playback
Because Google Home is a Wi-Fi speaker, it can stream music directly from the cloud. With it you can access songs, playlists, albums, artists, and podcasts from your favourite music services just by asking with your voice. Or, if you prefer, you can send music from your Android or iOS device through Google Cast.
That last bit is important because, with Google Cast support, you'll be able to use Google Home to control other connected speakers in your home. You'll even get multi-room playback, meaning you can add one or more Google Home devices to a group of speakers in order to blast tunes throughout your house. But that's not all...
Google Home will let you control your video content. Let's say you want to watch your latest episode of Daredevil on Netflix, or some sort of cat video on YouTube. Just issue a voice command to Google Home, and then the content will appear on your TV. This only works if you've set up both devices in the Google Home app, however.
Smart home hub
Google Home can be a control centre for your entire home, because it has access to Google Assistant (see below). It will let you do the basics like set alarms and timers and manage to-do lists and shopping lists. It will also connect your smarthome and support popular network systems. But you need the Google Home app to do any of this.
Once you set up your Google Home device in the Google Home app and all your smart devices in your home, you will be able to control them, whether they're smart lights, switches, doors, or Google's own Nest products. Google plans to work with developers so you can control things beyond the home too, such as booking a car or ordering dinner.
The best part is you will be able to do this with just your voice.
Speaking of your voice, Google Home will let you ask Google anything.
You can ask for the weather update or seek facts on Wikipedia. You will have access to Google's 17 years of search experience. That allows you to ask specific questions such as "How much fat is in an avocado?" or "What is Wayne Rooney's shirt number?" Those types of questions would stump Amazon Echo, but not Google.
Because Google Home has Google Assistant, you can be conversational and ask follow-up questions, too, like "Where did he go to school?" and then Google Home will be able to connect the "he" pronoun to your previous question about Rooney or whoever in order to serve up an accurate answer. You can even ask complex stuff.
So, say, "OK Google, what was the US population when NASA was established?" Google Home will give you immediate answers each time. Also, it can read the relevant parts of webpages back to you.
Which services does Google Home support?
At launch, Google Home works with YouTube Music, Spotify, Pandora, Google Play Music, TuneIn, and iHeart Radio. In the UK, there are specific services, such as BBC, Telegraph, and Guardian news sources. To connect your accounts of these services to your Google Home, you will need to use the Google Home app.
With support for these services, you can ask, "OK Google, play that Shakira song from Zootopia." Without having to name the song, Google Home can figure it out and play it from your favourite app. Thanks to Google Assistant and its machine-learning capabilities, Google Home knows you and your preferences and learns over time.
Google Home also works with Nest, SmartThings, Philips Hue, and IFTTT, which means you'll be able to control these smart home devices and activate your IFTTT recipes using the speaker. Google Home also acts as a Chromecast Audio receiver. We know we sound repetitive, but again, you must set these up with the Google Home app.
What is Google Assistant in Google Home?
At Google I/O 2016, Google announced a new Siri-like bot that is an adaption of Google Now and OK Google. It's Google Assistant, and it improves the two-way conversation experience of those services with AI and machine learning.
These advances essentially add context to your questions. For instance, when you say, "OK Google", followed by "What's playing tonight?", Google Assistant will show films at your local cinema. But, if you add, "We're planning on bringing the kids", Google Assistant will know to serve up showtimes for kid-friendly films.
You could then say "Let's see the Jungle Book", and Assistant will buy tickets. You can even ask, "Is the Jungle Book any good?", and then the assistant will display reviews, ratings, and a trailer. Google Assistant is able to string your questions together in order to determine context and serve up the right information.
It can do basic stuff like retrieve your travel itinerary, daily schedule, commute time to work, package delivery information, and more. Google Home isn't the only device with access to the Google Assistant, however. You'll also be able to use the assistant with Android Nougat devices and your Android Auto head unit.
Here's how Google explained its new assistant:
"The assistant is conversational - an ongoing two-way dialogue between you and Google that understands your world and helps you get things done. It makes it easy to buy movie tickets while on the go, to find that perfect restaurant for your family to grab a quick bite before the movie starts, and then help you navigate to the theater."
Assistant on Google Home is the same as your Assistant on the phone. Data is shared across your devices.
When will Google Home be available?
Google Home is now available in the US and UK.
Where can you buy Google Home?
Here's where you can buy Google Home, Google Home Max, and Google Home Mini, plus what they each cost:
- Availability: UK (from Currys, Argos), US (from BestBuy)
- Price: £129/$109 (discounted to £78 for Black Friday)
Google Home Max
- Availability: US only (from BestBuy, Google Store, Walmart)
- Price: $399