Google Home review

Google’s smart speaker could replace your phone – eventually

What is it?

Is it a homepage? Is it an order? Is it a giant house where all the Google employees live, switching on the lights and opening doors over the internet? In a way, Google Home is all of these things.

google-home

So why have you used a photo of a Bluetooth speaker?

No, you’re right, it’s basically a speaker that looks a bit like a vase. Google Home can stream music from your phone and tablet, like so many other speakers. But what makes Google Home special is that it’s powered by Google Assistant, the search giant’s brand new AI (artificial intelligence) voice-controlled software.

A speaker you can talk to?

Yes. To control your music, for example, you can tell it what to play next, turn the volume down (or up) and so on. Connect it to other Wi-Fi-enabled products around your home, and you can control them all simply by talking.

Wi-Fi products like the kettle that doesn’t work, you mean?

Ah, yes. Data analyst Mark Rittman recently spent 11 hours trying to get his £99.99 iKettle to boil. Rittman finally got his cup of tea – after boiling water in a saucepan. The smart home isn’t that smart yet, it seems.

Will Google Home make it smarter?

It certainly looks that way. The kettle story gave us all a laugh, but this technology is evolving fast. Google Home is itself an improvement on Google Now, the AI software you can command by shouting “OK Google” at your Android phone.

Google Home is similar to Amazon’s Echo smart speaker.

It’s not another Cortana, is it?

Actually it’s more like Amazon’s new Echo speaker, in that you can have a conversation with it. Instead of simply barking an order and then rolling your eyes because it doesn’t understand – as usually happens with Microsoft’s Cortana and Apple’s Siri – you can engage Google Home in discussion. It keeps track of follow-up questions, works out their context and then responds intelligently. It’s even witty, thanks to the help of comedy writers from Disney’s Pixar.

Great, but how will it help me around the house?

Google Home already supports Chromecast, Philips Hue lightbulbs and the Nest thermostat, so you can tell it to warm up the room, switch on the lights and find something decent to watch on Netflix. Or simply ask it what’s for dinner, and it’ll offer recipes and even provide directions to the supermarket. It syncs with your Google account, so it gets to know you, which you may or may not feel comfortable with.

Will it replace my phone?

It could. You can do your searching, weather-checking, travel booking and more by talking to Google Home instead of fiddling with a screen. When you do need a screen – for video messaging, for example – then connect it to your TV or PC via Wi-Fi.

Where can I buy Google Home?

Nowhere just yet. It goes on sale in the US on 4 November – somewhat cheaper than the Amazon Echo. But Google hasn’t revealed a UK release date or price yet, and will only say it “hopes to make Google Home available (in the UK) in the future”. Meanwhile you can get the Google Assistant software on phones and tablets running Android Nougat 7.1 (due in early December).

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