Category: Google Home

Google Home Six Months Later – Seemingly Always Improving

In October 2016 I received my Google Home from the Google Store.  I quickly unpacked it, got it setup using the Home app on my Nexus 6P and began issuing it random commands as I tried to learn the limits of the device.  And in that process, I found out there were quite a few.  As I put in my review of the device in November,

Can I without any doubt recommend Google Home? No, not yet at least. There is a lot of growing room to happen with this device and Google Assistant within it. Do I think I will change my view in 6 months? Almost certainly. By that time, Google and other developers will have leveraged the platform and APIs available to integrate more apps and more services.

So here we are, six months later almost to the day.  Has it improved?  Undoubtedly and it is continuing to improve.

What I expect to happen has to a large degree, with dozens of new services now available for Google Home along with better smart home integration.  It feels far more complete than it did back in October, partly because of these new services but partly because Google Assistant, built into Home, has gotten smarter too.  It is continually learning both on how I use it but also behind-the-scenes as Google tweaks it.

Can I recommend Google Home now?  Yes, without question and here is why.

Google Assistant Can Now Track Flight Costs

Google Assistant continues to gain power and knowledge, especially when it comes to integrating with other Google services.  The latest example has rolled out today and was announced on the Made by Google Twitter feed.  Now you can track flight costs from one point to another by simply giving a command.

How it works is straightforward.  Simply ask Google Assistant, “What is the cost from (A) to (B)” with A & B replaced with locations.  Assistant will then process the information and present you with all of your flight options.  By default it will give you flight information two weeks out but you can change this by including a specific date.  It will also give you the shortest flight time for the trip you have asked information on from Assistant.

Multiple Account Support Coming to Google Home

While the feature isn’t enabled yet, it appears that Google Home will soon be getting the ability to support multiple accounts.  As a Google Home Pioneer, if there are two feature requests that have been at the top of the list, it has been multiple account support and support for Exchange calendars.  The former, at least, appears to be nearly ready.  This is something that I also pointed out in my review of Google Home back in October as being something which Google needed to address.

If you aren’t familiar with Google Home, right now you can only associate one Google account with the device.  If, for example, you and your partner want to use Home, it will only give you the calendar and other personalized information for the first account setup on the device.  The issues with this are pretty self evident:  I can get my calendar’s next appointment but when my wife asks for her, she gets mine.  Even if you add a second account to the Home app, it will only give you the personalized information for the first account.

Pick Up Two Google Home for $229, a Savings of $29

Google is making it easier for you to fill your home with, erm, Google Home.  Right now at the Google Store you can pick up two of the smart speakers with Google Assistant built in for $229.  That’s a savings of $29 if you bought them separately.  Having multiple Home devices is something that has been supported since its release and allows you to get access to Assistant in which ever room it happens to be in with you.  There are also commands built into Home that allow you to play music across multiple Home devices too.

Google Home certainly doesn’t have the number of commands that its primary competitor, the Amazon Echo, has today.  But that gap is closing and closing fast.  Google nearly every week is announcing new services, bots and commands that can be used with the device.

Google Home Update Brings Dedicated Listen Tab

Google Home for Android has been updated with a new Listen tab that makes it easier to find curated music streams across a wide range of services.  The app itself was updated last week but the new Listen tab has now been enabled on the back end.  If you don’t see it yet, don’t fret.  It will be there over the course of the next few days.  Once you have it, you will be able to see music streams from the likes of Spotify and Google Play Music that you can listen to at any time.  You will also get recommendation for apps that can be used by Google Home for music streaming.

The new Listen tab also gives you recommendations of artists and music streams based on your listening habits.  This is a great way to discover new music but also rediscover an old favorite from the past.

Listen Tab in Google Home

Listen Tab in Google Home

Google’s drive is to make it easier to find streaming music.  With so many options, having the ability to scan a single tab in the Home app makes things easier and faster for you.  If you have accounts with Spotify and Google Play Music, you will be able to open those apps from within the Home app to get to the music stream easily but you can also play them from within the Home app too.

 

iHeartRadio Support Coming to Google Home

Google has quietly updated the supported services page for Google Home, adding iHeartRadio as a supported music streaming service.  Once it goes live, likely in the next few days, you will be able to request specific songs and artists to be played from the service.  Adding it will be similar to other services like Pandora and Google Play Music.  It will be under the Music section in the Google Home app where you will use your iHeartRadio account to sign in and link it to your Home.

The addition of this new service is another step in the continued growth of Google Home.  Dozens of informational services have been added since the smart speaker-meets-Google Assistant was released back in November.

Google Home Coming to The United Kingdom

With Google Assistant expanding to Android Marshmallow and Nougat devices, it only makes sense that Google Home start expanding too.  News has come from Google that starting next quarter (March-May) the smart speaker with Google Assistant embedded is going to make its way to the United Kingdom.  The news came from the BBC’s Rory Cellan-Jones who reported on a conversation he had with Google’s Rick Osterloh who indicated Home was on its way to the UK.

This will certainly be good news for readers in the UK.  Home, to this point, has been exclusively US-based but that hasn’t stopped some from buying them and having them shipped to the UK even though it isn’t support.  That, of course, has created some problems in that some of the services won’t work.

Google Home Promotion for 6 Months of Google Play Music Ends Soon

A friendly reminder to all of those who have been debating picking up a Google Home.  The promotion that gives you six months of free streaming audio on Google Play Music ends on February 27th.  That means if you want this promotion, you need to get your order in prior to that date.

Google Home launched with a lot of promotions including Google Play Music and YouTube Red.  These services are tied together so if you have a subscription for Play Music unlimited, you also have YouTube Red.  This is true for this promotion as well.  If you are already a subscriber to Google Play Music, sorry, you can’t take advantage of this promotion.

Google Home Gains Belkin Wemo and Honeywell Smart Device Support

Slow but surely, Google Home is getting smarter.  Today the Home team announced that support for smart home devices from Belkin and Honeywell could now be controlled by the smart speaker-Google Assistant infused device.  Belkin Wemo and Honeywell both make a wide range of smart home accessories that are Wi-Fi enabled such as thermostats, light switches, electrical plugs and webcams.  Now you can add these to you Google Home in the Home Control section of the app and as long as everything is on the same network, you can set it up to be controlled by Google Home.

When Home was launched last year, Google was clear that more partners would be coming to the device and more integrations would be coming.  So far we’ve seen Netflix added from an app perspective as well as a huge number of bots to get information from various resources.  With the addition of Belkin and Honeywell, from a smart home perspective, you are no longer just tied to Nest.

Google Home Gets 34 New Bots For News and Games

It has been a good week for Google Home users.  First came the integration with Netflix and Google Photos earlier in the week.  Second, and just yesterday, a slew of new bots were added to Google Home to help you get news, information, how to’s and even play games, all from voice commands to your Home.  The new bots, 34 of them in all, are available under the Services section of the app on your Android phone.  I’m referring to them as bots because you have to specifically tell Home which service to talk to and you get automated information back from that service.  It is much like a chat bot – just using your voice instead.

The list of services is pretty impressive and all of them are enabled by default.  You just have to tell Home which one you want to access.  This is done by saying “Hey Google, let me talk to about ”.  As an example, you can talk to Dominos and track your order or, equally as important, order your saved Easy Order.  Yes the fact you have to tell Home to which service to use is a bit awkward but I suspect that this will improve over time just as Home in general has improved.

Google Home Integration with Netflix Rolling Out

Google Home owners have a nice update rolling out to the Google Assistant enabled Smart Speaker.  Google is rolling out an update behind-the-scenes that is enabling the ability to add your Netflix account to the app as well as Google Photos.  When it hits your account and it is enabled on the server side by Google, it means you will be able to give your Home commands to show Netflix content or your Google Photos content by voice command.

The Netflix integration is something that most Home users, me included, have been waiting to see.  It was demonstrated at the Google event back in October and gives you the ability to instantly start watching content beyond that of Google’s services (like YouTube and Google Play Music) on your Chromecast or your Cast enabled television.

Review of Google Home – Powerful But Room to Grow

Google Home, in many ways, is the physical realization of the machine learning that Google has been doing for years.  Equipped with Google Assistant, this small, unassuming device that sits in your home is a gateway to Google and all of your personal information at a voice command away.  It is powerful and handy… but not perfect.  Like many first generation products, Google Home has room for growth in what it can do, the apps it can interact with and, of course, how it interacts with you.  I’ll borrow a phrase from my Google OnHub review earlier this year:  If you are an early adopter, Google Home is a great product for you to consider.  If not, you may want to give it a few months and software updates to improve.  And it will improve.  Unlike OnHub, which Google hasn’t fully abandoned but equally isn’t doing much more investing in thanks to Google Wi-Fi, Home is a central and key part of what Google considers the next technical transition we are to see.  That transition is from mobile to machines and Google Home will be at the center of this transition.

I’ve had my Google Home for about a week now and I have to say that it is very much a part of my daily routine and work flow.  It saves me from having to pick up my Nexus 6P or Nexus 9 to use the “OK Google” voice commands (if my phone is locked, I have to unlock it to get the results) and gives me a wealth of information all a voice command away.  But I can already see things I’d like to improve, particularly around app integration and more natural language discussions.  But that will come in time.  One thing is for sure:  The speakers in Google Home are impressive and have excellent sound.  For this, you won’t be disappointed.