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.

Specifications & Form Factor

One of the first things that you will notice about Google Home is its size.  It’s small, much smaller than the Amazon Echo and smaller than the Google OnHub router.  It stands only 5.62″ tall with a

Google Home
Google Home

diameter of 3.79″.  In new money that 142.8 x 96.4 mm.  Weight wise it feels a bit hefty for the physical dimensions of the unit at 1.05 lbs (477g).  The top of the device is angled and it touch sensitive so you can pause and play music and turn the volume up or down with a circular motion clockwise or anti-clockwise.  The upper body of Home is white while the fabric bottom, which can be replaced with another color, comes in a Slate color from Google.  Different color bases are available for $20 from the Google Store.

When Google introduced Home back in October, they made it quite clear that this was a “smart speaker”.  You would expect then that it would have good sound quality which it does thanks to its speaker configuration.  It is equipped with a AudioHigh excursion speaker that has a 2″ driver as well as dual 2″ passive radiators.  This allows the Home to fill a room of any reasonable size with good sound quality.  Home supports a wide range of audio formats:

  • HE-AAC
  • LC-AAC+
  • MP3
  • Vorbis
  • WAV (LPCM)
  • FLAC (with support for high-resolution streams)

Google Home is also equipped with dual microphones that have far-field voice recognition.  I’ll cover the performance of the speakers and microphones later on in the review.

Essentially, Google Home is a Chromecast device and runs Chromecast software.  That is why the Google Home app (formerly Google Cast) can easily work with it as well as your other Chromecast devices.  Like other Cast devices, Wi-Fi support is provided in Home.  It supports 802.11ac, both 2.4GHz and 5GHz networks.

Voice Recognition & Commands

If you have enabled “OK Google” on your Android phone, then using Google Home will feel very natural – even if saying “OK Google” to start things up is a bit odd.  To get Home working you can either say that or “Hey Google” and the LED lights at the top will light up, letting you know that Google Assistant inside Home is listening.  From here, the commands are pretty extensive and probably the better news, the list of commands that it understands will be evolving as updates come to home.  For now though, here is a pretty thorough list of commands, but certainly not all of them.  For each of these, you need to start with either “OK Google” or “Hey Google”

Music Commands

  • Play by
  • Play
  • Who is singing this song?
  • What is the title of this song?
  • Increase volume
  • Increase volume to 11 (Max… and yes, it goes to 11)
  • Turn it down
  • Turn it down to minimum
  • Stop
  • Pause
  • Resume or Continue Music

Tools and Productivity

  • Set an alarm for
  • Set an alarm for every at
  • Wake me up at
  • When is my next alarm?
  • Snooze alarm
  • Cancel the alarm for
  • Set a timer for
  • How much time is left on my timer?
  • What time is it?
  • What time is it in ?
  • How much is in
  • Where am I?
  • How do you say in
  • Add to my shopping list (will be added to a auto-created list in Google Keep)
  • How do you make
  • What is
  • What is the square root of
  • How many are in a (inches in a foot, feet in a mile, etc)

Searching the Web

  • What is the weather today?
  • What is the temperature outside?
  • Is it going to rain today?
  • What is the weather in ?
  • What is the traffic like to get to work?
  • What is Google’s stock price or What is Google trading at?
  • Define or what is the definition of or what is the meaning of
  • How do you spell
  • When is this year?
  • Who is , How old is , who is married too?, who is father/mother?
  • What country is located?
  • How far is it from to
  • How far is from here
  • How late is open?
  • What’s today’s news?
  • How many calories are in ?
  • What sound does an make?

Easter Eggs

  • do a barrel roll
  • what is the loneliest number?
  • make me a sandwich
  • When am I?
  • beam me up Scotty
  • tell me a joke
  • up up down down left right left right BA start
  • Who’s on first?
  • I’m your father
  • Set phasers to kill
  • Did you fart?
  • It’s my birthday
  • Who is the real Slim Shady?
  • Where’s Waldo
  • Party on Wayne

For those of you who have smart home devices like Phillips Hue or Next thermostats, you have commands available to you that are specific to those products.

  • Turn up the two degrees
  • Turn on
  • Set to 50%
  • Turn on

Again, this is by no means a comprehensive list and the best way to figure out if Home knows what you are asking is to just ask.  If it says it can’t do that or doesn’t understand, try to rephrase your question.  In my testing I’ve found that Google Home is very good at picking up your voice and giving you the information you are asking for at the time.  The microphones work very well and I’ve been as far away as 15′ using my normal voice and it heard me and my request.

One thing that is interesting is if you have your phone with OK Google enabled in the same room as Google Home.  If you say OK Google, your phone and Google home will listen but the default is to give you the answer on Google Home.  In that scenario, you will see a small pop-up on your phone that says “answered on another device”.

To be sure, there are some things that Google Home cannot do yet.  For example, it cannot add something to your calendar and it can only add things to your grocery list in Keep currently.  These are things that will change with time but be aware that this is very much a product that is growing up as it goes.

Sound Quality

Google Home Speakers & Interchangeable Base
Google Home Speakers & Interchangeable Base

When Google introduced Google Home at the October event, they used the term “Smart Speaker”.  At first, I thought that was a bit odd but now that I’ve had it in my house for a few weeks, I get where they were going.  While Google Assistant is built-in, fundamentally the base of Home is a set speakers that are really good.  The sound quality and tonal quality from it is excellent and the majority of every day my Google Home is playing music in my office as I work.  It also has enough volume to fill a room nicely with music although it certainly isn’t going to replace your more advanced speaker systems out there.  You certainly won’t be disappointed with Home from a sound quality perspective.

App Integration & Google Home App

One of the sorta fulfilled promises of Google Home is app integration.  I say sorta because there are some apps that are integrated and work well with Home.  There are different music services you can integrate into the Google Home app such as Google’s Play Music, YouTube Music, Spotify and Pandora.  Just link your accounts (for Spotify and Pandora) and you can listen to those services by saying “Hey Google, Play Tom Sawyer by Rush on Spotify” as an example.  As for Smart Home IoT things such as Next, Philips Hue and SmartThings, those too can be added and integrated into Home for controlling within the app.

One area that is clearly an area of growth for Home is further integrated apps and services.  Today, you can link your Uber account and have Google Home hail you an Uber.  It’s nice and easy and works very well.  But things like OpenTable for restaurant bookings, or Evernote for lists and notes, even calendar integration is not there currently.  These will come, undoubtedly, but if you are looking to truly manage multiple aspects of your daily and social life, there are gaps.

As for the Google Home app itself, there are not a lot of surprises.  You can, of course, manage your Home and Chromecast devices as well as your Smart Home items mentioned above.  You can also customize Google Assistant to personalize it.  If you go into the app, go to your Google Home then select settings from the menu, you can customize your music services, your news sources and shopping lists.  There is also a feature named My Day which I find very handy.  In the morning, I come into my office and say “Hey Google, Good Morning.”  I then get the current time and temperature, when my next appointment is and a summary of news from BBC.  That news summary is highly customizable and that is found in the News section of the settings for Google Assistant.

Google Home App
Google Home App

Conclusion & Recommendation

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.  Google themselves will improve the platform to integrate their own services better and, of course, the machine learning behind Google Assistant will continue to learn and evolve.  If you can live with all of the shortcomings now and want to really dive into this product, go get one.  It is awesome and I use Home far more than I expected to when I received it.

If you don’t want to go through the growing pains, then wait.  Give it six months and evaluate.  But one thing is for sure, there will be a tipping point – 3 months, 6 months, 12 months, not sure – that Google Home will be so powerful that you cannot have one in your daily life.  Of that, I’m convinced.

You can buy Google Home for a range of retailers including Google and Best Buy.  The price is $129 while you can get additional bases to better fit your decor for $20 each from Google.