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.
How I Use Google Home
I should first lay down a bit of foundation for this post and explain how I use my Google Home in my day-to-day life. I work at home so a vast majority of my day is spent in my office. When I received my Google Home, I knew it was destined to sit in my office because that was the one place in the house that I would use it on a consistent basis. My goal at the time was to use the device and Google Assistant as often as possible to find out the limits of what it could do but also to maximize the use out of it.
The bulk of what I do with Home is asking when my next appointment is for the day, what time it is or the temperature outside, playing music and getting updates from various news services, NPR and BBC most often. Increasingly, I also find I use it for home automation too. I have several different Wemo control switches (office lamp, office overhead, etc) and since that service was added to Google Home, I’m not sure if I’ve opened up the Wemo app other than to configure a new switch.
For music, I have linked up three accounts that I use: Google Play Music, YouTube Music and Spotify. I subscribe to Google Play Music Unlimited (which in turn gives me YouTube Music) which covers just about all of the music I want to hear but I have linked up my free Spotify account for those times when I can’t find a genre that I want to hear at the moment. This usually comes down to particular stations offered so I like having the option.
So as you can see, nothing super exotic. I don’t use the grocery list function because my wife drives that out of her iCloud account (she’s an iPhone user) so the recent move of it from Google Keep to Home isn’t a big deal for me personally. However, even though I’m not doing complicated things with my Home device, it doesn’t mean that I haven’t appreciated some of the new services that have come to it in the past six months. There have been a lot – hundreds actually.
At the time of this writing, there are over 10,000 different services available on Amazon’s Alexa (and thus the Amazon Echo). That’s a huge number and Google Home is nowhere near that number. It is still being measured in the hundreds. But that is changing and rapidly so. Google at the end of last year opened up the Google Actions API which opened up Google Assistant and Google Home to developers who could add actions (i.e. services) to their apps for use with the two. Since that has happened, hundreds of new services have been added to Home. These range from accessing news like CNN to my personal favorite, The Bartender. The Bartender allows me to ask for a recipe for a cocktail where it will read it back to me. I can also have that recipe sent to me via email. There is even a service that will let you talk to Aeden at Westworld so you can learn more about characters in the HBO series.
As I mentioned previously, home automation is another area that Google has been working with developers on to get more services into Home. Belkin Wemo is one such service that I use throughout my office and home. Adding these devices gives me quick voice command control over laps, overhead lights and other things plugged into these smart plugs and switches. Home automation is a key area for Google and Google Home (and for Alexa and Echo for that matter) and I expect there will be even more growth in this area.
Google Assistant is Getting Smarter
The guts, really, of Google Home is Google Assistant and it continues to get smarter. Not only does it learn my search habits and things for which I query it, it is also being improved behind the scenes at Google. One example of this happened just this week: Multiple Account support. Now, using the voice recognition tools of Assistant, it can figure out who is talking – me or my wife – and give that person personalized information. In my case, I don’t necessarily care when my wife is going to be out at work or with friends but I do care about when my next appointment is for the day. It is the same, in reverse, for her. Having the ability for Assistant and thus Google Home to give us this personalized information is a massive improvement.
A key area that is lacking is support for non-Google accounts. Right now, any event I have on my Google Calendar I can get from Home with no problem. However, my corporate Exchange account is not available. Home only recognizes Google calendars. For personal use, this isn’t a big deal. However, I’m a telecommuter. I work from my home office more often than I do my company’s corporate offices. So asking for my Exchange calendar information from Home is a need for those who fit that criteria.
There are other lacking areas too but I truly believe most of these will be resolved as more developers create actions in their apps to work with Home. That includes Google.
Should You Buy Google Home?
I come back to the question at the beginning of this article and one I quoted from my review back in October 2016. Can I recommend Google Home? My answer now is yes.
Google and developers have brought a huge number of services to the device. That has made it a key part of my daily life and I suspect it would be for many of you too. I find that I am getting information from Google Home in an ever increasing amount which allows me to keep on working on whatever tasks I have going on at the time. Remember, I use my Home in my office and in my “day job” I’m always working on financials and calculations. Being able to ask Home to do a complex calculation is far, far handier than the calculator on my Google Pixel XL. But it’s beyond these types of tasks. It is being able to get a forecast for the next city I’m visiting, getting drinks and food recipes to try at home and ordering an Uber.
I’m at the point now that I can’t see my day-to-day without Google Home.