Google’s latest gadget is an always on, always listening little speaker called Home – and its officially available in Australia from today. It’s a cute design, a friendly little blob of a thing that looks like a half finished cartoon character. Here are our first impressions.
Setting up the Home is simple. In less than a minute I’d connected it to my phone, then onto the Wi-Fi. When seting up the product, you need to change the language settings on your phone to English (Australian) for the app to work properly.
Google Home is a 'smart home' gadget that responds to your voice commands in a variety of ways. Nine months after its debut in the US, it is finally available to buy in Australia - complete with a dinky-di accent. Here are the release date and pricing details for Google Home (along with Google's new Wi-Fi Mesh Router.)Read more
At its simplest, the Home is a good little Wi-Fi speaker you can ‘cast’ to, flinging podcasts and music from your phone. And it’s fantastic for this purpose. The speaker sounds great and is surprisingly loud. Home can also play directly from Google Music, Spotify and Pandora, so you don’t need your phone nearby. Just ask it to “play Beyonce” and Queen B will play.
The Home has Google’s Assistant built in — which knows as much or as little about you as you let Google know. I use Google services for just about everything, so there’s nothing the company doesn’t know. So when I ask “Ok Google, what do I have on today?” Home was able to read back my calendar appointments, then tell me how long it would take to drive to work.
Currently, the Home can be linked to six Google accounts, so a family can easily share a device. It can also learn your voice and tell the difference between your voice and other people.
I originally had our Home set up beside the TV in our living room, to take advantage of using it to voice control our Chromecast. It worked better than expected. “Ok Google, play Zootopia on the TV” was all I needed to switch the TV to the correct HDMI, find Zootopia in Netflix, and start playing.
As cool as that was, I eventually moved the Home into the kitchen, where it made more sense as a hands-free timer and podcast player when I’m cooking or doing the dishes. It’s also a more natural spot to add items to a shopping list, another nifty trick. Perhaps I need a second Home?
My only other annoyance is “Ok Google” is a terribly clumsy expression to say. Thankfully a friend told me “Hey Google” works just as well. So that’s how I speak to it now. I’d prefer full customisation of that trigger word though, so I can bark “Computer! Tea, Earl Grey. Hot.”
And you don’t need to speak that loud. I spoke in a whisper to see if Home’s microphones would be able to hear me. And they did, from the other side of the room. Impressive.
Home can also tell you the weather, play music and read from selected news services. Supported apps and services in Australia include Spotify, YouTube Music, Google Play Music, TuneIn Radio, Fox Sports, ABC News, The Australian, Huffington Post, TechCrunch and Sky News. Amazon seems to have the lead on Google in terms of third party integration, but it’s not official available in Australia yet.
The Home has been a surprisingly fun little addition to my home. It’s one of most interesting new gadgets I’ve played with this year, and while it can’t do a lot right now, it’s full of potential.
This article originally appeared in Digital Life, The Sydney Morning Herald’s home for everything technology. Follow Digital Life on Facebook and Twitter.
Note: This story originally appeared in December 2016 and has been slightly modified.