One Month On, Is Google Home More Than A Passing Novelty?

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Last month, Google Home officially came to Australia. The cute little voice-activated home assistant received positive reviews across the board, but there was an underlying question in many of the articles: "Is this a novelty or will I actually use it long term?"

It's understandable. Interacting with the Google Home takes some getting used to, after years of using computer screens and mobile phones.

Let me offer some perspective — I imported the Google Home back in November, and found there was a honeymoon period where I'd use it constantly to play music, set timers and ask pointless questions. Soon after, I fell back into the habit of using my phone, and the Home seemed to disappear from view on our kitchen bench. Out of sight, out of mind.

But eventually it crept back in, at first just as a digital radio player.

The turning point came with Home's support for multiple accounts. It can now recognise up to six , and using voice recognition it knows who's asking it a question, and how to answer. So if my wife asks it what her day looks like, Home will read her calendar, not mine.

Support for multiple accounts goes beyond Google's calendar and shopping lists. If she asks it to play music, it will connect to her Spotify, not mine. With that simple change, my wife started using the device regularly . Now we both use the assistant daily, and our almost-two-year-old can't be far from asking it to play her The Wiggles. She's always impressed when the robot lady turns off the lights.

After briefly playing with Home's competition, I'm happy to stick with Google. Amazon deserves credit for introducing this category of product, but in my testing the sound quality of the Echo is just awful, and our main use for the Home is as a digital radio and podcast player.

Google's software understands conversational English far better than the Echo. Speaking to them both, Amazon's assistant feels almost like a command-line interface, where you need to get your syntax just right for the query to work. Home is far more forgiving, more human; it understands slang, context and follow-up questions, too.

It also seems to quickly adapt and accept shorthand commands. When first asking it to stream Double J radio, I'd need to say "Hey Google, Play Double J on TuneIn Radio." A few days later, I could just ask it to "play Double J" and itwas smart enough to fill in the blanks.

As a nod to the Australian release, simply saying "G'day" to the assistant will have it telling you the weather, any appointments in your calendar, and the latest news from a handful of local sources.

I hope Google focuses on these shorthand commands and allows users the ability to create their own. I would love to walk into the living room and say "footy", have my lights dim, the TV switch to the Swans and all my devices set themselves to Do Not Disturb.

The Echo is still the more versatile of the two home assistants when it comes to these commands. Amazon has opened its device up to third party developers with skills the system Echo can learn, from ordering an Uber to booking a table at a nearby restaurant. But Google is catching up. The Home has "actions" in the US and UK to perform similar tricks, so I'd assume we'll see actions here soon.

As for Apple's HomePod, it sounded incredible, better than a Sonos​ 5, but I guess I'm just not that much of an audiophile — Google Home sounds more than good enough for my ears. And despite being an iPhone user, I prefer Google's assistant over Siri. Either way, the HomePod isn't due until December, so I'll hold off judgment until then.


This article originally appeared in Digital Life, The Sydney Morning Herald's home for everything technology. Follow Digital Life on Facebook and Twitter.


Comments

    After having it for a few weeks, the specific phrases still bug me. It doesn't like natural language as much as I would like, or expect.

    Something along the lines of:
    "Google dim the lights"
    "Sorry, I don't understand"
    "Google, make the lights dark"
    "Sure"

    "Google, brighten the lights"
    "Sorry, I don't understand"
    "Google, Make the lights *pause for distinction between words* bright.

    The repetition in language that I have to do is driving me insane. I constantly have to assess what I say, even if it all means the same thing.

    I wish it could have a learning mode when you first get it:
    "Google, brighten the lights"
    "Sorry, I don't know what you mean, you said 'brighten the lights'", what would you like me to do when you say that?"

    Bam. Fixed the problem.

      I wish it could have a learning mode when you first get it:
      "Google, brighten the lights"
      "Sorry, I don't know what you mean, you said 'brighten the lights'", what would you like me to do when you say that?"

      Bam. Fixed the problem.
      Yes that would be nice!

      Just set up shortcuts to the command you want.
      Check the settings in the Home app ;)

    I have a couple of smart plugs on my network so as I get home from work I say "hey Google, turn the lounge light on" and then don't have to walk into a dark house!

    I also have a couple of Chromecast so can control those from it. I think if you buy Google Home as a standalone device you will probably soon get bored of it but for me already, it is just part of my house.

    I can just imagine my kids with it.

    Ok Google - what does an elephant sound like
    OK Google - what does a cow sound like
    Ok Google -.......you get the idea.

      My 18 month old hasn't mastered speech and already interacts with my Amazon Echo. It has a cute bedtime story feature that uses his name which he finds amusing.

        I know I can google it, but what is that feature?

        My 3yr old son loves having Alexa sing to him!

    Great to hear that it will build up some short hand commands. I may start using more frequently to get the shorthand to kick in.

    Mine had become a shopping list creator only. Asking "Hey Google, play Rick & Morty on Netflix on Chromecast" was taking longer than using the remote.

    People that say this is a novelty are the same people that said "why do I need my phone to do anything but call people" or "why would I need facebook on my phone?" or "why would I need a HD TV?"...

    The reality is, tools like Google Home will become the norm very quickly

    It doesn't put the shopping list anywhere I can access it other than at home..... real helpful when I'm stood in the supermarket having forgotten everything. Most functions seem a little half done.

    For as long as it's still quicker to locate the remote control and change the channel than to use voice control, I can't see these being more than a novelty.
    Expect to see a good few on ScumTree by end of January.

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