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.