Google Home, the competitive smart speaker to the Amazon Echo, unveiled at Google I/O, officially launched today. Now available for pre-order for $129 and shipping on November 4th, Google Home is powered by Google Assistant, the voice activated and AI-driven virtual assistant also built-in the new Google Pixel smartphone.
Just by talking to your Google Home, you will be able to start playing music, get answers from Google, manage everyday tasks (thanks to the Assistant) and control devices around the house.
Besides being cheaper than Echo, Google Home delivers better intelligence, a multi-room feature, and a super stylish design. And, according to the demo on stage, a great integration with multiple Google services such as Google Play and Google Chromecast. However, Amazon Alexa, the software that powers Echo has already integrated with hundreds of third party services, while Google showcased only a few, such as Spotify, Pandora, Tune In, SmartThings, IFTTT, Uber…
Industrial Design and Hardware (very good)
Stylish and neutral industrial design
The Google Home was “inspired by objects commonly found in homes like wine glass or candles”, and the design team worked with a white top and a clean dynamic shape to deliver a neutral look that aims to blend into your living room.
Consumers will be able to customize their Google Home with 7 different colors and 2 different materials for the speaker cover at the bottom: the fabric version is available in Mango, Marine, Violet, and the metal version in Carbon, Snow, or Copper. The gray version might be either made of fabric or metal.
Great user interface with subtle feedback
The top lights up with four colored LEDs (blue, red, yellow, green) to let you know it is listening, when the user activates Home by saying “ok Google”, the magic sentence used by all Google voice-activated devices, such as Android Wear powered smartwatches, or Android Auto compatible cars.
The top surface is also a capacitive touch panel that allows to pause the music, change the volume or starts the Google Assistant.
Top voice recognition and audio
According to Google, the hardware delivers best in class voice recognition, thanks to the far field microphone and machine learning algorithm that helped to recognized hundreds of sounds pattern to separate speech from background noises. The company also claims the audio quality is amazing. We will need to check that when we get our hands on the device.
How does it work?
On stage, Rishi Chandra showed a few demos of Google home’s capabilities, see below a few examples he provided on stage:
1/ Enjoy Music from multiple sources
Basically, you can ask Google home to play your favorite music, and you can tweak the volume just by asking for it. For now, the device is compatible with Google play, Spotify, Pandora, TuneIn and soon will integrate with iHeart Radio.
The intelligence behind the software allows to requesting songs according to your mood or a category, such as “workout” music for example.
The music search is powered by Google so, in case you do not remember a song title, you can describe it with context to retrieve it.
Additionally, you can listen to radio stations, podcasts or news feed from NPR, and music from your Android and iOS devices.
2/ Get answers from Google
Google Home takes advantage of the knowledge graph defined by the Google Search team over the years, that now “has over 70 billion facts” according to Sundar Pichai, CEO, Alphabet.
To demonstrates its power, Rishi Chandra started to ask what is Adele’s real name and Home answered right away ”it is Adele Laurie Blue Adkins”. And then, he asked: “how many Grammy has she won”. The answers came from Wikipedia.
Google Search can look for answers from top expert websites as well, for more specific queries such as “can dogs eat chocolate” or how to remove a wine stain from a cloth.
Assisting users while they travel is a key competitive advantage, thanks to Google’s map and translation services that can be activated with voice queries.
3/ Manage everyday tasks with Google Assistant
The My Day feature summarizes important topics for the user in a very compelling way. You can activate it simply by saying “Ok Google, good morning!” while drinking your first coffee, then Home tells you the time, the weather report, your commuting time, the traffic status, and reminders of your tasks for the day. Rishi compared it to the President’s daily briefing.
The built-in Google Assistant can also help you around the home when you are planning a dinner for example. It helps with the shopping list and the nutrition facts, and sets multiple timers for cooking, everything is done only by using voice commands. Since Google Assistant is integrated to the Pixel smartphone as well, it displays the shopping list there upon request.
Google Assistant lets you interact with your favorite apps, as it was demoed later with the Uber app, via a smart conversation with the system.
4/ Control your devices at home
As we all knew it for a while, Google stated that voice will become the standard way to interact with your devices in the near future. The company partnered with Nest, Philips Hue, SmartThings and IFTTT. As you may know, Nest, an Alphabet/google company, offers the smart thermostat, the smart smoke detector, the smart surveillance camera, Philips sells the most popular connected light bulb on the market, the Hue, and SmartThings, acquired two years ago by Samsung, offers the SmartThings Hub that is compatible with about 200 devices for the smart home.
Google plans to announce more partnerships in order to remote control as many devices as possible from its Home smart speaker.
Integration with Google Chromecast
In case you are one of the 30 million Chromecast users, you will enjoy a better experience with the ability to voice control your TV and speakers. We got a demo of the feature with the query “Ok Google play a Katy Perry latest music video on my TV”. The voice commands can also control playback, and continue to control the video on other android devices seamlessly.
In addition to YouTube videos, users will also be able to control Netflix movies, and Google plans to add more partnerships like this one in the future.
Combined with the in-image search capabilities of Google Photo, you can voice search for your photos and display them on your TV.
The Google intelligent speaker will also work with Chromecast Audio, so it will be able to control your speaker’s system, without any wires or cables. Any Google Cast-enabled TV or speakers made by OEMs will be compatible with Google Home as well.
The system Google Home + Chromecast truly delivers a complete hands-free control of the TV, so the traditional remote control may be dead now (or soon)!
Besides the search engine and the AI-powered Google Assistant, the multi-room audio support is one of the unique features that is absent from competitive product Amazon Echo.
Multi-room support enables multiple Google Home devices to play the same song in different rooms at the same time, and you can add Chromecast Audio or Cast-speakers to the group. Additionally, Google designed the Assistant to be context-aware (see graphic above), so only the closest smart speaker will respond, and it will respond intelligently across your Home and Android devices. Basically, the right device will answer your question right away.
Pricing and availability
Google Home is now available for pre-order for $129 with a 6-month free subscription for YouTube Red, that gives access to YouTube Music, Google Play Music, and the ad-free version of YouTube.
You can pre-order Google Home in the U.S. today from Google Store, Best Buy, Walmart and Target and it will ship on November 4th in retail stores.
Conclusion (Excellent on the paper, better than Amazon Echo)
At Ubergizmo we are big fans of the Amazon Echo for various reasons. We love to ask all kinds of questions using our voice from anywhere in the room, without the need to look for our smartphone. In the morning, when I wake up, I love to ask Alexa to read me the NPR news out loud with my eyes still closed, since I need 30 minutes to totally wake up and jump out of my bed.
Those examples are just a few among the limitless applications you will be able to get from intelligent speakers connected to thousands of services. My only concern is with privacy, although Google assured that Home starts to listen to you only when you say “ok Google”, however, I am not sure if it cannot be hacked, just like webcams, and controlled to constantly listen.
Google Home looks even smarter on the paper with more capabilities such as the multi-room feature and the super stylish design!