Google Home


TechLife Australia - - HOTSPOT - [ JOEL BURGESS ]

IMAG­INE THIS: YOU have a new room­mate that turns on the heater for you when you get home, warms up the cof­fee ma­chine be­fore you wake up in the morn­ing, reads you to sleep at night and makes sure to turn off the bed­side light when you’re drift­ing off. This room­mate shows pa­tience when you yell, does their best to dig out an­swers to the ob­scure in­for­ma­tion you ask for, knows your per­sonal taste in mu­sic bet­ter than your clos­est friends and will play new songs that you might like on re­quest. And while your room­mate isn’t al­ways the sharpest — you’re not al­ways re­turned the an­swer you’re look­ing for or played the au­dio you were ex­pect­ing — com­mu­ni­ca­tion is very much a two-way street, and more of­ten than not, ask­ing for what you want in a dif­fer­ent way will yield a bet­ter re­sponse. More im­por­tantly, you know it’s there to lis­ten, al­ways. And it’ll even call you ‘Supreme Leader’, if you want. That room­mate is the Google As­sis­tant, and it lives in the palm-sized pod that is the Google Home.


Google Home wears a few hats, but its pri­mary func­tion is to act as a voice-con­trolled, in­ter­net-con­nected speaker. The Google As­sis­tant can be called upon to play spe­cific tracks from con­nected mu­sic stream­ing ser­vices like Google Play, Spo­tify or the ra­dio stream­ing ser­vice TuneIn, but if you don’t have a sub­scrip­tion to any of these ser­vices, the Google Home comes bun­dled with six months free ac­cess YouTube Red, al­low­ing you to cast mu­sic di­rectly to the speaker over your Wi-Fi. If you hap­pen to have a Chrome­cast Au­dio at­tached to an old re­ceiver or your favourite speak­ers (or a spare $59 for one), you can also get Google Home to cast mu­sic di­rectly to your liv­ing room by ask­ing nicely. Sadly, at the mo­ment, you can’t cast the same song across Google Home and a Chrome­cast Au­dio yet, but the Google As­sis­tant adds par­tic­u­lar em­pha­sis on the last word when it re­sponds to this in­struc­tion with “I’m sorry, I’m un­able to help you with that re­quest yet.”

Of course, those four au­dio stream­ing ser­vices aren’t go­ing to sat­isfy every­one, es­pe­cially when Google Home could re­ally be the per­fect lit­tle pod-caster if you could, say, pull the lat­est episode from Pocket Casts just

by ask­ing. At present, you can’t con­trol any other ser­vices us­ing your voice, but Google Home has all the tech needed to act as a Chrome­cast re­ceiver, so it’s just a matter of go­ing into the third-party app and click­ing the ‘Cast to Google Home’ but­ton. That does bring pop­u­lar apps like Pocket Casts, TED, Plex, SoundCloud, CloudPlayer and Chrome into the fold at launch — al­beit in a way that still ul­ti­mately re­quires you to con­trol them with your phone.

If you’re lis­ten­ing to au­dio en­ter­tain­ment through one of the four voice-sup­ported apps, you can play, pause, change the vol­ume and skip for­ward and back­wards by just us­ing your voice, but if you’re just cast­ing to the de­vice, you’ll have to re­sign your­self to the lim­ited set of vol­ume and ‘stop’ com­mands.


Google Home is an ex­cep­tion­ally smart lit­tle wire­less speaker, so when you fac­tor in that it costs $200 — no­tably less than many sim­i­larly sized portable Blue­tooth speak­ers — it makes you won­der how au­dio ac­tu­ally sounds... This bowl­ing pin-shaped boom­box has one ma­jor ad­van­tage over it’s portable com­pa­tri­ots... it’s con­nected to power. The fact that the Google Home’s sin­gle 2-inch driver doesn’t need to be op­ti­mised to use as lit­tle bat­tery power as pos­si­ble means it’s got a com­pet­i­tive edge — and they do punch well above their weight. It’s no match for a ded­i­cated hi-fi sys­tem, but for ba­sic mu­sic and pod­casts, it’s per­fect. Dual 2-inch pas­sive ra­di­a­tors add more than enough punch at the low end, while the of full-range driver adds warmth through the mid-tones and pre­ci­sion at the top end, and a rea­son­ably­loud max vol­ume with min­i­mal dis­tor­tion.


The au­dio el­e­ment of Google Home ar­guably makes it worth the ask­ing price on its own, but play­ing tunes is re­ally less than half of what the unit can achieve. The pen­guin-shaped but­ler is also the best cen­tral smart home hub we’ve yet come across. At launch, Google had al­ready done a lot of leg­work to make sure the Home can talk to any smarthome gear you might have. The search gi­ant’s reached out to var­i­ous smarthome tech­nol­ogy ven­dors, adding com­pat­i­bil­ity with Belkin’s WeMo, TP-Link’s Kasa, D-Link’s Home, Al­pha­bet’s newly launched Nest, Phillip’s Hue and Tel­stra’s Smarthome prod­ucts, to name just a hand­ful. And though all these dif­fer­ent smart de­vices have dif­fer­ent jobs and utilise dif­fer­ent apps to make them work, con­nect­ing them to Google’s Home smart­phone app (and sub­se­quently the Google Home it­self) fol­lows the same easy-tonav­i­gate process. That re­quires open­ing the con­nected-de­vices tab in said Home app, sign­ing in to the third-party app and au­tho­ris­ing con­nec­tion per­mis­sions, then sim­ply im­port­ing the list of con­nected de­vices — a sim­ple three-step process.

What’s per­haps dra­mat­i­cally more ap­peal­ing is that ev­ery sin­gle de­vice we con­nected dur­ing test­ing worked seam­lessly un­der the com­mand of Google Home. We were ac­tu­ally as­tounded to find that smart de­vices like Belkin’s WeMo plugs were sig­nif­i­cantly more re­spon­sive and con­sis­tent un­der Google Home’s eye than when con­trolled through the com­pany’s own WeMo app. It’s not just that ev­ery­thing works ex­actly as you’d ex­pect, but it also puts all smart de­vices un­der the one roof and al­lows you to use your voice to con­trol them, which is both sig­nif­i­cantly faster and re­quires far less ef­fort than us­ing apps. You will want to cor­rectly name each de­vice so that you can re­mem­ber the au­dio de­scrip­tion of, say, your liv­ing-room lamp over the down­lights in the kitchen, but the Google Home app does let you to group de­vices and al­lo­cate them to rooms — so for ex­am­ple, you can “turn off all liv­ing room lights” with a sin­gle com­mand. There’s no way to con­join mul­ti­ple com­mands by just ask­ing, but if you want to get re­ally tricky, you can pre­con­fig­ure cus­tom phrases (dubbed ‘Short­cuts’ in the Home app), which, for ex­am­ple, will cast your Google Photo’s al­bum to the Chrome­cast and play sooth­ing mu­sic when you say “How’s the seren­ity?”. Al­ter­na­tively you can con­nect it to the IoT rule-cre­at­ing-ser­vice IFTTT (, to cre­ate any cus­tomis­able trig­ger your (puny) hu­man brain can muster.


You can dic­tate notes to Google’s cloud-based note-tak­ing ap­pli­ca­tion Keep, too, so that they’re copied to all your de­vices and tap into Google’s web-based Shop­ping List ap­pli­ca­tion to add items — we’re as­sum­ing the lat­ter will even­tu­ally get some kind of su­per­mar­ket in­te­gra­tion for voice-ac­ti­vated pur­chases, as this fea­ture ex­ists in the US al­ready. If you like to keep up with the news but aren’t al­ways around for the TV’s evening slot, you can sync Google Home to your favourite Aus­tralian publi­ca­tions and pri­ori­tise them, so Home knows what head­lines and news sto­ries you want to hear first when you ask it to “give me the news”. To top it off, Google Home can read any­thing up­com­ing pegged on your Google Cal­en­dar and, with the abil­ity to sync up to six Google ac­counts and link them with a per­sonal “OK Google” voice sig­na­ture, you’ll never have to worry about other mem­bers of your house­hold peek­ing on your sched­ule.

There’s still a few key func­tions that aren’t avail­able in Aus­tralia just yet — send­ing text mes­sages or emails, and read­ing step-by-step recipes for cook­ing in par­tic­u­lar — but we’ve been as­sured that they’re on the way. The other lim­i­ta­tion we found in test­ing was that the Home’s ef­fec­tive mi­cro­phone range is only one room at the mo­ment, and there’s no prospect of adding ad­di­tional ‘satel­lite’ lis­ten­ing de­vices, as you can with Ama­zon’s Echo Dots. You can yell at the Home from ad­ja­cent rooms, but the re­li­a­bil­ity drops con­sid­er­ably. As far as down­sides go, that’s re­ally it, though, and there’s a heap more use­ful things that Google Home can do right now that we haven’t been able to cover deeply here, in­clud­ing pro­vid­ing dic­tio­nary def­i­ni­tions, lo­cal food and event rec­om­men­da­tions, nutri­tion tips, a cook­ing timer, trans­la­tions, travel in­for­ma­tion, unit con­ver­sion and weather fore­casts.

The two-toned Google Home will al­ways have a white tip, but you can swap out the sub­dued grey speaker grill on the bot­tom half for a jet black ‘Car­bon’ or a pol­ished ‘Cop­per’ colour­ing, with ei­ther cost­ing $59.

While we weren’t sure just what to re­ally ex­pect when we took in the Google Home — the first smart-as­sis­tant to land in Aus­tralia — it didn’t take long at all for this handy helper to feel like a part of the fam­ily.


For $59, you can swap out the stock grey speaker grill for a ‘car­bon’ or ‘cop­per’ base that’ll add some drama to this sub­tle piece of tech.

The sin­gle 2-inch full-range driver and dual 2-inch pas­sive re­sis­tors com­bine to pump out re­spectable au­dio — well, at least con­sid­er­ing Home’s com­pact size and price point.

Google Home is com­pat­i­ble with a range of ex­ist­ing smarthome de­vices in­clud­ing Belkin WeMo, D-Link Home, TP-Link Kasa, Al­pha­bet Nest, Phillips Hue and Tel­stra’s Smarthome.

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