It’s very rare that you would find yourself wanting to buy a bad-looking piece of consumer tech, but for smarthome tech appearance is more important than ever. And especially for a device such as this, which by its very nature will become a talking point in your home.
Google has done a great job designing Home to blend into any environment. It’s a reasonably compact device that stands just 142.8mm high and weighs 477g. It has an angled white matte plastic top half and a coloured mesh base that conceals the speaker. Compare it to the tall black cylindrical tower that is Amazon Echo and we know which we prefer.
These bases are interchangeable, magnetically snapping into place, so you can swap the grey slate version that comes in the box for a coloured fabric (£18) or metal (£36) base that may more comfortably slip into its surroundings. Fabric bases are available in Mango, Marine and Violet, and metal bases in Carbon, Copper and Snow.
No buttons are visible from the top, but with capacitive touch you can tap a finger on its centre or say “Okay, Google” to activate a ring of Google-brand-coloured LEDs that show you it’s listening. By drawing a circular gesture around this area you can also adjust the volume.
Our home is clean (OCD bleaching clean), but we did find dust collected rather quickly on top of the speaker – and that’s not ideal if people are routinely going to be wanting to take a closer look. But we have a duster, we can deal with that.
Google Home is wireless in terms of its connection to the internet and to your devices, but to power the device itself you’ll need an available mains socket.
As power cables go, Google Home’s is largely inoffensive – white in colour, reasonably short in length, and with a neat white Google-branded plug to sit in the socket. That said, if you can hide it out of view then you should – Google Home is designed to be left on at all times, so there’s no need to be able to quickly access the socket. Just a single button can be found on Google Home, with a mute button for the mic at the rear.
The speaker itself is reasonably powerful, if not the loudest compact speaker you’ll find, with a 2in driver and twin 2in passive radiators. In this respect the Google Home is useful if only as a kitchen radio.
It can stream any online radio service, and if you have a nearby Android device (which needn’t be associated with the same Google account as Home) you will see
a notification pop up that allows you to also control playback via TuneIn.
The twin mics are also competent, and with farfield voice recognition it can pick up commands even if you’re not in the same room. But whereas Google Home has two, Amazon Echo has seven.
Background noise can complicate things, of course, and we often found it stumbled if we tried to task it to do multiple things at once. Often times you’ll get a more accurate response if you pause audio before asking a question, for example, we found it more likely to misinterpret our mumbling at such times. But the fact is every so often you will need to ask it to do something twice, or to rephrase your original request. It’s like a kid, and it’s still learning.
Naturally there will be areas within your home where you can’t hear the speaker or Google Home can’t hear you. It’s possible to connect multiple Home speakers to create multi-room audio, though with only one to test we weren’t able to try this.
Do you need to subscribe to Google services to use Google Home?
Most of what Google Home does it does without requiring additional services. You can set up Home using either Android or iOS, simply by downloading the free Google Home app and following the instructions.
You don’t need to be using Google apps on your iPhone to make use of the Google Assistant, though you will need to set up a Google account.
Currently only one Google account can be assigned to each device (in the UK at least), which is frustrating in a family setup, meaning it will work only with the preferences and services associated with that account. However, in the US – and rolling out to the UK in the coming months – is the ability for Google Home to recognise up to six users, and to do so instantly with voice recognition. In the meantime a potential workaround is to set up a family account, rather than to use one member of the household’s personal login details.
If you want Google Home to be able to read appointments in your calendar, work out how long it will take you to get to work or add an item to your shopping list then naturally certain Google apps will need to be installed. However, there are really just two instances that stand out to us as requiring subscriptions: music and video. Both you can get around, though.
The first is arguably most important, since in its most basic form this is a speaker – a smart speaker, sure, but a speaker nonetheless.
Google Home comes with a free three-month Google Music subscription, but if you wish to continue with the service after this period it will cost you £9.99 per month.
Google Music is great, with a gigantic music library from which you can play whatever song you like on whatever device you like, provided it’s signed into your Google account. But at £120 a year, it costs nearly as much as your initial outlay on Google Home. And if you subscribe to other unlimited music services you will unlikely be keen on the extra cost.
So if you don’t subscribe to Google Music, what can you play via Google Home? For a start there’s radio, and as we’ve mentioned any online radio service can be streamed via TuneIn – just say “Okay, Google, stream Capital FM’ or whatever service you require. And you can Cast content from supported apps.
As for audio purchased via or uploaded to Google Music, this is accessible only if it is featured within a playlist. You have minimal control over the playlist, so you won’t be able to choose a certain song within that group. To play a playlist you say “Okay, Google, play [name of playlist]”. It’s a similar situation with YouTube video when streamed via Chromecast or another streaming device. In order to specify a certain video to cast, Google Home demands you subscribe to YouTube Red. Problem: it’s not yet available in the UK, and even when it is it we expect it will cost you an additional £9.99 per month. Without YouTube Red Google Home will pull up a random video, which probably isn’t what you’re looking for.
If you’re a Netflix subscriber, you can also tell Google Home to play a specific video via Chromecast. Once again, though, that will require an additional cost.
Google Home is already a better device than was the Amazon Echo when it launched, and it has a huge amount of potential for future development. Sure it has room for improvement, and we’re looking forward to multiple user accounts coming to the UK, but even today we love Google Home . Marie Brewis
Android 4.2 or later, iOS 8.0 or higher 4GB RAM Dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi 142.8x96mm 477g