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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

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