Over the past couple of years, there has been a massive surge in the development of artificial intelligence (AI), especially in the consumer electronics. AI-powered voice assistants such as Bixby, Cortana, Google Assistant, and Siri have become intelligent and even humorous. These voice assistants can carry out plenty of tasks such as setting alarms and reminders, searching the web for answers, controlling smart home devices, playing music, and casting videos. They have now become so clever that they can reply back with a thoughtful answer to even the silliest of questions thrown at them.
These voice assistants were first available only on smartphones, but they have now found their way into many other devices including headphones, speakers, media streaming boxes, TVs, and even refrigerators. Many brands, including Amazon, Apple, Google, Harman Kardon, and Sonos have launched their smart speakers. Today, we are talking about the Google Home and how it performed during our month-long testing. The Google Home was launched internationally in November 2016. However, it was launched in India only recently, a couple of months ago to be exact. The Google Home comes with a price tag of Rs. 9,999, and it competes directly with the Amazon Echo.
The primary use of the Google Home is to play music, cast audio and videos to other compatible devices such as Google Cast devices, and control IoT products. For music playback and casting videos, Google Home uses online streaming services. However, in India, there are only a few such services available. Hence, the Google Home has limited resources to play with. People in India are yet to adapt to IoT and smart home products. Therefore, the usability of the Google Home is limited. So how well does the Google Home perform with all these limitations? Let’s find that out below.
Google Home Review: Design & Build Quality
The Google Home has a cylindrical design, and it narrows at the top. While the Amazon Echo and the Apple HomePod have more of an industrial look to them, the Google Home looks like it belongs to your living room and blends in with the furniture, thanks to its white-and-grey colour combination. The top half of the speaker is covered with high-quality plastic, while the bottom half is covered by a fabric sleeve. The top of the speaker has a touch-sensitive surface which can be used to adjust the volume as well as play or pause music playback. There are a few RGB LEDs below the touch-sensitive surface, and they light up when you wake up Google Assistant or adjust the volume.
The bottom of the speaker has a neatly integrated power port. The white coloured power adapter that comes with the Google Home has a flat cable, which looks immaculate on any table or shelf. The Google Home also features a button at its rear to disable the microphone for situations where you don’t want the Google Assistant to get activated.
Compared to the Amazon Echo, the Google Home built better and looks better too. The main reason for it is that the plastic used in the making of Google Home doesn’t feel as tacky as that of the Amazon Echo. Though the design is a personal preference, I personally found the Google Home very attractive. In my opinion, the Google Home blends in very well with the interiors of most homes.
Google Home Review: Setup
The Google Home needs to be set up using the Google Home app which is available on the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store. During the setup, you can link your Netflix, Play Music, Saavn, and Spotify accounts with the speaker so that you can listen to music or watch videos on your Google Cast connected device. During the setup, you can also manage the devices such as Chromecast, Android TVs, and supported IoT products that you want to control using Google Home.
Google Home Review: Voice Recognition
Google Assistant has been optimised to recognise the Indian English accent, and the voice assistant answers in the same accent, so it becomes effortless for the Indian consumers in understanding the Google Assistant. The speaker also comes with far-field microphones so that the speaker can hear voice commands clearly, even from a distance. Thanks to high-quality microphones and Google’s optimisations, the Google Home has excellent voice recognition. The speaker could understand almost each of my queries and the failure rate is almost negligible.
Google Home Review: Audio Quality
The Google Home uses a 2-inch driver and two passive radiators. Google hasn’t provided any specifications for the sound output, but the speaker is very loud considering its size. For the review, I set up the speaker in my living room, which has an area of around 275 square feet, and the Google Home could easily fill the room with enough sound.
The Google Home has a very good reproduction of mid-range frequencies (vocals) and I think that the company has tuned the speaker’s audio this way to emphasise Google Assistant’s voice as it is a smart speaker after all. While the highs sound decent, they could’ve been more sparkly. The low-frequency sounds are clearly over-powering. At low volumes, bass dominates high and vocals, due to which the speaker sounds dull. Therefore, I think listening to volume levels below 25% should be avoided on the Google Home. I think the audio quality of the Google Home is satisfying enough even though it is not balanced. This speaker isn’t for audio enthusiasts, and if you’re one, have a look at the Apple HomePod or the Google Home Max, but they aren’t available in India (yet).
Google Home Review: Usability
As far as the usability goes, the speaker can be used to set alarms and reminders, and add events to the calendar. It can also stream music from the internet using music streaming services. As of now, the Google Home supports only two major music streaming services: Google Play Music and Saavn. I hope Google expands the support for streaming services in near-future. Apart from playing the music through its internal speaker, the Google Home can also cast audio to other Google Cast compatible speakers or TVs.
The Google Home can cast videos to the TV from YouTube and Netflix. I was quite surprised with the Google Home’s capability to search for videos on YouTube. For example, I wasn’t expecting the Google Home to understand the command when I asked it to “play Modi song from AIB”. The speaker recognised it in a single go, and it played the exact song that I was looking for, and that was pretty impressive.
Searching the web for information is also a piece of cake using the Google Home, after all, who can search the internet better than Google? The speaker searched the web and accurately answered almost all my questions. The Google Home also has a good sense of humour – still not as good as Apple’s Siri, but good enough for you to talk to it. The Google Home is also handy around children; it can help them get answers and learn about things. Think general knowledge answers and language translations.
The Google Home also features Bluetooth so it can act as a standalone Bluetooth speaker, which I think is a handy feature, especially during internet outages. The speaker has seamless connectivity with supported devices. In my case, I have a couple of Chromecasts, a few Chromecast Audio units, and the Nvidia Shield TV. During the review, I didn’t face any issue while casting audio or video to these devices. However, the same might not be true in every case, especially if the internet connectivity or Wi-Fi network reception is not good. Speaking of which, the Google Home has a strong Wi-Fi and Bluetooth reception.
I have a few Xiaomi Yeelights and Yeelight Strips at my home and I could ask the Google Home to turn them on or off. However, the actions are not instantaneous. It takes a few seconds before your voice command results in an action. I am not sure whether it’s the speaker’s shortcoming or if the Yeelights are slower to react.
There are a few problems with the Google Home. First and foremost, the speaker does not respond to the “Ok Google” voice command if it is playing music at its full volume level. it can be very frustrating at times. In such situations, you might have to say “Ok Google” really loud for the speaker to respond. However, even if that doesn’t work, you’ll have to use the touch surface of the speaker to pause the music after which the speaker can hear the voice command. Speaking of the touch surface, that’s where the second problem lies. Adjusting the volume through the touch surface is not accurate, and sometimes, the surface doesn’t even register the touch. I hope Google fixes these basic problems with a software update.
As for the missing features, I found three. The Google Home can’t make calls, and it can’t send messages, which I think is a missed opportunity. Considering that people will mostly use this speaker on their desks or by the bedside, calling and messaging features would have come very handily in such conditions. The third missing feature is the lack of built-in battery, which I think is required for Indian conditions, where there are frequent power outages. None of the smart speakers has these features yet, but I think every smart speaker user would love to have a built-in battery.
Google Home Review: Verdict
The Google Home makes it easier for you to carry out a lot of tasks that are harder to perform on a smartphone or a PC. As I mentioned earlier, it takes time to get used to the voice assistant, but once you get the hang of it, you’ll love Google Home for all the things you can make it do through voice commands. Although the Google Home doesn’t have well-balanced audio output, it still makes for an excellent standalone speaker, thanks to its loudness. If you’re in it for audio excellence, look elsewhere. It sounds better than the Amazon Echo, though.
Taking the price of the Google Home into consideration, it makes for an excellent value for money device, much more after the recent price drop. In my opinion, even with the limited resources and compatible services in India, the Google Home makes for an excellent companion to enhance your entertainment and productivity. And the support for home automation will only improve from now in the country, which will make the Google Home even more useful in the long run.