Google Home (Hardware) Review: Worthy of the Hype

The home voice assistant has quickly become the hottest concept of 2017. First, there was the Amazon Echo, and while it manages to impress 70 per cent of the time, during the other 30 per cent I am left frustrated and wondering why I bother. This is where the Google Home comes in. The new home assistant from the search giant boasts many things, most of which would solve many of the issues I have with the Amazon Echo. While it does deliver on most of the promise, even this well thought out device has a little maturing to do.

Back in the long ago year of 2015, I would never have imagined the hype and marketing that home voice assistants would be getting. This past CES the voice assistants were all the rage. Products were trying their best to find ways to tap into the hype; from smart lights to smart cameras, everything wanted to be a part of the home assistant revolution.

It is out of this fervour for the home assistant that we get Google Home; a small white and grey cylinder with a speaker on the bottom and a white, modern top with some simple Google assistant indicator lights on the top. It is an unassuming design that would blend into most people’s homes—far better than the ominous black cylinder that house the Amazon Echo.

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Google Home

To ensure everyone has a Google Home that fits their needs and tastes, the base of the unit can be swapped out for a diverse array of colour options at a little over $50 apiece.  Honestly, all joking aside, the Google Home is a great looking device and one that would fit well into most home settings.

Much like all modern devices, the top of the Google Home is a touch interface. With these touch buttons you can change volume up and down as well as play music with the press of a button. The panel also houses the four google circles that will let you know about it being connected, as well as pop up when you say the key phrase, “Okay Google”. While not as fun as the Cylon-like Amazon Echo, it does have that sense of whimsy that Google products like to project.

The Google Home comes equipped with two microphones in the top of the device and four speakers in the base of the unit. Now, this may sound like a lot, but compared to the Amazon Echo with its staggering five microphones, the Google Home is actually lacking a bit in that department.

That is not to say Google Home cannot hear you as you talk about it when testing it out, I would say Google Home heard me 99% of the time. When it did not hear me, I was in another part of my house or talking to it over noise such as music. In all honesty, it worked much better than expected, and while I still believe the Amazon Echo hears me better from farther distances, the Google Home far surpassed expectations.

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Google Home

Now on the music front, Google Home is comparable to a mid-to-high end Bluetooth speaker. It manages to have clear audio although the range of the speakers does not compare to what you can get from a high-end sound system.  If you are used to the Amazon Echo, the Google Home sounds very similar. Which device is better is a toss up, and honestly, I would not use either as the main hub for music. However, both devices work perfectly fine for a small gathering or even just to throw on some music as you cook.

But you are buying these assistants to be your hub for entertainment and knowledge, so the real question is how Google Home stacks up in terms of ability and services. Due to the simple fact that Google has services such as YouTube Music and Google Play Music—that the Amazon Echo is sorely lacking—means that the Home has a leg up in this fight. It also has Spotify along with all the home products you could possibly want.

While the Amazon Echo has evolved since it first launched, and now has a slew of services that make it a much more useful tool, the fact that I work in a Google ecosystem makes Google Home just flat-out more useful. The integration with services like Google Calendar makes it invaluable to plan out meetings and set reminders with tools I actually want to use.

Now with all these features, there had to be some caveats to make it a bit more frustrating. At the time of this article, Google Home in Canada does not support multi-user, and while there are ways around this, if you are like me you have a work based Google Account and a personal one, being restricted to only one account is annoying and a major oversight; especially for a device that is meant to be the centre of your home.

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Google Home

A nice feature that makes Google Home an amazing addition to a Google household is the Chromecast integration. If you are like me, you have every TV hooked up to Chromecast. There is something oddly satisfying being able to say to the device, “Stream Castlevania from Netflix” and have it pop up on the TV.

In testing the Google Home also managed to be far more accurate in answering questions, responding to notes, and understanding what I was saying when compared to the Amazon Echo. Google simply has a bigger backbone of data to draw from, and this level of information is clearly on display when comparing the two devices.

With all the good the Google Home does, it still feels like it is lacking in a few features, but Google is aware and as the system evolves it just becomes the more useful tool in your daily routine. Even with these few drawbacks, the Google Home manages to outclass the Amazon Echo in almost every area. Google has simply built a better product and one that looks fantastic while offering a rewarding experience. While home assistance isn’t quite ready for the mainstream, none manage this specialty product better than Google—at least for now.