I was lucky enough to receive an imported Google Home unit just before Christmas and I think I’ve now had enough time to get to grips with it and talk about how it functions outside of the US (I’m in the UK). The unit cost about £110 imported after tax which compares favorably to the competition (£150 for the Amazon Echo). The American unit is boxed very nicely and copes fine on 240V but does have a US plug, an adaptor for this will probably cost you less than £5.
Google Home, for those of you not in the know, is Google’s answer to the Amazon Echo; a compact wireless speaker which listens for a keyword and can then respond to your queries and take some limited actions. Having also owned both the Echo and Dot from Amazon I’d like to offer some comparisons and try to give you an idea of what device would be best for your home.
In terms of physical design the Home is the antithesis of the Echo, it’s half the size and resembles, as has often been said, an air freshener more than a home electronics product. The bottom of the unit is a magnetically attached grill for which you can purchase different colour and material finishes to better blend in with your decor. Price as yet unconfirmed for the UK. The top of the device is touch sensitive allowing you to set volume or mute the unit and a series of coloured LED’s shine through the plastic to register your actions in much the same way as the Echo.
In terms of sound I would put the Home slightly above the Echo, surprising considering the size differential. Neither device has particularly great audio but both suffice. Sadly both also suffer from what seems like a silly mistake which affects usability as it doesn’t seem possible to ‘lock’ the audio level of the units voice prompts. Whilst both allow you to set a separate audio level for alarms all other audio uses the current main level. The upshot of this is that if you are playing quiet background music, something that seems like a common use case, and then you ask for the time or to add something to your shopping list as examples it’s really hard to hear Home or the Echo respond. Hopefully these issues get fixed in a software update.
In terms of eco system things seem fairly level to me though your mileage may vary. Both have support for Nest, Philips HUE, Smarthings and IFTT. The only other thing I would have a use case for is the Harmony remote control integration which is coming soon for the Echo in the UK.
Right, some pro’s and con’s might be in order here:
You can purchase the cheaper Echo Dot (often around £40) and plug into better speakers or connect via Bluetooth. It’s easy and cheap to add them all over your house.
There are more ‘integrations’ available for the Echo already and plenty of companies are building their own versions of the Echo
The keyword ‘Alexa’ feels like a way more natural way to talk to something than saying ‘Hey Google’
Advantage Google home
Chromecast integration, this is a biggie for me. Forget casting programs to your TV with your voice which is cool but focus on the fact that you can easily build a whole home audio system for peanuts. It’s crazy that the Echo doesn’t allow multiple devices to play music at the same time yet. I can say ‘Hey Google, cast my background playlist to all my speakers’ and the whole house comes alive. Very cool and the audio chromecasts have been on offer for as little as £14
Blends in really nicely to your home and has changeable covers
Ties into your Google account which make be a blessing or a curse depending on how you have things setup
I find the answers to random questions to be a little better as well as easier to get thanks to the natural language processing. Although the unit will only accept American English at the moment which makes it slightly worse than it could be. also this tends to be easier to turn of lights or change heating levels as it becomes less important to remember the exact syntax involved.
All in all I’m very pleased with the Google Home, Hopefully I’ll be filling my house with these soon.