Ever since I heard about the Amazon Echo a couple of years ago I’ve wanted a personal assistant speaker. The idea I could just walk into my home and tell it to turn on lights or adjust my thermostat was the obvious next level in my dream of having a high-tech house.
While I waited for Amazon to release the Echo (or its cousin, the Echo Dot) in Canada, Google unleashed the Google Assistant on its line of Pixel phones. The Assistant was near perfection and was the main reason I ditched my iPhone and made the move to Android (bye, Siri). It kept getting better and better, too, with new capabilities being added frequently.
So when Google announced the Google Home, their Echo competitor, back in 2016, I was intrigued at what it could offer. It appeared to be just like the Assistant on my phone but able to do more in my home and for my entire family. And unlike the Echo, which uses Bing to look things up, Home has the almighty Google Search behind it. Then Google did something Amazon didn’t (and still hasn’t) – they released the Google Home in Canada!
Now, my excitement of having a personal assistant speaker over the years was not shared by my wife. My kids, of course, were on my side, but she was not sold on having a device “listening” in on us and told me I was never going to be allowed to bring one into our home. When Google offered to lend me a Home to review I figured it would be the only way I could convince her we needed one and, spoiler alert, it worked!
Here’s what impressed my family the most about the Google Home and why we can’t live without one now.
I was not expecting much in the sound department from the air freshener looking Google Home. I’m used to streaming music via my Sonos system, which is still the gold standard for connected speakers in my opinion. That said, the Google Home offers really good sound quality that fills my living room quite nicely.
Being able to control Spotify (my streaming music service of choice) and raise or lower the volume via my voice is also a big benefit and a huge timesaver. This was by far the biggest selling feature for my wife, and even my kids ask it to play songs they like (although my youngest is hooked on Kenny Loggins’ “Danger Zone” thanks to Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare and that’s all I hear now).
Controlling my lights and thermostat by voice is what I wanted the Google Home for in the first place, and it has lived up to my expectations!
The Google Home works with a majority of “smart” products and was easy to connect with my Philips Hue bulbs, Nest thermostat and Lutron switches. I can say things like “Ok, Google dim my living room lights” and ta-da, my living room Hue bulbs dim! Or I can say “Ok, Google adjust the temperature to 21” and I can see my Nest light up and adjust the temperature. It also works with the Wink hub, WeMo plugs and switches, TP-Link bulbs and Samsung’s SmartThings hub (among a slew of other devices).
Sadly, Logitech does not support the Google Home in Canada yet so users of the Harmony remote won’t be able to control their TVs via voice (this is an option in the U.S. and I still don’t understand why it doesn’t work here). If you have a Chromecast though (which, I do not) you can use the Google Home to control it via voice.
It really is an assistant
Since the Google Home is connected to your Google account it truly does act as a personal assistant. “Ok, Google what’s my day like?” will tell you things that are on your calendar, let you know how long your commute to work is and tell you the weather for the day.
You can also ask for the latest headlines and it will play you clips from news providers you’ve selected (CBC, Global News, Sportsnet and CityNews are available Canadian sources). And it works for multiple users, meaning my wife and I can both access our own info depending on who is talking.
Perfect in the kitchen
Using the Google Home to add items to our shopping list, set timers when we’re cooking, convert measurements and even find recipes are features of the Home I never expected to be hooked on. It’s pretty much the perfect kitchen gadget and has become a great motivation to get me cooking more.
With a six and a 10-year-old in the house we get a lot of questions about a lot of different things. We try our best to answer everything we can but when they ask a question like “how many home runs did Jackie Robinson hit?” I need to look it up. These questions usually come up at the dinner table when phones and computers are not around (and not allowed). Now we can ask the Google Home questions to get the answer and that tends to lead into more questions and more learning opportunities.
My wife also found this to be a blessing when doing homework for a class she was taking. Instead of getting distracted on her phone or computer she asked it a few questions to clarify info as she was writing notes.
The Google Home is loaded with fun word and sound games you can play. These range from trivia and math-based games to things like Mad Libs and Tic Tac Toe. Because there is no screen, you need to visualize and actually use your brain a bit more than if you were just playing a game on your phone or tablet. My kids and I find it’s great to play these around the breakfast table and I’ve even caught them forgoing their iPad time in favour of these games.
Have a Google Home or want one? Share your thoughts on it in the comments below or at facebook.com/bamcatBuzz.