Google Home review: How my family got hooked on a personal assistant speaker

Google Home

My Google Home patiently waiting for me to ask it something.

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.

The speaker

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).

Home control

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.

General knowledge

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.

Games

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.

The Google Home can be purchased in Canada for $159 from the Google Store. It’s also available to purchase at Best Buy and Home Depot.

Have a Google Home or want one? Share your thoughts on it in the comments below or at facebook.com/bamcatBuzz.

Around the House (Sept. 12, 2016)

Around the House is a weekly roundup of news items related to smart devices, tools, kitchen gadgets and anything else worth mentioning from the last week that affects our home life.

Nest Cam Outdoor arrives

The highly anticipated Nest Cam Outdoor is now available to purchase for a cool $249.99 CDN. The weatherproof camera allows users to monitor the outside of their homes live 24/7 and also includes two-way audio. Users with a Nest Aware subscription can receive person alerts and have 10 or 30-day video history saved in the cloud depending on the package they subscribe to. Nest also added three new thermostat colour options this week. For those unhappy with only being able to purchase the standard stainless steel model, you can now get it in white, black and copper.

Nest Cam Outdoor

The Nest Cam Outdoor is now available in Canada for $249.

Apple shows off ‘Home’ app

During its iPhone 7 event last week, Apple briefly showed off its new ‘Home’ app in iOS 10, which will give users total control of HomeKit integrated smart devices in one location. Compatible devices include the likes of Philips Hue bulbs, the ecobee3 thermostat and Schlage Connect locks (among others). Besides the announcement that Mario is coming to the iPhone and iPad this holiday season (about time!), the ‘Home’ demo was the most exciting thing about the event.

Apple Home App

Apple’s ‘Home’ app.

PlayStation 4 Pro announced

The PlayStation 4 Pro is coming November 10. Along with a faster processor and a 1TB hard drive, it opens up 4K gaming. Unfortunately it does not not support 4K UltraHD Blu-ray titles like the XBOX One S does. This is somewhat odd since Sony Home Entertainment has been pumping out 4K UltraHD Blu-ray movies all year, including the Angry Birds movie (which, if you’re going to watch, it might as well be in 4K UltraHD).

PS4 Pro

The Sony PlayStation Pro 4.

Milwaukee Tool has a light for everyone

Four new lighting options are coming this fall from Milwaukee Tool. These include the M18 Rocket LED Tower Light/Charger, M12 ROVER LED Compact Flood Light, M18 LED Search Light and M18 RADIUS LED Compact Site Light w/ONE-KEY, which can be programmed via the ONE-KEY app and remotely controlled from up to 50-feet away. As a fan of the Milwaukee Tool brand I’m excited for all of these. All four options will be available in October.

Milwaukee M18 RADIUS LED Compact Site Light w/ONE-KEY

The Milwaukee M18 RADIUS LED Compact Site Light w/ONE-KEY.

Samsung Canada officially recalls Note 7

After some serious issues surrounding the Note 7 battery (like the potential of it to explode and cause a fire), Samsung Canada has issued a recall notice for the device. If you purchased one between August 19 and September 1, 2016, you are urged to power it down and register for a new one. There’s been approximately 21,953 of these sold in Canada (according to Health Canada) so if you know someone with one let them know about the recall.

Have something to add to Around the House weekly? Share your thoughts in the comments below or at facebook.com/bamcatBuzz.

Netatmo Weather Station review: Cool device; far from perfect

Netatmo Weather Station

The Netatmo Weather Station is a cool “smart” device, but lacks a lot of features that would make it a must-have item.

The Netatmo Weather Station is the first personal home weather station I’ve used and from what I read beforehand, I expected a full featured connected home device. And while it has many great qualities, it lacks in a few critical areas. Here are my thoughts on the device after playing with it for a few weeks.

What is the Netatmo Weather Station?

The Netatmo Weather Station is a personal home weather station that connects via your Android or iOS device. The base kit consists of an indoor base station and an outdoor module that can detect heat, humidity, air pressure, air quality and carbon dioxide (CO2) levels. The indoor base station can also monitor those things as well as noise levels. Accessories like a rain gauge and a wind gauge can be added to give a user more information.

BELOW: Watch as I unbox the Netatmo Weather Station and its accessories

Setting up the Netatmo Weather Station

The indoor base station plugs into a wall outlet to get power and needs to be somewhere close enough to the outside module. Once it’s booted, you use the app to connect it to your home Wi-Fi and set it up. The outdoor module requires AAA batteries and needs to be mounted in a location that it won’t get wet or be in direct sunlight. It needs to be positioned close enough to the indoor base station for the two to sync. Getting those working together was a fairly simple task.

Netatmo Weather Station

The Netatmo Weather Station outdoor module mounted to my house.

Where I had issues was when connecting the rain gauge and wind gauge accessories. Both use AAA batteries and both need to be near the indoor base station as well. After a few hiccups, the rain gauge synced and I found a good spot to mount it where it could collect rain and still be in range. I fought with the wind gauge for about an hour and never got it to connect. I packed it up and never bothered trying it again as it was too frustrating.

Using the Netatmo Weather Station

Once the Netatmo Weather Station is set-up it pretty much runs itself. The app will notify you when CO2 levels are over 1,000 ppm or when there is a large amount of rain collected. You can of course load the app to check conditions whenever you want. The main indoor base station also lights up with different colours if CO2 levels are high.

What I liked about the Netatmo Weather Station

For the most part, the Netatmo Weather Station is a slick-looking “smart home” device that has a lot of information to offer. From the packaging to the slim design of the base station and outdoor module, it feels very much like an Apple product. I liked the fact the outdoor module and accessories took batteries and didn’t rely on house power. The app (I tested both the Android and iOS version) is well designed and I discovered having a super local forecast in my backyard really does make a difference. There’s also a nice weather map feature that shows other Netatmo Weather Station readings from around the world.

What I didn’t like about the Netatmo Weather Station

Besides not being able to get the wind gauge to work, I was irked that it and the rain gauge didn’t include a mounting bracket and that Netatmo sells the bracket as a separate accessory. I only had one bracket in my review kit, meaning that even if I got the wind gauge to work I would have had to decide on what accessory to use as I could only use one. This is a bit sneaky on Netatmo’s part in my opinion. Also, no matter how tight I had the bracket, the rain gauge tipped over a few times during heavy downpours making it seem like there was no rain at all.

Netatmo Weather Station

The Netatmo Weather Station rain gauge accessory mounted on my fence.

I was also disappointed with the lack of integration with other “smart home” devices, such as the Nest Learning Thermostat and Wink Relay. Both of these would make the Netatmo Weather Station a much more valuable tool for the connected home.

How the Netatmo Weather Station could be better

It would be great if the Netatmo Weather Station included a wall-mounted display panel as having to always load an app is a bit tiresome, especially when there’s a whole family involved. This could easily be solved if it could integrate with other devices better, such as the Wink Relay. I would also like the ability to have the Netatmo data sync with other weather apps. I also think that the wind gauge and rain gauge could be merged into one unit for space and cost savings.

Final thoughts

The Netatmo Weather Station is a cool “smart” device, but with the lack of a wall display and no integration with my other devices, it’s not an essential tool for my connected home and I won’t be running out to buy one anytime soon. It did open my eyes to the potential of having a personal weather station though and I do now want one.

The Netatmo Weather Station base package retails for $179.99. The rain gauge is an extra $79.99 and the wind gauge runs for $99.99 (the mounting bracket is $24.99). An additional indoor module is also available for $79.99. For more information, visit netatmo.com.

Do you use a Netatmo or other connected weather station at home? Share your thoughts in the comments below or at facebook.com/bamcatBuzz.

Nest aims to make your home safer with new outdoor camera

Nest Cam Outdoor

The Nest Cam Outdoor is available to pre-order in Canada for $249. It ships in the fall.

Nest Labs, the makers of the Nest Learning Thermostat and Nest Protect smoke + CO alarm, announced its newest “smart home” device Thursday – the Nest Cam Outdoor.

The Nest Cam Outdoor compliments the existing indoor Nest Cam to help make your home more secure. The weatherproof camera gives a 130° view and records and streams in 1080p HD. It also has eight infrared LEDs so that users have a clear picture around the clock.

RELATED: WeMo devices now work with the Nest thermostat

“Nest Cam provides customers with peace of mind and the ability to stay connected to the things they care most about. Now, Nest Cam Outdoor brings thoughtful security outside of customers’ homes, helping them secure their property and giving them more ways to watch over their families, even when they’re miles away,” Maxime Veron, director of hardware product marketing at Nest said in a press release.

For Nest Aware subscribers, the Nest Cam Outdoor records 24/7 to the cloud and includes a new features called Person Alerts, which can tell if the camera is detecting an actual person or an animal or movement from wind.

“The future is about intelligent alerts. Customers want to know when something is happening that genuinely deserves their attention. Person alerts are the first of many innovations that will make Nest Cam a more helpful partner in securing the home,” said Veron.

Other features of the Nest Cam Outdoor include easy setup (it has a magnetic base) and two-way audio so a user can talk and listen to someone through it (great for people who get a lot of packages delivered).

RELATED: 3 ‘smart’ home devices to get excited for in 2016

The only obvious downside to the Nest Cam Outdoor is that it requires a power source instead of running off of solar and battery power.

Nest also announced an updated version of its Nest app Thursday, which will include a new feature called Spaces. Spaces organizes Nest products by room, giving a user more control of their home.

The new app, which will be available to download later this month, also unlocks features for current Nest Cam owners. These include secure private camera sharing, auto-bandwidth and high resolution 1080p viewing for Dropcam Pro customers.

The Nest Cam Outdoor is available to pre-order in Canada now for $249. It ships in the fall. For more information on the Nest Cam Outdoor, visit nest.com.

Are you excited for the Nest Cam Outdoor? Share your thoughts in the comments below or at facebook.com/bamcatBuzz.

WeMo devices now work with the Nest thermostat

WeMo works with Nest

The WeMo line of connected switches and plugs now works with Google’s Nest thermostat.

Belkin announced Tuesday that its line of WeMo connected light switches and wall plugs now works with Google’s Nest thermostat.

WeMo users can control basic functions of the Nest thermostat via the latest version of the WeMo app (1.15) for both Android and iOS devices. This eliminates the need to switch between two apps in order to check or adjust the temperature of your home (you can also switch between heat and A/C, see the inside humidity and shut-off your furnace).

RELATED: A look at Belkin’s WeMo Switch (and who should be using it)

Rules can also be created now to turn off lights or devices connected to WeMo switches and plugs when the Nest is in “away” mode or to have lights or devices turn on when the Nest knows you’re home.

WeMo products that work with Nest include the WeMo Switch, WeMo Insight Switch, WeMo Light Switch and WeMo Maker.

For those interested in “smart home” technology this news has been a long time coming. Having all your connected devices able to talk to each other makes for a seamless connected home experience that requires a lot less effort and energy to run.

How to introduce your WeMo to your Nest

To get WeMo devices talking with Nest you must have the latest version of the WeMo app (1.15) installed and your WeMo devices and Nest must be setup on your home network and working.

From the WeMo app click the “more” (or gear) button and then press the “connect to Nest” button. Follow the steps to finish setting up the WeMo-Nest introduction.

Once your Nest is synced you’ll be able to see it and control it from within the WeMo app.

Are you excited that WeMo and Nest now work together? Share your thoughts in the comments below or at facebook.com/bamcatBuzz.