Google Home Review: Good, Bad, Promising, Confusing

posted in: Google, Google Home, Hardware | 0

I was intrigued by Google Home since its introduction in early October of 2016. I loved the idea of a voice assistant, but it had one huge flaw that had me holding-off on the purchase.

Initially, it only supported one Google account, basically nullifying all of its coolest capabilities for those who weren’t single, and living alone.

It did no good if my wife asked for a daily briefing and got mine, or vice-versa.

About this time last month, Google finally announced that multiple voice recognition (and hence, multiple account support) was ready, I immediately ordered ours, and it arrived a few days later.

Google Home is Really Easy to Set-up

I already had Google’s Home app installed on my Android device (since it’s also required for my Chromecasts), but if you don’t have it already, it’s only a click away in the Play Store (there’s an iOS version, too, if you prefer Apple stuff).

My First Google Home Let-Down Was Not Google’s Fault

As anxious as I was to test multiple voice recognition, my wife came-down with laryngitis the night before Home arrived (talk about really bad timing). I couldn’t understand her when she tried to speak, so I figured it wasn’t fair to expect Google Home to.

A couple of weeks later, her voice was back-to-normal, and we gave it a shot.

Google Home Multiple Voice Recognition Actually Works Pretty Well

Setting that up was fairly easy… She has the Google Home app on her devices, and I have it on mine, and with a few taps, and a couple of moments of “Voice training” (which is really just repeating “OK, Google,” and “Hey, Google” twice). It was done.

I could say, “OK, Google… What’s my name?” and it would answer, “Your name is Tom,” and when she did the same, it would reply, “Your name is Polly.”

Strangely, it kept forgetting my voice the first couple of days, prompting me to retrain it.

I found that odd in that, despite having a few personal flaws, my voice isn’t one of them. I spent more than a decade as one of America’s top-rated radio DJs. My enunciation and inflection is as close to perfect as it gets. Plus, I have no real “accent” (in other words, I have what should be the easiest voice to recognize & interpret).

Thankfully, Google made a “tweak” a few days later (or, maybe the AI “learned?”). It’s been flawless since.

Google Home is One Embodiment of Google Assistant (Sort-of)

Reading the Google propaganda, they make it sound as if “Google Assistant” is a “thing” (“Your own, personal Google”), but that’s not entirely true.

The commands Google Home understands is a subset of those that Google Assistant on my phone understands (and vice-versa).

They really behave like very different apps, sharing the same name, and that leads to a lot of unnatural confusion.

For example, Google Assistant on my phone can put things in my calendar, and set reminders.

Shockingly, the “flavor” of Assistant on Home, cannot.

Google Home Doesn’t Integrate With Other Google Services as Well as You’d Think

I was so thrilled the first time I asked it for my daily briefing, only to discover it ignores most of my calendars!?

Of course, I have my own personal calendar, and Home seems to deal with that just fine, but I also have my work calendar tied to my account, as well as a “shared” calendar my wife and I maintain for “stuff to do together.”

They’re all right there in my calendar — I can see them on my phone, and on the web.

But Google Home just ignores them, and only tells me about what’s on my “personal” calendar, which is often the least important stuff most days.

That’s a huge fail on Google’s part (somebody didn’t have their thinking cap on that day?).

Google also really screwed-up the handling of Lists in Google Home, too.

I used to use Google Assistant on my phone (and Google Now before that) to add something to my “Weekend Projects” list, or my “Things to Pack For Camping List.” It was all stored in Google Keep.

That’s all broken in the Google Home implementation of Google Assistant.

Google Home’s flavor of the assistant no longer recognizes Keep at all (from what I can tell), and puts everything in a generic list tied to Google Shopping, which makes it basically useless.

Also, sadly, I can’t set reminders, or schedule meetings using Google Home, like I can with the variation of Assistant on my phone?

Google Home Does Some Things Really Well

I love that I can have it send my Google Play Music playlists straight to the stereo, and have it send pretty much anything from Netflix to the TV.

The Google Home support in IFTTT, using applets, has some potential. For example, I have an IFTTT applet that sets my Google WiFi router to give priority to my main TV Chromecast.

That IFTTT potential isn’t really being utilized much yet, but I have to assume Google has plans for it.

Google Home Has Some Surprises

At Google I/O (2017) yesterday, during the keynote, it was announced that Google Home units would soon become Bluetooth speakers, implying the Bluetooth circuitry has been built-in all along, and just never utilized?

Google Home Summary

The Good Things About Google Home

  • Multiple Voice recognition seems pretty solid
  • It integrates really well with some Google products, such as Play Music, and the Google WiFi router
  • IFTTT applets show some promise

The Bad Things About Google Home

  • Integration with Google Calendar is pretty much non-existent at this point, unless you put your entire world into one calendar
  • Integration with Google Keep appears to be gone… Forget it if you bought Google’s pitch to put your life into Keep