When the Android Authority family first reviewed the Google Home smart speaker back in 2016, the conclusion was simple – a positive start and an even more promising future. But not the easiest to recommend. Almost two years later and Google has certainly delivered on that promising future. After initially lagging, the Google Home has not only caught up but also surpassed the competition in many aspects. It is a lot more capable, supports a lot more apps, and definitely works much better as the control center of your smart home.
Is this the smart speaker for you? We find out, in this 2018 Google Home review!
An air freshener, a diffuser, a vase, or a lamp have all been used to describe the design of the Google Home, and I’m guessing that’s exactly what Google was hoping to achieve. Well, maybe not the Glade air freshener comparison memes. Nevertheless, the idea with the design is to allow the smart speaker to blend in with any decor, and Google Home does that with ease.
The regular Google Home comes with a white top and a base covered in a grey fabric with a mesh design. Keeping in line with the idea of blending in, the base cover is removable and can be replaced quite easily with something that may better fit the aesthetic of the room. Replacement options include Coral, Mango, Marine, and Violet in fabric, as well as Copper or Carbon metal bases.
The entire angled top is a capacitive touch surface that lets you tap it to pause or play your music, stop an alarm, and perform other functions. A long press will enable the microphone, and swiping in the clockwise or counter-clockwise directions let you control the volume. The only button you will see on the device is to the side and a very useful mute button to ensure that the microphones aren’t listening.
As is the case with a lot of Google’s hardware products, the beauty of the Google Home speaker is in its simplicity. The diminutive size and discrete, customizable design mean that the speaker won’t look out of place in any part of the room. The only thing you need to consider with regards to its placement is proximity to a power source since Google Home needs to be plugged-in to work.
The Google Home’s hardware and design haven’t changed since the device was launched back in November 2016. However, it’s a completely different story on the software side of things, which isn’t particularly surprising given the company in question.
Like before, Google Home remains incredibly easy to set up. All you need is the Google Home app that can be downloaded from the Google Play Store or the iOS App Store. The app lets you connect the Google Home to your home network and also works as a hub for all the services and smart devices that will be linked to the speaker.
Whatever you do with Google Home, it starts with the phrases “OK, Google” or “Hey, Google,” which launches the Google Assistant (a long press on the device works as well). I also have a Pixel 2 XL with Google Assistant set to always listening, even when the screen is off. I was worried that saying OK Google would launch the Assistant on both devices, but that wasn’t the case. When both are in the room, only the speaker responds. Or that’s how it’s supposed to work. It’s definitely more hit than miss, but my phone tends to launch the Google Assistant as well occasionally.
Speaking of the Google Assistant, it remains at the core of the Google Home experience. And Home users have certainly benefited from the significant improvements to the Assistant over the past couple of years. There was a slew of new features introduced at the last couple of Google I/O’s and the Assistant’s abilities seem to grow every day.
Some new features worth mentioning include the ability to now choose between six new voices for the Assistant. But I have to say that I’m now so used to the regular voice that it felt weird to change it to anything else. It’ll still be interesting to try out John Legend’s voice when it comes to Google Assistant later this year though. Continued conversation is also a great new feature that not only makes the whole thing feel a lot more natural but takes away the annoyance of having to say “OK, Google” or “Hey, Google,” all the time.
Rehashing all its capabilities here would simply take too long, but we have a comprehensive guide available for all the Google Home commands possible that you should definitely check out. Of course, the features mentioned below are basically controlled using the Google Assistant as well.
While only one account could be linked previously, Google now allows up to six accounts to be used with Home. Google Assistant also uses Voice Match to recognize who the speaker is and cater the answer to their query accordingly. This is done by accessing that person’s account information like calendar events, music apps and playlists, favorite movies and shows, flight info, and a whole lot more.
This setup works really well. There are just the two of us in this house, but Home is able to recognize who is speaking easily and respond accordingly. So we can both say “play my favorite playlist” or ask for upcoming calendar events and the speaker responds with the correct person’s information.
Google Home supports Google Play Music, iHeart Radio, Pandora, Spotify, Youtube Music, and more in the U.S. Google has also partnered with a slew of regional streaming services in the different countries that Google Home is available. You can set a specific service as the default selection so you don’t have to mention an app each time. Check out our complete list of supported audio and video services to see exactly which apps will work with your Google Home.
The best part is that if there is a service that isn’t supported but you have the app on your phone or PC, you can also use Google Home as a Bluetooth speaker. On the flip side, you can also use Google Home to play audio through another Bluetooth speaker that is connected to it. You can even set up multi-room speakers and have audio play through all of them.
If you have an Android TV or a Chromecast connected to a TV, you can use Google Home to run everything using your voice. There are quite a few apps that support Google Cast now, like Netflix, Hulu, Showtime, HBO GO, and a whole lot more. Google also recently announced support for Google Play Movies and Youtube TV. Simply say “OK, Google, play Black Mirror on the bedroom TV” and you’re good to go. You can also pause or stop a video, skip to the next episode, and reduce the volume using your voice.
Support for third-party smart home products is where Google was found lagging against the likes of the Amazon Echo. Google has certainly caught up significantly in this regard with over 5,000 devices supported currently. However, Amazon still has the leg up here, with that number closer to 12,000. I don’t have a lot of smart home devices around the house, except for some smart bulbs (Philips Hue), an Android TV, and a Chromecast plugged into another one. But everything works as expected, and it’s really fun to control everything with just your voice.
There’s so much more the Google Home and the Assistant are capable of. You can have it read you the news, you can ask for the weather, the latest sports scores, step-by-step recipe instructions, restaurant recommendations near you, play games, and ask it random questions. There are a bunch of Routines that can be programmed as well, that I don’t use often, but can be really useful for those that have more robust smart home setups.
One feature that I use a lot is to have Home remember where I’ve left things. For example, I can say, “OK Google, my passport is in the upper desk drawer in my study,” and if I ask “OK Google, where’s my passport,” it’ll remember and tell me the answer. Even better is the option to set location-based reminders. So saying “OK, Google, remind me to pick up milk at the grocery” will result in a reminder popping up on your phone when you are at the store.
Another feature that is useful is the ability to use Google Home as a speakerphone for calls. However, while you can make calls, Google Home doesn’t allow you to answer calls yet. Google has also improved this feature by letting users add their phone number. Previously, calls made through Google Home would show up as a random or private phone number on the caller ID of the person you are trying to get in touch with. Now, they will now see your actual phone number, making it far more likely for them to pick up.
I’ve talked about some aspects of Google Home’s performance above, and the smart speaker does everything it is supposed to do. The quick response is impressive and I’ve never had any frustration with something not working.
Google Assistant’s contextual awareness works really well and can also handle multiple queries at once. Another nice feature is the option to have query results sent to your phone. Be it the news, weather information, movie showtimes, or directions, you can say “OK Google, send it to my phone,” and see everything there.
There are still a few limitations though that will hopefully be taken care of as the Google Home continues to improve. One of the main limitations for me is the inability to choose a specific episode or even season to play. If you’re already watching a show, it will continue from where you left off.
You can use your voice to play the next or go back to a previous episode to find the one you want, but certain apps don’t support that either. Doing so for series with a lower number of episodes and seasons is fine, but if you’re looking for something specific, you’re better of using your phone to find it and play it on the TV via your Chromecast.
Google’s app integration is excellent as well. I receive email notifications on Home, I can ask it to add something to my shopping list and it shows up on Google Keep on my phone, and so much more. The big complaint here is the lack of compatibility with Google’s G Suites. We use G Suites for work but can’t link that account with Home.
When talking about performance, we have to talk about the audio quality. I’ll admit that while it’s fun to control your home and perform a host of other functions with your voice, one of its primary uses for me is as a speaker to listen to music. The audio quality of the Google Home isn’t great but it’s not the worst either. It gets loud but some distortion starts to creep in at higher volumes. The speaker is also not omnidirectional, but that isn’t much of an issue since Google Home is usually better tucked away in a corner.
Audiophiles would definitely be better off getting the Google Home Max. And like me, if you plan to have your music play via a Bluetooth speaker connected to Home, you might as well save the money and get a Google Home Mini.
Should you buy the Google Home?
Google Home and the Google Assistant have improved by leaps and bounds over the past couple of years. Unfortunately, the Google Home remains as difficult to recommend as it was when it first launched.
That’s not even because I think that Amazon is doing a better job with all its Echo devices. That choice comes down to which ecosystem you are more comfortable using and are more invested in. Yes, the Echo does quite a few things better than Home, but the Google Home, courtesy of the fantastic Assistant, has its fair share of advantages as well.
Recommending Google Home is difficult because of the competition from Google’s own products itself. As a speaker, the Home falls in the middle ground now. You get a far better audio quality with the Home Max, and if you plan to connect Home to a Bluetooth speaker, then the cheaper Home Mini is the best way to go.
The growing number of third-party smart speakers from audio companies with Google Assistant built-in offer far better sound, often at around the same price point. Should you buy one of the Google Home smart speakers? Definitely. But in this mix, the OG Google Home smart speaker is the one that falls by the wayside.