When Apple unveiled the HomePod this past June at WWDC 2017, I didn’t give it too much of my attention. As a design piece, it looked like something I’d be happy to put in my living room. As a product, I just wasn’t interested. Smart speakers in general have seemed like little more than a novelty to me, and I’ve resisted buying one... until now. Last week I welcomed a Google Home Mini into my life to see if it could change my mind. Here’s what I found.
© Author’s opinion: Michael Steeber.
© Source: 9to5Mac
Since the release of the first Amazon Echo and Google Home products, I’ve been watching from the sidelines as online friends and colleagues have one by one embraced smart speakers. While I use Siri (an intelligent personal assistant) from time to time on my iPhone and Apple Watch, the idea of a separate device to accomplish the same tasks seemed redundant.
During this year’s Black Friday sales, Google slashed the price of the Home Mini to just $29. Even that wasn’t enough to tempt me, or so I thought.
After a lot of positive encouragement from colleagues and Twitter followers, I decided to give it a try – as an experiment. Could Google Home change my outlook?
Active Internet user’s opinion:
Google Home user here, I can offer my experience with it after a year of use.
Some people might find a smart speaker redundant when they already have a phone, but I’ve found that it’s really nice for the little things I do often, that don’t actually require looking at a display:
– I can ask it to set timers when I’m cooking, without getting my phone out or risking it getting dirty in the kitchen.
– I can easily ask it about the weather and my commute, while I get ready in the morning.
– When reading a book, I can ask it any question that might come up, like “How fast is 60 knots in miles per hour?”
– Soon, I’ll be able to communicate with my car using Google Assistant, to ask about its charge level or pre-heat it.
And the most useful thing I’ve found is smart home control. Sure, I can use apps on my phone, but when I have guests over, it’s MUCH easier to just tell them “You can talk to the Google Home to play music, turn on the lights, change the temperature, etc.” It means I can have all the features of a smart home while still making it accessible to guests.
It’s important to note up front that the Home Mini and HomePod are two fundamentally different products. The HomePod is first and foremost a speaker, not an assistant – a closer competitor to the Google Home Max. The Home Mini on the other hand is more of an extension of Google Assistant with a speaker added. I don’t consider myself an audiophile, so I’m willing to look past the Google Home Mini’s speaker and evaluate its utility as a smart appliance.
Setting up the Home Mini was quick and fun. The Google Home app has polished animations that guide you through the setup process. Google makes no effort to hide just how much data will be collected about you as you use the Home Mini – and rightly so. Bringing an always-on, always-listening device into your home is still a big commitment for some people, and it’s best that Google is upfront about what is being collected right away.
My first two days using Google Home were fun, reminiscent of my first days using Siri when the iPhone 4s was released. Google Assistant is full of fun “party tricks” and Easter eggs that you can find with a brief search online. My favorite were the speaker’s built-in trivia games.
Active Internet user’s opinion:
I was in the exact same boat as the writer. I bought a Google Home Mini over Thanksgiving because at $29 (with a $25 Walmart credit), it was a no brainer. I didn’t think I’d want one (privacy issues being the main driver, but also usefulness). My conclusion is somewhat different from the authors though.
After a week with the mini, I’ve purchased a few smart outlets and now have a couple of lights controlled by the mini. I’ve also dusted off the Chromecast and am using the mini to play content on my main TV with voice activation. I already had a Google Music account, so being able to pull up any music thru that service with voice is a big plus. I also listen to a good bit of talk radio on Tune In, and that has integration with Google Home as well. I’m even contemplating picking up a full size Google Home for the house to provide more coverage (and better audio quality).
So I think the value in Google Home (or Alexa or the Homepod when/if it’s ever released) depends upon how many Home enabled services and devices you have. The more you have, the more value you’ll see in it being your voice activated hub.
The problem for Apple is that it is woefully lacking in these options. We won’t know for sure until the Homepod ships, but I doubt that Homepod will have half the devices/services integrations that Home or Alexa has out the gate. It’s going to take Apple time to get vendors on board and provide services/devices that are HomeKit/HomePod enabled, and it can’t even get started until HomePod actually ships.
By day three, the novelty had started to wear thin. I don’t use a lot of other Google products on a regular basis, so many of Google Home’s features aren’t of much value to me. I don’t have a Chromecast or Google Play Music, and haven’t yet switched any appliances over to HomeKit compatible options. Simple tasks like checking the weather are easy to accomplish on my phone, and more satisfying there, too. I’m a visual person, and given the choice between hearing information and seeing it, I’ll almost always choose looking at a screen. There’s an added level of trust when I can verify the information I’m receiving, and with a speaker I have to assume that what I’m hearing is accurate.
Living with Google Home, I can imagine the future utility of HomePod. My workflow is mostly Apple-centric, and the integration of services like Apple Music, Siri, and HomeKit would prove much more useful than Google’s offerings. I’m also curious to see how HomePod handles various use conditions like background noise, multiple voices, and complex commands. Google Home Mini held up surprisingly well, able to hear me across the house, and recently adding the ability to accept multiple commands.
Looking at the My Activity section in the Google Home app reveals that I’ve only asked my speaker three questions in the last two days, two of which were test commands. It’s fallen off my radar quickly, and I’m glad I picked it up at a discounted price. The problem isn’t the speaker itself, it’s my workflow. Using a voice assistant still doesn’t come naturally to me. It’s a conscious process, and I have to constantly remind myself to come up with a reason to use it over my phone.
Active Internet user’s opinion:
Over the past few weeks I’ve discovered even more reasons to use the original Home I bought used in February that to be truthful got scant use in the early days and the 2 mini’s purchased this past month. Besides the typical fact search or reminder I learned I can place calls over them, so now I can call my daughter while cooking breakfast by just asking Google to call her. It helps too that I found how to show my real number instead of “unknown” so she’ll answer. LOL.
I’ve also discovered I can “broadcast” to all three home devices from my phone, which turned out helpful when grilling on the far patio this weekend and needing my wife to bring something from the kitchen. The original home is also a pretty decent-sounding music streamer (the mini not so much), and voice controlling it is certainly convenient. I also use it to turn off the living room lights and TV when we’ve gone to bed and the kids forgot to. Kids upstairs turn the air down way too low? No problem, I can check the temp from the Home Mini and turn it up or down all by voice without searching for my phone, unlocking it and then opening an app.
I’ll sometimes use the bedroom unit to check the time at night (my wife hates light in the bedroom so no clocks!) or to adjust the air, and telling Google “start my day” in the morning tells me of any appointments for the day, bills that are on my calendar, and any reminders that I set for myself. News updates too if I want them, which I usually don’t. So yeah, I’ve found my Google Home’s worthwhile. My wife who originally thought the whole smart-speaker thing to be silly is now a believer too. When a hotflash hits she loves the ease of telling Google to turn the air down without having to get up and head to the hallway thermostat. Multi-voice support is great.
A touch under $150 total for all three was a small cost for the convenience. If you have a connected home it’s actually a no-brainer IMO.
I’m keeping my mind open for HomePod because I want to find a place for it in my home. I’m looking to Apple to make the first truly compelling smart speaker experience that can change the minds of skeptics like myself. Until then, my Google Home Mini will be sitting here, waiting for a command that never comes.