Google Home: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

Google was not shy when it came to announcements at their October 4 event in San Francisco. In fact, in many ways this was one of the biggest Google events ever. As well as unveiling two new smartphones, the company also unveiled, updated on or released a trove of products. An entire line of new hardware which looks to come with a couple of common themes. The first is that they are all somewhat ‘made by Google’, the second is that most of them rely on the use of Google’s aptly named Google Assistant. Google positions the Assistant as your own personal Google and is clearly one of the big driving forces behind Google’s current hardware ambitions and no product highlighted this more than Google Home.

The Good

For those new to Google Home, this is basically a speaker. Although, it is a smart speaker. If you ask Google, it is a super-smart speaker and that is because it comes powered by the might of the Google Assistant and when it comes to good points, the employing of the Google Assistant has to be the main good point. While the likes of the Amazon Echo (which is seen as a direct competitor) is smart in its own right and can comply with requests you make. Google Home and its Google Assistant functionality means Google Home is even smarter than the likes of Amazon’s Echo. While Google Home can also comply with requests, its level of understanding is much greater due to its ability to understand context. So while Google Home cannot truly engage in a conversation with you, it can follow the conversation you want to have and emulate engagement rather well. This will make instructions with Google Home far more easier than on any other competitor. You ask Google Home to do something (or just ask it a question) and you can then follow up those commands and questions in much greater detail without having to backtrack. The Google Assistant powering Google Home will understand the first question, the second question and most importantly, the relationship between the first and second questions.

This is the big selling point here as the Google Home is a powerful device. While Google Assistant makes Google Home smart, what Google Home can then do with that understanding is even smarter. Other similar devices do have the power to connect to other devices, but Google Home looks to do this to the tenth degree and especially when it comes to other Google services and products. So if you have the likes of Android TV as well (or an Android smartphone), then suddenly Google Home becomes even more powerful. As it can connect those devices and include those devices within its hardware reach. So for instance, asking Google Home how long it will take you to get from home to a certain restaurant, bar, or shop and once it gives you that information you can literally command Home to send the directions to your phone. Likewise, you could ask Home to play a trailer for an upcoming movie and ask Home to display the trailer on your Android TV device, aka, your main TV screen and it will. All without you actually having to do anything other than speak. This is an aspect which is not really available with a number of other products, including Amazon’s offerings.

The last part is actually quite pertinent as one of the other big selling points with Google Home is that it is effectively Cast-compliant. So it has the ability to connect to any Cast-enabled device. Which means that as well as being able to throw the latest Avengers trailer on your big screen, it can just as easily start your favorite playlist from Google Play Music (and presumably Spotify and the rest, in time) and have the music play through your Chromecast Audio-connected devices. This is where Google Home starts to show its unique compatibility aspects. While most of these products look to unify your connected world, Google Home can do the basics like turn on your smart light, but can also very neatly be coupled with the rest of Google’s products. So the more entrenched you are with Google's services and hardware, the better and smarter and more powerful, Google Home actually becomes.

The audio aspect can be taken even further as Google Home essentially comes with multi-room support. This means you can set up compatible hardware in different rooms and be able to really control the output from Google Home. For instance, just have your romantic playlist playing in the bedroom while the latest football game is being displayed on your big screen in the living room. Its ability to understand and execute this sort of control will be very beneficial for some. Again, the more kitted out your home is, the more Google Home will be able to do. Keeping in mind that at the very basic level, Google Home is also an actual speaker. So if you do not own or want to buy additional Chromecast Audio-enabled Bluetooth speakers, you can just open any Cast-enabled audio app and stream songs directly to your Google Home for playback. Simple.

Google Home also has the benefit of being more customizable than other options. While most products, including the Amazon Echo, Dot and so on, are simply available in Black or white, Google Home is available in a variety of colors. While they all seem to adopt the white polycarbonate main body, you will be able to choose the color of the base aspect so that it better suits its surroundings. If black is not the color for you, then it does not need to be the color you end up with. And last, but certainly not least, is the price. While some might find $129 to be a lot for any product, that pricing does mean that Google is looking to undercut the competition (namely, the Amazon Echo) by quite a substantial margin. So not only is Google Home more powerful than other devices and smarter than other devices, but it also happens to be more affordable than other devices.

The Bad

Straight off the bat, the first and most compelling argument against Google Home is that it is new. More to the point, it is not the first product of its kind and not the first to come to market and that does matter. In fact, this has already become quite evident by the media coverage alone. During the onslaught of news that came through during Google’s October 4th event (and ever since the Google Home announcement at Google I/O), much of the focus on Google Home was the labeling of this product as an Amazon Echo-competitor. Which not only highlights that Google Home was not the first to market, but already highlights how the market has become dominated by the Amazon Echo.

Yes, Google Home has the potential to do more and be better, but that is only potential. What Amazon Echo has - is an already-established selling point, an already-established user-base and plenty of developers already on board. If truth be told, while many probably see these types of products as something which will be in every home in the future, we are not at that point right now. If anything, products like Google Home and Amazon Echo are actually niche products. Even worse, niche luxury products. Not everyone needs a talking speaker and so it is not that far of a stretch to say - of the small organic market demand that currently exists, chances are they already own an Amazon Echo. While some might opt to also buy Google Home, not all will. So right from day one, Google Home has a bit of an uphill struggle to deal with.

Then there is the compatibility element, which is somewhat of an extension of the last point. While the potential of the compatibility of Google Home was praised as a good point earlier on, again, it is only the potential. As it stands at launch (and with the exception of the Google services, naturally), the compatibility for Google Home is a little limited and does largely rely on IFTTT, as does the Amazon Echo. So one of its main selling points is not quite ready for consumer use yet. It will be once details are finalized, deals struck and units in people’s homes, but the great selling points (compatibility and features) of Google Home, right now, are just a glimpse of what will be. They are not actually, what currently is. Again, in contrast, while the Amazon Echo is more limited in potential, the ratio of what it can do today (compared to that potential) is better, thanks to the push Amazon and third-party developers have made to add new features to Echo. It is already much further along its development while Home has only really begun its journey. So for all the good points Home can claim, many of them still feel very far away right now.

The Ugly

In truth, there is not a lot which can be said about Google Home which is ‘ugly’. It does have some clear good points about it and will likely be a very good product thanks to its dependence on the Google Assistant platform. Likewise, it does have some very clear ‘bad’ points, as it is joining the market a little late. While it seems weird to say that (as the market is still so young), the likes of the Amazon Echo does highlight that for a company like Google, it is a little late to the game. But aspects like that are only hurdles that Google Home has to overcome and given enough time, likely will overcome. So they are not detrimental aspects or ones which are worth putting Google Home down over. Generally speaking, there is nothing terrible about Google Home so far.

Although, to strike a balance of the opinions being heard, the actual design of Google Home won’t be to everyone’s taste and some might well indeed find the look of Google Home to be quite ugly. While Amazon Echo adopts a speaker-like look and design, it seems Google has looked to almost hide the fact that it is a speaker. Instead it is designed to fit more naturally into its surroundings. While some will see that as a good thing, others will likely find it a bit dull, bland and boring. In fact, some have already mentioned that it does look a little bit too much like an air freshener - and there is some truth to that. So the looks for some, will be as aspect that is a little ugly. Although, if the worst you can say about a piece of technology is that it is not that attractive, then chances are good that it is a very good piece of technology. After all, if the tech is right, then that is surely the only thing which will ultimately matter.

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About the Author
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John Anon

Editor-in-Chief
John has been writing about and reviewing tech products since 2014 after making the transition from writing about and reviewing airlines. With a background in Psychology, John has a particular interest in the science and future of the industry. Besides adopting the Managing Editor role at AH John also covers much of the news surrounding audio and visual tech, including cord-cutting, the state of Pay-TV, and Android TV. Contact him at [email protected]
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