Google Home is Googleâ€™s answer to Amazon lineâ€™s of voice-powered Echo devices. After announcing Home at its I/O developer conference this spring, the company today unveiled both its price ($129) and shipping date (November 4) at its annual hardwareÂ event in San Francisco. Maybe more importantly, though, we also got a first chance to try out Home ourselves.
Home is powered by the Google Assistant, which is basically a re-branded version of Googleâ€™s voice-powered search and Google Now. Itâ€™s smarter and more conversational, but for the most part you will get the same results from using â€œOK Googleâ€ on your phone today as from the Google Assistant (minus features like booking OpenTable reservations with your voice). Unlike Googleâ€™s current voice-powered assistant, Home also integrates with music apps like Spotify and Pandora. Soon, itâ€™ll also allow you toÂ cast Netflix videos to any TV with a Chromecast attached to it.
All of that intelligence is in the cloud, though. As far as hardware goes, Home is all about how well it can recognize your voice and how solid the hardware feels. The good news here is that even though Home only has two microphones (compared to Amazon Echoâ€™s seven), it still worked really well in the noisy demo environment after Googleâ€™s keynote today. It easily understood my questions when I was standing next to it and its speakers were more than loud enough to make it stand out over the loud chatter around it.Â After things quieted down, I also started issuing my â€œOK Googleâ€ commands from 10 feet away and, again, Home didnâ€™t hesitate to answer. It doesnâ€™t seem like having fewer microphones than the Echo is really an issue here, but we still have to test Home in a real home environment to be sure.
As far as the hardware goes, the Home feels pretty solid and is definitely heavier than it looks. Most of that weight is probably due to the speaker, which is at the bottom of the unit and sits in an interchangeable cradle that attaches to the Home with the help of two magnets (those bases will retail for $20 each).
How well does the Google Assistant work on Home? Based on the little time we spent with it, the answer currently is â€œpretty well.â€ It handles all the usual Google queries without issues, but it also does a good job at finding music to play. I asked it to play some hipster music and it happily obliged. Same for playing songs from individual bands. Google also demoed integrations with Philipsâ€™ Hue lights and the Nest thermostat. All of that worked as expected.
One thing that struck me, though, was that you canâ€™t really have a conversation with the Assistant without starting every sentence with â€œOK Google.â€ That works really well to start up the Home, but when you ask follow-up questions, it starts feeling like work. â€œOK Google. Who is the president of the United States?â€ â€œBarack Obama is the president of the United States.â€ â€œOK Google. How old is he?â€ â€œBarack Obama is 55 years old.â€ â€œOK Google. Where was he born?â€
Other than that, though, Home feels like it will make for a solid entry into this market. Once Google opens up the Assistant to third-party developers in the way Amazon has already done, itâ€™ll basically have feature parity with its competitors. At that point, itâ€™s all about how wellÂ Google handles your queries â€” and while all the major tech companies are pushing their AI services pretty hard, Google has already shown that it can easily compete (and often outperform) most of its competitors in this arena.
Google Home will set you back $129 and is available for pre-order now. It will start shipping on November 4.
Article source: https://techcrunch.com/2016/10/04/hands-on-with-google-home/