Hey, Google: Say hello to Google Home

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Just months after Amazon launched its Echo series of artificial intelligence-powered smart speakers in India, it already faces competition from the Google Home. While the Amazon Echo range is powered by Alexa, Google Home harnesses the power of Google Assistant to answer queries and offer services, helping make daily life a wee bit easier.

Now, let’s take a look at the physical aspects of the device.

The Google Home device is compact enough to become part of any decor in your home or office. It has a cylindrical design with LED lights that recreate the Google dots and are touch sensitive so that you can adjust volume or just tap to mute. The Google Home comes packed in a rather simple cardboard box, but is designed well to reveal that something great steps out of it. Packed in a ring box-style packaging, the unit comes with a power adapter (which has a 1.5-metre cable length) and a small quick start guide.

The unit is built with two materials, while the entire speaker is built with plastic, a little less-than-half of the bottom area is covered with fabric, and is known as the base. This fabric gives it an elegant look. The base is replaceable (also probably washable) and can be simply pulled apart. You can also opt for different colours for your Google Home — while the unit comes in with a gray (Slate) base, you can opt for brown, red and black colours to match your room, which will be released later. The base is held together by a pair of strong neodymium magnets.

Setting up the device

The set-up is easy and you start by downloading the Google Home app on your phone. Follow the instructions on the manual and you should be ready to use the device in a few minutes, provided you have a dependable Wi-Fi connection at home. It can hear you from far away, but we suggest you keep this  and other smart speakers away from a television or any other audio source.

Remember, you need to wake up the speaker with ‘Hey, Google’ or ‘Okay, Google’ for it to start helping you. This is a security feature that prevents the device from hearing stuff it is not supposed to. You can also adjust volume or just ask Google Home to shut up completely.

 What can the Google Home offer?

‘Hey, Google… what’s the weather today’ or ‘Hey Google, do I need an umbrella today’
‘Hey, Google… who is Narendra Modi’ or ‘Hey, Google… tell me about the prime minister of India’

It answers all of the above. You don’t always have to ask a direct question though. Google is using all its learning from search in its voice game and these advancements here are critical for the company to expand the scope of the search.

You can even ask complex questions like: ‘Okay, Google… how do you make Pizza?’
Here it offers a recipe and asks if I need the ingredients or preparation first. I say ingredients and it gives them to me one by one. You can also ask it to set reminders or alarms. You can create a shopping list by asking it to add stuff as you remember them. Convenient, isn’t it?

There is news too. You can ask for top news. But with very few partners active, this ends up being international news at the moment. Google Home, as the name suggests, can do a lot of stuff around your home. This is a work in progress. So at the moment it can adjust the lights in your home given they are Philips Hue connected lights. You can also link the Philips Bridge controller to get it to do more.

What Google Home can’t do?

Like every tech gadget, even this has its drawbacks too.

All these cloud-based services will need lots of users and queries to understand what people want, the accents they have and the specific use cases in a country like India. For instance, when asking for a song, sometimes it plays from Google Play Music and at other times it says the song is available on Google Play Music. News from India is mostly international stuff from source like Forbes and Al-Jazeera at the moment, certainly not what you would want to listen to. Also, compared to Alexa, there are a lot of local services which are missing.

Now, the final question is, is it worth buying?

Well, Yes, if you are a fan of the Google ecosystem. If not, Amazon devices seem to have a bit of an edge on Google at the moment. Given the sheer number of things Alexa can help with. But I guess it is just a matter of time before Google Home catches up. Google Home is certainly a smart speaker, and we are sure it will get smarter.

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