Welcome to CNET’s guide to the Google Home ($129.00 at Walmart) smart speaker. Perhaps you’re wondering if this relatively new category of tech is for you, or maybe you just bought one of Google’s smart speakers and you want to know what you should do with it.
Either way, we can help. Below, we’ll get you familiar with the basics of the Google Home, then dive into what all you can do once you’re up and running. We’ll also look at the flaws of the system and what’s next for Google smart speakers to complete the overview.
If you’re not sure whether you want a Google Home, an Amazon Echo ($99.99 at Amazon.com) or perhaps an , we can help with that too. Here’s a for you and here’s a built in to smart speakers — , Amazon’s and Apple’s .
What is a Google Home?
A smart speaker from the eponymous search giant designed to compete with the popular Amazon Echo, the Google Home can play music, but it’s primarily designed as a vehicle for Google Assistant — Google’s voice-activated virtual helper that’s connected to the internet. The Google Assistant you access via the Home is the same as the one on recent Android phones such as the .
The Google Home is always listening to its environment, but it won’t actually record what you’re saying or respond to your commands until you say one of its preprogrammed wake words — either “OK, Google” or “Hey, Google.” Here’s a.
Google actually has three smart speakers at this point. Google Assistant debuted in Google Home Mini ($49.00 at Dell Home) squeezes all of the smarts of the original into a smaller, more affordable package. The $400 puts Google’s smarts into a speaker designed to deliver premium sound.. The $50
All three speakers give you access to the same Google Assistant service. The only significant differences between the three are their size, their sound quality and their price. You use the same Google Home app to set up all three, and they all respond to the same wake words and the same commands.
You can also use the same Google Assistant via a variety of third-party smart speakers such as the portableand the . The will work with Google Assistant later this year as well. Unless it’s specifically stated otherwise, all of the Google Home features I discuss below work with any Google Assistant-enabled smart speaker. Pick your speaker, then .
In addition to the voice commands, each Google Home speaker has a limited set of physical controls. You can change the volume, mute the microphone and play or pause your music via a physical interface on the speaker. Check out the video below for details on these physical controls.
Once you get your Google Home set up, you might want to use your smart speaker to listen to some music. You can use a Google Home as an ordinary Bluetooth speaker and pull up the song you want to listen to on your phone. Better yet, use your voice to tell Google what song you want. You can even search by lyrics if you don’t remember the name, or tell it to start a playlist of a certain genre.
Google can pull songs from a variety of streaming services including, , and . In the Google Home app, you can pick one of those services as your default and Google will search that service first when you ask for a song or a playlist. You can still access music on any of the other services by asking for it by name.
Here are. The article also discusses how to group multiple speakers so you can play a single song synced throughout your house. If you don’t like the sound quality of your Google Home or Google Home Mini (both are serviceable but not outstanding) you can send music to your speaker of choice through either a streamer or via a connection.
Google Assistant can even play music on your TV if it’s Chromecast-enabled, and you canthrough a variety of streaming services such as Netflix and HBO Now.
Ready to assist
Since it launched in November of 2016, the Google Home has gotten a lot better as a personal assistant. Here’s aand the many new features it gained throughout the year.
You could always ask your Google Home to perform basic tasks like searching the web and checking your calendar. Now, the Assistant in your smart speaker can do so much more. You can train Google Assistant to, which will enable it to . Google can then offer personalized answers if you ask about your commute to work or your schedule for the day.
You can evenverified only by your voice. Be careful enabling this functionality, though, as we were able to .
Thanks to frequent feature updates, you can now do quite a few things with your Google Home., including third-party skills.
Other highlights on the Google Home’s resume include…
- : Make an announcement to one Google Home and it will play on all connected smart speakers throughout your home.
- : Your Google Home can help you cook with step-by-step instructions, skipping forward and back as needed.
- : You can use your Google Home speaker to make a phone call. (Note: You can’t use Google Assistant to make calls on third-party speakers for now.)
- : You can now issue two commands to your Google Home in sequence.
- : Give a command such as “Good Morning” or “I’m leaving” and you can customize your Google Home to respond in a variety of ways, including telling you about your commute, playing the news and controlling your .
Google Home in the smart home
Routines make it easy to control multiple smart home devices with a single command. Thankfully, the Google Home’s gotten quite comfortable in the smart home, so you can now sync a wide variety of devices with your Google-equipped smart speaker. Here’s a .
Here’s Google’s list of compatible devices. It includes thermostats, smart lights, smart switches, smart locks, sprinklers, security systems, large appliances and even some cars.
You’ll need to use the Google Home app to sync your Google account with your account for any smart device you control — such as youraccount for your smart light bulbs. Then, you can control your smart devices with a voice command to your Google Home. You can add them to rooms and control multiple devices at once by giving a command such as “turn off all lights in the living room.” You can also add them to routines.
Flies in the ointment
Though Google’s done an admirable job of adding features to its lineup of smart speakers, the company’s had its share of issues with the Google Home as well. Perhaps most importantly, Google’s struggled to catch up to its main competitor — the Amazon Echo and the smaller Amazon Echo Dot ($49.99 at Amazon.com) — .
The growing competition between Google and Amazon in the smart speaker space has mostly been good for customers as the companies try to outdo each other with newer, better features. However, it’s recently resulted in a. Amazon stopped selling some Google products on its website. Google retaliated by pulling YouTube rights from Amazon’s smart speaker with a display, called the . Here are .
Google’s launch of the Google Home Mini also ran into some trouble, as a user discovered a, instead of just after you said the wake words. Google patched the issue quickly, but it still raised the issues of privacy and trust around Google’s new, always-listening assistant.
Finally, here’s a.
More to come
Now that you’re caught up on the current state of the Google Home, here’s a quick glimpse at what happens next. At CES in January, along the same lines as the Amazon Echo Show. Google partnered with , , LG and Sony for these products, dubbed smart displays, which combine the always-listening functionality of a smart speaker with a screen to help illustrate answers to your questions as necessary.
For instance, you can see a video if you need help with cooking instructions or look at a map when you need directions. The smart displays are due out this summer, and an exec recently hinted that.
At CES, we also saw a rise in third-party devices with Google Assistant built in, such asand . We could see even more third-party Google Assistant devices soon, as and recently . In fact, you can even with the company’s speaker kit.
We’re also expecting big updates to Google Assistant soon. Google’s developer conference,, kicks off May 8. The company could announce several new features for its smart speaker and Assistant during the event. We’ll be onsite at Google’s campus that day, covering the announcements extensively. Stay tuned.
For over a year now, the smart speaker landscape has been changing quickly. We’ll keep this piece updated as it continues to shift. Fortunately, you can feel pretty safe investing in a smart speaker now. Google, Amazon, and Apple are all battling for supremacy of the market and rapidly rolling out new features, but the features get sent out as updates to existing devices, so at least for now, you don’t have to worry about your new assistant getting left behind.
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