The brand-new Google Home voice-activated smart speaker has started making its home in homes across the U.S. and we’ve got a first-look, unboxing, setup overview and some fun demos to show off for you.
First unveiled at Google I/O 2016, it finally shipped to pre-order customers and popped-up on Wal-Mart, Target and Best Buy store shelves on Friday, November 4th, 2016. The Google Home is powered by Google's new Assistant, which is an evolution of Google Now and the search giant's existing prowess in voice recognition technology and its deep-learning knowledge of our world. Yes, it's a direct competitor to Amazon's Echo line-up of voice-activated speaker devices, along with Apple's Siri and Microsoft's Cortana digital assistants.
Once taken out of its tall white box, it's a surprisingly small device for all of the pictures that sometimes make it seem enormous. The angled top surface has a ring of animated colorful LED lights that light up and dance when the you're interacting with the Google Assistant. Also on the top, there are two "ports" underneath which sit part of the far-field listening microphone array. And the top of the device is touch-sensitive, enabling rotation gestures for volume control, tapping for play / pause of media and a long press to manually ask Google to listen to you. The rear of the device features a microphone mute button and an additional microphone port opening. At the bottom are three speakers that make up the Google Home's so-called "high-excursion audio" feature, these speakers are hidden by the gray fabric base. While Google touted easily-interchangeable bases for the device in mulitple colors and textures, they were still not available at launch. Come on, Google...get it together! UPDATE 11/7: All of the Bases for Google Home are now available from the Google Store.
Initial setup of the device takes place in the new Google Home app, available for iOS 8+ and Android 4.1+ and is pretty straightforward. Once setup, it guides you through some typical phrases you can use to ask for things such as information, news, weather, music and such. For a limited time, the Google Home comes with a six-month free trial of YouTube Red, enabling ad-free YouTube watching and Google Music, too. Multiple existing music services, such as Spotify and Pandora are available for music streaming via Google Home.
Linking home automation devices/services from Philips Hue, SmartThings, Nest and IFTTT is very simple and just means connecting your Google account to those services. Google Home also can "cast" music and video to Chromecast devices, enabling voice control on those devices for the first time. While this is the initial set of devices and services that Google Home works with at launch, Google will open the Assistant to developers and third-party apps starting mid-December 2016 and that's when its capabilities will start to expand.
Right now, the Google Home and the Assistant are pretty good, the voice response seems very fluid and sometimes gave additional information that was unexpected but quite helpful. Home automation control was as quick as could be expected once the Assistant understood the request, but the time for home automation devices to respond will depend on local vs Internet control. A nice touch includes lowering the volume of currently-playing audio while its interacting with you via voice instead of pausing playback entirely. From various distances and even from around the corner in another room, Google Home was able to respond correctly to our various requests.
To see the Google Home in action, please watch our video on YouTube. We will be further testing the Google Home and will return later in November with a more extensive review, and a comparison between it and the Amazon Echo and Siri on an iPhone.