Posts tagged “Google Home Max

Google Assistant Continued Conversations

“Hey Google, What’s the weather?”

–Answered

“Can you add an umbrella to my shopping list?”

This is beautiful.  Not only is it useful to continue your conversations because we usually have more than one command to issue, now — as promised at Google I/O 2018, but it brings to life the realization of a more “present” assistant.


How it works?

What happens when you say the “Ok Google” or “Hey Google” wake phrase, the user will see the lights on their Google Home device light up, indicating that Google Assistant is listening.  From there, a question is asked followed up by a succinct and hopefully, correct response.  With Continued Conversations, this changes to an abrupt ending to Assistant continuing to listen for 8 seconds for additional commands, which it will respond to if issues or delete the audio if no commands are issued.  When the user is done issuing commands, simply say “Thank you” and Assistant will reply, “No problem” letting you know that the conversation is over.

With Google arguably having the smartest assistant, the brings this digital assistant to the next level.

YouTube: Tech With Brett


Get out there and give it a try!

Apple HomePod Impressions

Easily one of the most aesthetic, beautiful smart speakers on the market.

Enter Apple HomePod.

Let’s start off by saying that Apple is marketing this as a device that is “speaker first”, meaning that they are aiming to provide a device that gives you excellent sound quality with a voice interface, which is controlled by Siri.  That doesn’t necessarily make it a smart speaker right?  Well, it sort of does, especially when you can control HomeKit devices, send iMessages and play music — all tell tale signs of smart speakers. So although Apple doesn’t want the comparisons — there will be and I’d argue that there should be and is, based off of what this device does.

IMG_1669

Apple HomePod (white), pictured in Apple Store.


Background

Apple has noted that HomePod has been in development for 6 years. That being said, this product aims to mesh together the worlds of audio, smart assistants and more in a pint sized package.

Design

As I noted, the design of the Apple HomePod is nothing short of fantastic.  It is a hefty, yet small speaker featuring a soft mesh outer covering housing the many speakers, tweeters and microphones crammed inside.  There are two colors that HomePod comes in, white, which gets dirty quickly and space gray.  When it comes to ports on the device — there are none, with the only thing coming from the HomePod is it’s power cable, which is of exceptionally high quality featuring a woven covering.  Note that are no other ports on the device, no aux in, no USB, which should be fine for most, as we are moving to a predominately wireless world.

Sound

I was able to get in a solid test, standing fairly close and moving my head all around in a local Apple Store and I was thoroughly blown away.  The key thing to remember about how this sounds is “sound separation”, a listener can literally hear all of the sounds coming from the speakers, every instrument, every differentiating aspect of the song is clear and very crisp.  This is one of the biggest differences when comparing to a Google Home, which I currently own, or Amazon Alexa.  Google Home in comparison sounds slightly muffled and sounds mesh together, while HomePod seems to produce the music in a very accurate way. However, when it comes to overall volume, the Google Home Max still takes the cake in this department — that thing is just loud with very good bass.

See a sound test below comparing the HomePod to other smart speakers as well as Sonos Play (which I believe has an edge over HomePod, with Google Home Max being louder but lacking the auidble clarity due to distortion at higher volumes):

https://www.youtube-nocookie.com/embed/oImOYg_dSl0

On the other hand, the only sound that you can ask Siri for is for music from Apple Music.  No Spotify, Pandora, Google Play Music, Tidal (laughs) or others unless you choose to AirPlay them, which somewhat takes the intuitiveness out of it.  If I have to grab my phone, go to an audio source and Air Play that source to the HomePod — then what are we doing? It’s simply too much effort when voice is my supposed interface. In fact, to set the device up, you must have an iOS device running iOS 11.2.5.  So all of the Android users that utilize Apple Music — you cannot setup this device.

Note:  Since this review and hands-on was done in store, I was unable to test “Hey Siri” functionality.

Ecosystem

This device is heavily integrated into the Apple ecosystem and it’s thought process on devices and services you should have.  With that being said, the lock-in here is huge with only Apple Music being at the forefront with no other alternatives even being available to control via voice unless you’re noting for it to move to the next track.

Privacy

Unfortunately, at this time, Siri cannot support multiple users.  An example is that if you ask it to read personal details such as text messages and your notes, it will read those items off to anyone that issues the “Hey Siri” command to it.  This is especially odd, since Apple touts this device as being very private and other Apple-centric analysts on podcasts are quoted as saying, “I’d never have a Google or Amazon speaker in my house due to privacy“.  Siri can differentiate between voices on your iPhone, iPad and Apple Watch, but can’t on HomePod.  This is a huge miss and being someone, who is privacy focused and someone who deletes my voice data weekly from Google Home, I understand the need for differentiation of voices on smart devices — yet this goes full circle to Siri not being that smart and the fact that there are multiple versions of Siri spread across Apple’s ecosystem.  You have Siri on iPhone and iPad, which are identical, then you have the gimped versions on Apple Watch, Mac OS, Apple TV and finally HomePod.  So let’s not talk about “privacy” (this is talking to you, Rene Ritchie from Vector) until Siri can stop being so fragmented across devices made by the same company. Additionally, HomePod doesn’t offer a mute switch for the microphone either, which is featured on Google Home and Amazon Echo devices — instead, you must ask Siri to mute the microphone using a command.


Overall

If you are engrossed in the Apple ecosystem and are in the market for a speaker that can deliver excellent sound quality, HomePod may be right for you.  However, no product comes without it’s limitations, as Apple simply isn’t open to many other companies when it comes to HomeKit integrations or third party music platforms and if you’re accepting of that, this could be right for you.  AirPlay 2, stereo pairing with other HomePod devices and other features are slated to be released to the devices later in 2018. Siri capabilities are quite a disappointment as Siri on your iPhone can do more than on the HomePod.

At the end of the day, if an only if you’re committed to everything Apple would I recommend this.

Google Home Review for 2018

Ah, Google Home and the omnipresent Google Assistant……just works and whether you are looking to get into home automation with over 1500 devices available, wanting Google Assistant smarts or wanting quality sound — you can get it from one of the Google Home options.

Left to right: Google Home Mini, Google Home, Google Home Max

Key Review Points:

  • How easy is setup?
  • How many devices should I use?
  • Is Google Home good for home automation?
  • How is Google Home for the privacy junkie (like myself)?

Background

When you receive a Google Home for Christmas, then proceed to lose your mind buying “smart” everything, a review is the least that I could do.

Google Home is currently slotted against Amazon’s Echo and the upcoming Apple HomePod in the smarthome “smart speaker” wars, although Apple is touting it as “speaker first”, so we will see how smart it is.  Additionally, similar to the Echo, Google Home comes at multiple price-points with Google Home Mini ($49), Google Home ($129) and Google Home Max ($399) — enabling Google to meet the needs of many different consumers and their underlying budgets.

Google Home.

The key features of Google Home is that it gives you and other Google accounts that are linked access to all of your personal calendars, lists, music accounts and all of the smarts of Google itself through the phenomenal Google Assistant.  Yes, Assistant is better than Siri in every way Apple fans.


Setup

The first thing that you’ll need to do to get started on your Google Home journey is download the Google Home app, which serves as the primary landing spot of every Google home and entertainment product, including the Google Home, ChromeCast and ChromeCast Ultra.  Setup is simple, requiring you to connect the device to your home wifi network and your corresponding Google account.  (Note, the first account used will be the primary account on the device, with other accounts being referred to as “linked accounts” that can also operate on the device and receive personal information such as calendars, reminders and place phone calls.)

One thing of importance, is that if you’re wanting to take full advantage of Google Home by controlling wifi enabled devices throughout your home, customizing news and getting personalized results, you will additionally need to download and use the Google Assistant app.

So, now that your Google Home is all setup, likely in your living room, what happens when you go into the office?  What happens when you go into your kitchen…..  You know where I’m heading with this.

Enter Google Home Mini (or Max).  First, let me state that having one Google Home product is enough; however, Google Home Mini devices are very affordable and can be thrown just about anywhere to ensure that your Assistant is always at your side.  Additionally, for the audiophiles out there, Google Home Max is nothing short of a complete and utter monster, delivering superb audio quality and rivaling the sounds of Sonos.


Day to Day Usage

Get used to this phrase, “Hey Google” because it’ll be around for a while. Using the Google Home, irregardless of flavor (eg. Google Home, Mini or Max), is simple and straightforward and you’re always pleasantly surprised at things just working great. The microphones are incredibly receptive and can pick up your voice from varying distances away even while the speaker is actively playing something. At times there are hiccups or occasional network blips and that should be expected with any product. The hits are far more than the misses. So what will you ask it on a day to day basis? Some of my most used phrases are for:

  • Weather
  • Lights and home automation
  • Timers
  • Music

Additionally, Google has added support for voice calls, I’ve tested this with my Google Voice account and it works flawlessly.

What are you asking your Google Home?


Home Automation

As I noted above, there are literally 1500 devices that can work with Google Home and allow you to control them all with your voice.  The way that this is accomplished is that first (unlike with HomeKit enabled devices) you must download the app from the manufacturer, create any required accounts and setup the device there.  Afterwards, you link that third party account with your Google account inside of the Google Home app.  This is done by going into the hamburger menu and tapping “Home Control”, this will open the Google Assistant app (on iOS), press the “+” button and find your manufacturer there.  Login with your account (similar steps to adding and linking accounts in IFTTT) and those devices will appear in Home Control and be at your beck and call.

Google Home, Home control.


Privacy

Being a privacy nerd is tough while utilizing Google Home because in order to work properly, Google will need to know a bit of information about you, from your location to your search and web activity; although, there are ways to circumvent this, without exposing all of your data.  Google is not some evil company that just wants to know everything about you, the information you give it, is vital to the services and information that YOU get out of it, so when certain aspects of data collection are removed some services may or may not work properly.  With that being said, I do not believe in giving entities your real location, so I chose to not give Google Home/Assistant my real address and let it triangulate it by where my wifi router is.  Additionally, apps that use your location, depending on what they are, can be nefarious — so I’ve turned off all location services from Google.

I let Google keep 3 data points:

  • Web and search history
  • Youtube watch history
  • Youtube search history

Web are search is the only option that is crucial for Assistant to work properly, so in this case with the only queries I push to it being voice, I deem this as acceptable and manually delete things that I do not wish for it to have.  An additional way to remediate this data grant is simply to not use the Chrome browser.  I have proudly switched back to my once favorite web browser, Firefox.  This allows me to more consistently use my search engine of choice, Duck Duck Go and limit the data that I pass into Google. Lastly, just mute the darn thing!!! This is something I certainly do when I am not using it for an extended period of time or if talking about sensitive things.


Final Thoughts

Google Home is fun, exciting and ever growing.  Regardless if you’re part of the Google, Amazon or Apple ecosystem — if you have a Google account, this could be an excellent tool for you to use.  Additionally, barrier to entry is very low with the most economical option, Google Home Mini, starting off at only $49.  Buying one smart device will certainly lead you down the path of “home automation fever”, but it’s a fun one and one that hopefully makes your life a little bit easier.

Made by Google Event 2017

Google has done it again.  They got on stage, as only Google does, and have shown us an array and beautiful new products that will be available in a few weeks, Fall 2017.


Google opened the event with Sundar Pichai expressing sorrow for all of the recent events taking place in the world, from the hurricanes that have swept through coastal cities and islands to the act of terrorism in Las Vegas.  From there it was back to back product announcements that showed the prowess of Google’s machine learning and artificial intelligence skills, in addition to their growing maturity at “Made by Google” hardware.

Google Home

Users of the Google Home love it, from the ability to start playing songs from Google Play Music or Spotify, to playing a YouTube video directly on your ChromeCast enabled TV, Home does an amazing job at connecting you to your “things”.  Updates to Google Home and Google Assistant including the following:

  • Voice Match — Google Home will now identify all users of the device, simply by their voice.  This means that you and your partner’s contacts do not get mixed up when trying to place a call or calendars don’t get intermingled when asking about your day.
  • Integration into an array of new Nest products, while connected will allow the user to view the stream of an entrance to a home and more all from the power of their Voice.

Updates to the Assistant that’s built into Google Home surely mean a new device right?

Absolutely.

Enter Google Home Mini.  The Google Home, in a smaller package, all for $49 and housing the power of Google Assistant.  This could turn out to be a huge game-changer for Google in their quest to capture the living room.  (Especially since this device is included with purchase of another that was released later, read more below.)

Source: The Verge


Google Home Max

Ever wanted a speaker that really “thumped” with the power of Google Assistant baked in?  Meet Max, the newest member of the Google Home family.  Starting at $399, this is a powerful (20x more powerful than the standard Google Home) speaker that’s meant to take on Apple HomePod, Sonos and others.  The device features dual 4.5″ subwoofers for deep bass pulses, a sturdy housing, which means no creaks from the speakers, custom tweeters and acoustically transparent fabric.

Google Home Max listens to where it is in the room and adjusts the audio to just the right levels so that it’s output is perfect for any room.  Additionally, the microphone is extremely sensitive, so it allows for the user to interact with the device without the need for yelling and shouting.

HomeMax_23109-28810-Screen-Shot-2017-10-04-at-124601-PM-l

Google Home Max.

Starting at $399.


Google Pixelbook

Chromebooks, we’ve all heard of them.  How about the fact that now, every child in a classroom can have their own personal laptop — thank Google.  How about the fact that you now have a device that can be essentially virus free with a keyboard — thank Google.  Also, how about the fact that you are  one sign-in away from all of your content, bookmarks, movies and email — thank Google.

Source: The Verge

These are just a few things that make the Chromebook an excellent device, but Google had to make one too.  Say hello to the Pixelbook, the all aluminum, 10 hour battery, core i5 and i7 packing, glass trackpad wielding laptop from Google.  This device is nothing short of beautiful and of course, this is the first Chromebook experience where Google Assistant is baked in.  Additionally, many Android apps are coming out of beta and should run smoothly with powerful Intel chips behind them.  Google is really pushing Chrome OS hard here, especially with the latest feature of this device, which allows you to tether automatically if you have a Pixel phone nearby and wifi signal isn’t strong — Instant Tethering.  Throw in the Pixelbook Pen, which allows you to annotate, pull out content and more all with the lowest latency currently on the market.

Source: Made by Google

Starting at $999 for Intel Core i5 with 8 GB RAM.


Google Pixel 2 & Pixel 2 XL

Building off of the success of the original Google Pixel and Pixel XL, which featured arguably the best camera on an Android device and maybe on a smartphone (Don’t believe me? Look at some pictures for yourself!) Google gives us Pixel 2.  Below is a breakdown of specs:

Pixel2_Screenshot from 2017-10-04 19-48-31

Google Pixel 2 & Pixel 2 XL key specs.

This device looks to have packaged all of the good things of “Pure Android” into a device that just works for the end user adding no gimmicks, just a device that works well without the extra bloat of apps that are trying to replicate a standard Google experience.  Additionally, adding water resistance to this years’ model is huge, which is something I have vocally criticized numerous times due to the fact that Google charges a premium for a device; yet, can’t protect us from a splash….Really?

Similarly, Google has added Portrait Mode into the camera software, which will allow the user to capture photos with realistic (one shot they showed on stage was brutally awful) shallow depth of field.  Pixel 2 is able to achieve this without the need for a second lens due to how the camera captures pixels of the shot and of course some excellent AI.

Overall, the product looks to be a top-tier device that is in contention for Android device of the year.  As said in the below video, “We make it look easy!“.

Source: Made by Google

Starting at $649 for Pixel 2 and $849 for Pixel 2 XL.


Google Pixel Buds

Wireless ear buds with the intelligence of Google Assistant built right in, giving you the capability to translate on the fly.  Yep.  That’s pretty fancy and they are here, built by Google.

Source: Android Authority

While the earbuds are not single ear buds like Apple Airpods, they are tied together; however, the buds follow a similar design scheme that we’ve seen from other Made by Google products.  Since Google Assistant is on board, a quick swipe of the right bud will get you access and you’ll be able to jam out or chat with Google for an estimated 5 hours per day while the case can further charge the headphones.

Google-Pixel-Buds-crop-780x445

Google Pixel Buds (shown in case)

Starting at $159.


Google Clips

A small camera, designed for parents and pet owners alike — that’s built to capture those special moments, with privacy built in that only saves “clips” once you’ve confirmed and stored on the camera fully encrypted before it’s transferred.  Clips is a “smart” camera and recognizes expressions, the appropriate lighting and framing of it’s objects — all automatically when the camera recognizes something that you’d like to capture all while being in the background and non-invasive (no microphone and an indicator light that shows when it’s on).

As you see, this camera is focused on freeing the user from the device and has an emphasis on privacy, something of which people think Google takes for granted — read their privacy policy if you believe that.

Starting at $249.

Source: The Verge


TLDR

Google announced an impressive array of devices, which time will only tell if the company will continue taking hardware seriously — for now and the past couple of years it has by creating solid incremental updates to existing devices and pushing out thoughtful new ones.

Good job, Google.  Good job.