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.
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.
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.
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.
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):
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)?
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.
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.
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:
Lights and home automation
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?
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.
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.
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.
Tech for the masses, meant to empower, educate and inform by Dexter Johnson.