Posts tagged “Google Home

Made By Google 2018

On Tuesday October 9, 2018, Google showcased a variety of updated services and hardware offerings to the delight of many Google fans.  We knew all about the Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL, in all of it’s “notchy” embarrassment, thanks to a variety of leaks, although Google teased as if we didn’t.  Overall, the keynote was lacking due to the leaks and due to several technical miscues throughout.

In the keynote we learned more about Google’s future for home, portable computing and services all through it’s products.  A future that is interesting, fun and oftentimes confusing, but with Google at the helm, it won’t be boring.

Let’s begin.


Google Home Hub

Every smarthome needs a centerpiece and Google Home Hub plans to be just that.  Over the course of the keynote, this proved to be one of the most well-thought out, polished pieces of the day.  From showing you recipe tutorials on YouTube, to weather and driving conditions and photos from your most recent trip — this device is designed in such a way that brings it all together and is excellent if you already have a variety of smart devices.  In addition to the Home Hub, the Google Home app received a significant update that mirrors what HomeView on the Hub screen, putting all of your connected devices first.  This is the way that it should be and the way that it should’ve been.

IMG_2918

Updated Google Home app, iOS.

The Google Home Hub is meant to be that home device that blends in with the rest of your home and buy offering different color options like Google Home, Home Mini and Max devices, it accomplishes that easily.  Interacting with Google Assistant on any of the Google Home devices is very simple and straightforward although during the keynote, that was muddied my interactions that had bad timing because they were prerecorded.

Featuring a 7″ display, the Home Hub is perfect for an office or a kitchen device; however, it can also go safely into a bedroom since there is no camera on the device — unlike the Amazon Echo Show.  This large and bright display is how you will interact with Hub and discover new things it can do.  Coming in at $149 and available on October 22nd, this little guy is bound to shake things up.

Source: YouTube, The Verge.


Pixel Slate

Is it a tablet?  Is it a computer?

The introduction of Pixel Slate started on a high note, with a stone thrown at it’s competitors Apple and Microsoft with the statement, “..something that isn’t a laptop trying to be a tablet…or a tablet, that’s really a phone, pretending to be a computer“.

It’s Pixel Slate and it’s neither.  Yet, it is a combination of both depending on how you utilize it.  A tablet is nothing more than a different type of a personal computer, just like your smartphone, laptop or gaming PC.

Pixel Slate is an interesting device.  Starting at $599 you get a tablet-esque device featuring a re-imagined “molecular” 12.3″ display featuring 293 PPI, Intel inside starting at the Celeron and fully equipped with an i7.

PixelSlateLineup

This device is the spiritual successor to Google’s Pixelbook and ultimately Google’s long game in the space and puts itself in a direct fight between Apple’s iPad and Microsoft’s Surface.  Chromebooks are ubiquitous in the classroom and with those who are entrenched in Google’s ecosystem for all of the right reasons.  Most computing today is done through the browser, whether you utilize Google Chrome, Edge, Firefox or something else — you’re still in browser.  One of the reasons why Chrome, Firefox and others have such a large userbase is due to the many add ons and “apps” that can be accessed through the window of a browser.

Nowadays, Google has been pumping Chrome OS to be much more than just a browser, to having Android app support and support for some Linux applications, the gap between a Chrome OS device and traditional desktop operating system is blurring more and more and the Pixel Slate seems to be a solid device the enter that “gap” with.  Pairing this device with the optional Pixel Slate Keyboard transforms this from tablet to that traditional laptop feel; however, Google did something different with it’s keyboard, allowing the user to have many different positions to the screen unlike the iPad Pro keyboard, mimicking a majority of the angles that a Microsoft Surface can reach.

Source: YouTube, The Verge

This is the future of mobile computing through Google’s Chrome OS and with this operating system becoming more open to other platforms, this increased interoperability is making it a more viable solution as most are simply in the business of content consumption rather than creation.


Pixel 3

It was noted that Pixel 3 was “built with exceptionally beautiful and design choices”, which is the biggest fable of the entire keynote.  While the Pixel 3 may be of good design, no person will agree with anyone on that stage that the Pixel 3 XL is a beautiful device.  This is absolutely one of the most tasteless and awful design decisions in all of smartphones with the largest and most obtrusive notch on any device.

Don’t believe me?  See for yourself.  It’s laughably bad and as I noted on #150 of the In the Weeds podcast, it looks like hot garbage.

Pixel3XLNotch

Pixel 3 XL close-up of the the display notch.

Aside from the addition of a notch, that no one asked for, there are several small additions to the Pixel 3 that push it slightly over it’s older sibling Pixel 2.

The design of the device was completely re-engineered by giving it an all glass back with custom milling to make the lower portion soft-touch, making it almost indistinguishable from the Pixel 2 and an additional second camera on the front, which extends the camera angle 184 degrees.  Camera upgrades don’t stop on the front as Google builds in a new feature called Top Shot, which utilizes frames before and after the shutter is pressed giving the user the opportunity to select the “top” frame as the still image.

Additionally, Google takes advantage of the best digital assistant in the business with it’s new Screen Call feature, which allows you to interact with a potential spam caller utilizing Google Assistant so that you don’t have to in an interactive exchange and potentially even mark the call as spam.  Lastly, with your shiny new Pixel 3 in hand, you need a charging stand to take advantage of the newly added wireless charging.  Meet Pixel Stand, which charges your device wirelessly, but also gives you an overview of your home, recent photos and more.  While this stand may not charge multiple devices at once — it is actually going to ship unlike Apple’s Air Power.  Pixel 3 starts at $799, with its large sibling at $899, up from last year and available on October 19th.

Source: YouTube, Made by Google

Here, the device you like the most comes to personal preference.  The notch is such a horrible design trend that doesn’t give the consumer any additional benefit, but allows the OEM the ability to tout “edge to edge” display while developers cannot utilize all of the space thanks to rounded corners and other elements of the display that need to be shown — this space that can be used is typically called a “safe area”, coined initially by Apple, read more here.


Overall

Google’s devices aren’t usually meant to be big mainstream hits, Google Home and Assistant are the exceptions, while Pixel devices are usually for the enthusiast with the aim of pushing either a platform, software solution or ideal forward.  The Made by Google event of 2018 was hit and miss, as presenters seemed spaced out and presentations early on were marred by off cue interactions.  With all of that aside, the future looks bright, we just have to hope that Google, who frequently changes it’s mind in the direction department, actually stays true to the course and continues pushing the ideals they’ve displayed ahead.

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.

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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.

What Apple’s HomePod Isn’t

Apple’s HomePod is available for preorder now and will be shipping and available in stores on Friday, February 9th.  Apple Music, home control, smarts and more are what this speaker aim to give customers.


Background

At WWDC 2017 HomePod was announced and touted to be a revolutionary speaker, that aims to use a seven tweeter beam-forming array, 6 microphones, Apple’s own A8 chip and a top loaded woofer to deliver an unmatched musical experience.  Originally, the device was slated to ship at the end of 2017 and got moved, as Apple products other than iPhone, do to a later time.

That time is now.

Source: Apple

Out of the gate, Apple noted that this product is “speaker first”; however, you would interact with it through a voice layer — Siri.  Apple’s digital assistant has gotten a lot of well deserved hate over the years for simply lacking in substance when compared to Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa.  Instantly, Apple is saying to not compare the HomePod to a Google Home or Amazon Echo product, not because they necessarily believe that their product will instantly be better — but because of what HomePod isn’t.  HomePod isn’t meant to be a smart speaker, it’s meant to be a revolutionary audio device that will fill any room with sound like it’s never been encompassed before.  It is not meant to knock your socks off by what Siri can do and in all honestly we know that at this point, Siri lacking in the “smarts” department is an understatement.

With that being said, “speaker first” continues to ring in my head — so what does that mean?  For the price of $349, I should expect to get a high-quality audio device that can rival the king of consumer home audio, Sonos, who is known for producing high-quality, high-fidelity speakers that you can stream audio to and HomePod is coming for the throne. On the other hand, regardless of how Apple positions this product, the majority of customers will look at this as a smart speaker, rightfully so — meaning that in 2018 it may be speaker first, but at some point, it’s going to need to flex those “smart” muscles.

Stringify for Home Automation

We are able to do more and more with our pocket super computers; however, have you heard of Stringify?  If you haven’t, it may be time for you to take this little quirky app for a spin if you’re into home automation.


Background

Similar to the app IFTTT, Stringify focuses on home automation in addition to one key difference, multiple triggers.

While IFTTT allows you to have one condition to be met to perform an action, you can string together multiple conditions then multiple reactions on top of that which allows you to perform quite complex automations called “Flows”.  See an example that I use below:

Stringify_01

Stringify Flow.

The above flow is used to operate a heater that is powered by a TP Link Smart Plug Mini.  The flow will trigger when the temperature is below 35 degrees Fahrenheit and between the hours of 9 PM and 5 AM, then turning on the heater and sending a confirmation notification to my device.  See the notification confirming that the flow has ran below:

Having multiple triggers is something that IFTTT does not support at the time that this article is being written.  As noted, this is the key difference between the two platforms; moreover,  Stringify also has far less connections than IFTTT.  So, while the most popular APIs may be available for you to integrate with, if you are a IFTTT user, like myself, you may be disappointed with the selection of integrations that are available.


Final Thoughts

Stringify is a very neat, niche app and while it offers a lot of power and customizations, it simply does not integrate with as many third parties as IFTTT; however, this is a growing list.  Note, that Comcast recently purchased Stringify and I am currently unaware how this may pan out.  With this being said, I urge you to give this a try — yet, keep in mind of how Comcast views consumer privacy.