Test: Google Home, Ok, It’s Your Personal Assistant


GOOGLE HOME is now finally available in France. For those who haven’t followed everything, the Google Home is a physical virtual assistant in the form of a small, connected and intelligent speaker. Available online on the Google Store, Fnac or Darty, you will also be able to discover it on August 8th in the physical store (Fnac and Darty for the moment), all for 149 euros.

But what can a PDA like Google Home do? Well, you can have oral answers to your existential questions like a summary of your day, the morning news, the weather, practical information like train schedules, traffic info, but also have control, always by voice, of the objects connected to your home (like Philips Hue light bulbs), your music, your Chromecast devices, etc.

Delivered in a white box all the classic stuff, you will of course find the Google Home an AC adapter and instructions for first use and first connection. Nothing special then. Because it is a device that should be at the centre of your life and more particularly at the centre of a living room, it is rather discreet and pleasing to the eye. The base can be changed and if you don’t like the white base colour or if it doesn’t match your interior design, you can always opt for a copper-coloured base.

The upper, touch-sensitive surface contains the LEDs so you can see when the “Google OK” is on or off. Of course, you can use this touch surface to control the volume and music, even if it’s also done by voice. There is a single physical button on the back that allows you to mute the microphone. As you know, a P.V.A. must have a working microphone that is on all the time. So if you are not reassured to have a microphone on all the time, you can always physically turn it off. But of course, you won’t be able to use the Google Assistant features anymore. For those of you who are not afraid of having a microphone on all the time, you should know that, according to Google, everything you say will only be stored locally and only when you say “OK Google” or “Say Google” will there be an exchange with Google’s servers. Finally, if you want to have control over what is stored by Google, you can always go to your “My Activity” page on Google, see the exchanges and other searches and possibly delete some data.

Daily

Once unpacked, the configuration is quite simple. Simply plug your Google Home into the desired location in your home, launch the Google Home application (iOS or Android) and follow the instructions after the smartphone has detected your Google Home. On our side, it worked the first time and we didn’t notice anything special. The procedure is quite similar to the configuration of Chromecast devices for example. This will be followed by a series of tutorials that will allow you to practice your knowledge of the “Google OKs” and thus make your first requests to Google Home. All this is obviously done via WiFi.

A quick glance through the application will activate some additional info such as setting Spotify as the default music player, renaming previous Chromecast, declaring Philips Hue light bulbs, etc. Then we move on to the long learning phase, which proved to be relatively quick as I quickly understood what you could really ask for. But what surprised me the most was how natural it seemed to me to interact with a voice device.

OK Google : What’s the weather forecast for today?

OK Google : How’s my day looking?

OK Google : Launch soft music

OK Google : Turn on the lights in room

OK Google : Wake me up at 7:30

OK Google : What’s the traffic to get to work?

OK Google : What is the age of the Earth?

etc.

Of course, not everything is perfect, and if Google Assistant doesn’t always recognize my commands because the French language is full of linguistic subtleties that you don’t necessarily find in Shakespeare’s language, you have to admit that it’s very natural and practical. I’ve only been using it for a few days, but I can already imagine the range of possibilities and the progression curve that Google can have on its servers. And we can already see how Google is progressing with the management of conversation contexts and so on. And when we also know what Google stores about us (beware of privacy), we can well imagine the level of personalization that may be offered in the near future at the PDA level.

Home and Music

Currently, each Google Home can only be linked to a single Google Account But for the past few weeks in the United States each Google Home can manage several users. We haven’t been able to test it, of course, but we already know that we won’t have to buy a Google Home per person in a household. In any case, the Google Home is linked to your Google account and will therefore know everything in your address book, calendar, next trip, etc. The problem is that Google is not yet able to manage shared calendars either. Also, on my personal account for example, if I have access to my personal calendar, I don’t have access to my shared calendars and it’s a shame because I’m probably not the only one who has a personal account and a pro account. Now we just have to wait for an update.

The voice recognition is very good, I forced a bit on a more Asian accent and yet, everything I could say was well recognized! Also, my three most used functions for the last few days are managing alarms, a presentation of my upcoming day and launching music. Speaking of music, it’s compatible today with Google Play Music TuneIn, Spotify and Deezer If you have to choose a default service, you will still be able to use several services, you just have to specify it. In any case, Google Assistant recognises the names of artists, albums and even theme playlists that Spotify, for example, can offer. But apart from what I already knew from my music library, I was surprised to see how Google Assistant was able to recognize more vague commands. So, I got this:

– Me: OK Google, toss me a Chill

music – Google Home : OK, here’s the Chill Track playlist on Spotify.

Once the music starts, you can raise or lower the volume by voice. It lacks many other functions, but that should come later. In terms of listening quality, we’re at the level of a mid-range Bluetooth loudspeaker at 200 euros. It’s enough for background music, podcasts or radio, but if you want something better, I can only advise you to plug a Chromecast device to your speakers instead because yes, you will be able to launch music from your Google Home directly to any Chromecast device. Convenient. In the same kind of function, I was able to launch content from Netflix on a compatible Chromecast device in the same kind of scenario as the music.

In the small functions that I had zapped a bit, it’s the integration of a post-it function, very practical. So, for example, I was able to say:

OK Google : Remember I put my passport in my third drawer…

And it works very well because the next day, since Google reminded me where I had put my passport.

Finally, I don’t have a Nest thermostat. Actually, I have one, but since I live in Paris in a building, well, it’s not much use to me. On the other hand, I do have Philips Hue light bulbs and quite frankly, being able to turn light bulbs on or off by voice is life-changing! I wish I could have tested other connected objects, but right now there’s not much to go on. Similarly, I would have liked Google to implement action macros. Typically, you can make it so that for the moment you can say “OK Google, I’m going to bed” to turn off the lights, but it is impossible to do several actions. I wish, for example, I could say “OK Google, I’m awake” and play music and turn on the light bulbs. That’s not possible yet. You’ll have to wait for new partners if that’s what you’re considering Google Home for.

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