Google Home Review: Google Assistant leads the charge

Google Home

The Pros

  • Sleek looking
  • Actually officially available in Canada
  • Reasonable price tag

The Cons

  • Google Assistant sometimes disappoints
  • Multi-user support isn't available in Canada
  • Sound quality is lacklustre

Setting aside the hype, Google Home amounts to a slightly more capable take on Amazon’s voice-activated Internet of Things (IoT) device, the Echo. assistant

This is not necessarily a bad thing, but those hoping for more from Home, especially in the Google Assistant department, will likely be at least a little disappointed, though the device does have a number of advantages over its main competitor, Amazon’s Echo.

The Echo, however, still isn’t available in Canada, and Amazon hasn’t revealed a road map for the device’s release north of the U.S. border. This means that at least in the Canadian market, Google Home doesn’t have an official rival.

Google Home vs Amazon Echo

This will change, and very soon, according to various sources close to MobileSyrup. It’s also easy to get your hands on an Amazon Echo in Canada, if you’re willing to take a few extra steps, though admittedly most people won’t want to bother given Home’s official availability.

That said, Google Home is an impressive voice-activated assistant despite its flaws, and I’m excited to see where Google takes the IoT device in the future as it improves integration and adds new features.

Going incognito

Google Home behind painting

Unlike Amazon’s Echo, whether it’s the standard version of the device or the tiny but versatile Dot, Google Home actually blends impressively with most people’s homes. Similar to Google’s sleek Wifi router, Home looks like an object that belongs on a side table, rather than the traditional, dark, blocky aesthetic of a typical tech product. In terms of measurements, Google Home comes in at 142mm x 96.4mm, a size that makes it even easier for the tiny device to blend in with other household products.

Home amusingly resembles an expensive, speaker and microphone-filled “air freshener” vase; its base is wide but the top of the device is slightly tapered.

Each Google Home also comes with a grey fabric base that can be swapped out with either a ‘Carbon’ or ‘Copper’ replacement, priced at an additional $55 CAD (other more colourful bases are exclusive to the U.S. currently).

Google Home fabric base

There’s also a practical purpose for Home’s flat, inclined top, with this part of the device doubling as a capacitive touch panel that allows users to play/pause music and lower/raise its volume. It’s also the location of four multi-coloured lights that twist and twirl, indicating you’ve caught Home’s attention by saying the key “Okay, Google” activation phrase. When compared to the Echo’s ominous circling activation light, I prefer Home’s inviting multi-coloured array.

While the Echo also features physical controls that let you change its volume, Home’s capacitive touch panel feels considerably less precise when compared to its competitor’s wheel.

That said, in terms of overall aesthetic, Home wins in every category when compared to Amazon’s device.

Lacklustre audio performance

Google Home inside

Other Home components include two microphones located at the top of the device’s chassis (more on this later), and four speakers in its body, coupled with ‘passive radiators,’ designed to deliver clear highs and rich base, according to Google. In comparison, the Echo comes equipped with five microphones.

When it comes to responsiveness, despite the fact that I have two Homes in my relatively small one bedroom+den apartment, the device often was unable to hear my commands, or misinterpreted them in some way, especially when asking it to play songs via Spotify. This isn’t an issue I’ve run into with the Amazon Echo, particularly after I tuned its voice recognition in the device’s troubleshooting settings. It’s also useful that multiple Google Homes can be used in conjunction, a feature that will likely come in handy for people with larger homes.

To be clear, Google Home still heard my commands 98 percent of the time, but there were a few frustrating instances where the device either ignored me, or misheard what I was saying completely, for some unclear reason.

In terms of Home’s audio quality, I found the device’s output to be roughly on par with a mid-range Bluetooth speaker, though the Echo certainly offers a better listening experience (keep in mind that I’m far from an audiophile).

Google Home base

Whether you opt for the Echo or Home, however, it’s important to note that you’re not going to get amazing sounding audio — this is not a high-end Sonos speaker. Apple’s upcoming HomePod  will likely end up being the top-tier, expensive IoT speaker option when it launches next year (an official Canadian release date still hasn’t been revealed).

All in, while Google Home dominates the looks department, it lags behind the Echo when it comes to audio quality.

Home is also able to access a variety of different streaming services, including Google Play Music, YouTube Music and Spotify, but as you may have guessed, not Apple Music. This means that as long as you’re not an Apple Music subscriber, it’s easy to hook up Home to the music streaming platform of your choice — the process is simple and only requires a few taps in its dedicated iOS or Android app.

Google Home gif

Via Spotify, Home was able to play almost every single song I threw at it, even obscure Blink-182 songs no one is probably listening to but me.

It’s also worth noting that the Canadian version of Google Home doesn’t include multi-account support, a feature that’s a must for anyone planning to use the voice-activated IoT device with multiple people. Google Canada says this feature is coming eventually, though there isn’t a clear release roadmap yet (it’s currently exclusively available in the U.S.).

Placing this feature in the context of the broader standalone voice-activated assistant device market, Amazon’s Echo also still doesn’t support multiple users.

Internet of things and stuff

Goolge Home with Amazon Echo

As an early smart home device adopter, the Echo has evolved into the core of my various disparate IoT devices. Google Home seems to replicate and actually improve on what the Echo is capable of in terms of linking my IoT devices together — at least for the most part.

For example, Home works great with Philips Hue lights, allowing me to actually alter the colour of individual lights with a simple command; this is something the Echo can’t do without complicated IFTTT integration. It also — as you likely guessed — works great with Google’s various Nest products, as well as Samsung’s line of SmartThings devices. Even LIFX’s smart home lightbulbs are compatible with Home, along with Toronto-based Nanoleaf’s various products, including the Nanoleaf’s modular Aurora lights.

Unfortunately, Home doesn’t work with the Ecobee3, which is a strange move on the Toronto-based company’s part and a compatibility omission (Ecobee supports the Echo and Apple’s Home platform).

Other features include the ability to set Google Calendar appointments and asking questions via Google Assistant, perhaps Home’s most impressive feature. It’s difficult to stump Google Assistant, though if I tried, I was definitely able to. Questions need to be specific and there are certain subjects Assistant disappointingly doesn’t seem to be capable of sourcing.

Google Home app

Assistant, unfortunately, isn’t always capable of following through with follow-up questions either. For example, if you say ‘Okay, Google, what is the latest Star Wars movie,’ then ask, ‘Ok, Google, tell me more,” Home often won’t contextually know what subject you’re referring to, despite the fact that you asked the initial question less than 30 seconds ago.

However, given that the Echo is only able to search for answers via Wikipedia, Amazon’s device is limited in its capacity to search; this is not the case with Home.

Simply just asking Home to play a podcast works relatively well, though there were a few instances where the device couldn’t locate the show I asked it to find. Google says it’s also working with mainstream news organizations including the CBC, Global News, Sportsnet and The Weather Network to provide Canadian-centric news to the platform, a feature that’s great if you’re looking to recap the top stories of the day.

Google Home app

I was also impressed with Home’s Chromecast integration, allowing me to give the device commands like, “Okay Google, stream House of Cards from Netflix,” making the show appear on my Chromecast-connected television, though my television needed to be turned on and set to the correct input first.

Sometimes Home would experience difficulty locating specific episodes, but jumping between episodes works surprisingly well. While not exactly a practical way of watching TV, it’s hard not to smile when something plays on your TV with a simple, one-sentence voice command.

Some of the features I expected Home to launch with including being able to read off my top five to 10 emails, for example, are strangely absent from Home’s functionality. You’d think that services like Keep, Voice or even Docs would work with Home, but that’s unfortunately not the case in the device’s current state.

Google Home mute button

Looking to the future, Home is getting hands-free calling and Bluetooth speaker connectivity at some point in 2017 — a big win for people with high-end Bluetooth speakers who want to use them with Google’s Home. Visual responses that allow the speaker to send graphical information to either your phone, tablet or TV, which seems like an attempt to match the functionality of Amazon’s recently announced display-featuring Echo Show, are also coming to Home as well.

Proactive assistance is likely Home’s best upcoming feature, allowing the device to warn users about upcoming traffic delays on their way to work, as well as other important information like weather warnings. It’s important to point out that it’s unclear when these updates will go live and if Canada will even be a launch region for the new functionality.

Starting point

Overall, I'm pleased with the Home and happy that Google has opted to finally bring the device to Canada. Home could easily replace my Echo and probably will given how it matches the functionality Amazon's IoT device is capable of, but also features Google Assistant.

Google home does have downsides, including less accurate voice recognition and less-than-stellar speaker quality, which could lead some to opt for the Echo if they're able to snag one. It's possible to get your hands on an Echo in Canada with a little creativity, and apart from ordering products directly from Amazon with voice commands, it actually works quite well north of the U.S. border.

Still, given Home's wide availability in the Canadian market, most people will opt to purchase Google's device instead. Google Home is available for $179 CAD at Best Buy and directly through the online Google Store. The Canadian version of the smart home assistant is also capable of understanding French, marking the first time the device has featured a language other than English.

"Google Home amounts to a slightly more capable take on Amazon's voice-activated Internet of Things device, the Echo"                                                                                                                                                 8.5/10

Comments

  • Ma Be

    Did you have the chance to test Google Assistant in Canadian French?

    • Beebs

      Yes, instead of OK Google to wake, the French Canadian wake word is “tabarnac”!

    • Guillaume Simard

      Criss Google! Ça serait parfait.

    • I did briefly. Since I’m far from fluent in French, Home’s recognition is difficult for me to judge though.

  • Beebs

    If Google Home leads the charge, then why does Amazon Echo products have a 70% market share in the U.S.?

    • Smanny

      Maybe because Amazon’s Echo has been out a lot long. Not to mention Amazon also sells a much cheaper $50 Echo Dot. I bet you that Amazon has sold 10 times or more Echo Dots, than it has its actual Echo’s.

      I am sure if Google sold something like an Echo Dot (called Home Dot), that Google would sell a lot more of them, instead of their Google Home.

    • Because you can’t buy the Echo in Canada and because Assistant is far more useful than Alexa, at least in its current form.

    • Jack Smith

      Amazon has been on the market for about 2.5 years or 2 years longer than the Google Home. The numbers vary but saw one with Google have 24% of the market already.

      It really is just a matter of time. We have had the Echo since it launched and now several Google Homes (GH) and they really are very different.

      The Echo has commands that you memorize and the GH you just talk naturally. So people going from the Echo to the GH do not notice that much difference as all the Echo commands work on the GH. But the other way is a problem.

      In our home the Echo was always my toy and not integrated into my family. They were not motivated to memorize the commands like me. I went through majority of them day 1 and played with it a couple of hours. Just how I am wired. But now we have GHs in several rooms in our home and they are well integrated with my family.

  • Rian

    So this may sound silly, but I use Google Assistant on my phone and have two Chromecasts. It seems like I can do a lot of the same things (like setting a timer, asking questions, etc.) on my phone that I could with a Google Home. Other than the obvious of not needing to have my phone around all the time, what are the major selling points?

    • Beebs

      The silence is deafening;-)

    • JD

      it has better speakers than your phone?
      I got nothing really.

    • If you use smart home IoT devices, Google Home’s ability to always listen is the killer feature.

    • Russ

      I’m in the same boat as you. As far as I can tell, the advantages are that Google Home is always listening (whereas your phone will only respond if the screen is on or its charging, depending on settings), and that Google Home can launch content on your Chromecast (which I don’t think works with GA).

      I was very excited about Google Home when it launched, but I’ve had Google Assistant since March and use it more for the novelty than out of need. And even then, it’s mostly just to control my Wemo switches.

  • thereasoner

    Things I’d like to see before I take the leap on Googles Home.
    – the ability to set your own activation phrase
    – a matching dummy unit for stereo sound
    – Amazon Dot like companions for other rooms
    – a black casing option
    These along with inevitable improvements in device integration (being able to fully control my home theater would be huge) and AI improvements with Google Assistant would have me on board. As is the tech, while impressive is still to new and incomplete for my liking. That said, I am looking forward to see how much better 2nd generation Google Home devices can be.

    • Russ

      I’d rather play music through my audio system via Chromecast, so the built-in speaker doesn’t do much for me. I’m more curious as to how well the NVidia Shield TV and the NVidia Spot plug-ins will work…there’s been almost no news since they announced Google Assistant integration in January.

    • Those features would all be great. Good points.

    • Jack Smith

      On the stereo sound I use Chromecast (CC) with the Google Home (GH). I believe this setup makes more sense. I have the GH on my nightstand and then the nicer speakers that are CC enabled are in the front of the room.

      The GH being to my side a slightly behind me allows it to hear commands even with the music really loud.

      You really can not do a single unit that has high quality sound. It comes down to physics that you can not get your voice sound waves to the unit when it is playing music loud.

    • Smanny

      Google Home supports Bluetooth speakers, so you will be able to pair with lots of other Bluetooth stereo speakers.

      The activation phrase like on the Moto X/Z is always nice, and it would be great on Googles Home as well.

      As far as the Amazon Dot like companions. You can get that right now with a Raspberry PI. If you don’t mind a little work. It’s fairly inexpensive. All you need is a speaker, a mic, and a micro SD card with the Google Assistant image. Supply a micro USB power supply, and that’s all she wrote.

  • Brad Hall

    Hey there,
    Not sure if this was mentioned or asked before, but…

    So excited that the Google Home finally came to Canada. I managed to pick one up just over a month ago from a Walmart in the USA. I have set it up, but all with USA settings. Anyone think it would be better if I reset the Google Home and set it up in Canada?

    Am I gaining/losing anything or will it be the exact same..?

    • You’ll lose multi-user support and all of your Homes, even if you originally set one to the U.S., will default to Canada. The only thing you’re missing if you keep your Home set in the U.S. are a few funny Easter eggs and French language support.

    • Eric H.

      I seem to have multi-user account now. I’m in Canada and just got the Canadian Google home

    • George

      the voices for English (US) and English (Canada) are different.

  • We hear it’s coming, but nothing has been confirmed yet.

  • _17chan

    “obscure blink-182 songs”..? I think their whole catalog is available.. including they came from Uranus. not really the best example. not sure, but I know google play music no longer has Raygun by Matthew Good Band. Now that’s a killer. 🙁

  • bigshynepo

    Using Google Assistant on my Blackberry KeyONE.
    It does some things better and some things worse than the Echo Dot I have setup in the main room.
    Smart home controls are much more refined with Alexa, whereas general information on location /places is leagues ahead on Google Assistant.

    I can’t justify the extra cash for a standalone Google Home right now, especially when the Echo Dot packs much of the same functionality for 1/3 the price. If Amazon Echo Dot launches here soon, and I think it will, it will quickly outsell the Google Home at the current price points.

  • Jack Smith

    Have both the Echo since it launched and now the Google Home. IMO, the GH has already surpassed the Echo.

    Just the foundation of the two are very different. The Echo takes the sounds of your voice and turns it into words that are then used as commands.

    The GH takes the sound of your voice and turns into words but then has an additional layer of intelligence that it knows who is who and also understands what the words mean and gets concepts that then trigger actions.

    This is why you do NOT have a manual with the GH with commands you memorize as you do with the Echo.
    In our home it is why I believe the GH is integrated and the Echo was always my toy. I was motivated to learn the commands and memorize and then use the Echo and my family just was not as motivated to do so.

  • Steve St. Onge

    You need to make a correction, the multi user is supported in Canada.

    Just got mine yesterday and the multi user support works great! It can recognize when it’s me or my wife speaking and answer based on our different profiles.

    • I was told definitively by Google Canada that Gogle Home will not feature multi-user support when it launches. That said, we’ve had other users reach out saying they’re able to access multi-user accounts as well.

      We’re trying to get to the bottom of this but for what it’s worth, I tried a bunch of things with my Google Home last night and was not able to get the feature. It seems it may only be available to some users right now.

    • Steve St. Onge

      Have to set up from 2 different phones with 2 different user accounts. That’s how we did it.

    • Alicia Hanwell

      Google Home in Canada works just fine with multi-user – provided your language preference is set to English (US) or English (UK). It’s not a geograhic dependency, it’s a language preference dependency. If you don’t need the French settings, and you don’t care if it’s Canadian English vs American English – you can set up multi-user right now.

  • Andrew Turpin

    Any ideas when reminders, create calendar entries, ect, and Spotify free tier are coming? Still can’t believe it can’t access my calendar, or keep lists, and reminders.

  • rookie8155

    No support for august smart lock in Canadian Google Home? I also picked up Google Home on first day of release in Canada. I was able to configure my Nest thermostat, Hue lights and Balkin Wemo switch wihtout any issues. But I could not find any settings or links to configure august lock. Has anyone tried connecting august lock with Google Home in Canada? I will appreciate your feedback.