Months after Amazon launched its Echo series of artificial intelligence-powered smart speakers in India, there is competition from the Google Home range. While the Amazon Echo range is powered by Alexa, Google Home harnesses the power of Google Assistant to answer queries, offer services and generally help make daily life a tad bit easier.
The Google Home device is compact enough to become part of any decor in your home or office. It has a cylindrical design that seems to have been chopped off with a machete on the top. This slanted top houses LED lights that recreate the Google dots and are touch sensitive so that you can adjust volume or just tap to mute. There is no battery, so a power cable is there at the back along with a mute button to stop the device from hearing anything. The bottom of the cylinder is fabric which I am not sure is a great idea for India.
It has to be said that the audio quality of the speaker is quite good. For a mid-range Bluetooth device, the audio quality is really good. I found that it was a bit too soft with volume under 50 per cent, but at the higher levels the audio quality was really top notch with no crackling or unnecessary vibrations.
Google Home Price in India: Rs 9,999
Setting up Google Home
The set-up is easy and you start by downloading the Google Home app on your phone — I used it on an iPhone and there were no issues. Follow the instructions and you should be ready to use the device in a few minutes, provided you have a dependable Wi-Fi connection at home. It can hear you from far away, but I suggest you keep this — and other smart speakers — away from a television or any other audio source.
Remember, you need to wake up the speaker with ‘Hey, Google’ or ‘Okay, Google’ for it to start helping you. This is a security feature that prevents the device from hearing stuff it is not supposed to. You can also adjust volume or just ask Google Home to shut up.
So what can the Google Home do?
Well, to start with it can answer your queries.
‘Hey, Google… what’s the weather today’ or ‘Hey Google, do I need an umbrella today’
‘Hey, Google… who is Narendra Modi’ or ‘Hey, Google… tell me about the prime minister of India’
‘Hey, Google… how do I get to India Gate?’
It had perfect answers for all of the above. And as you can see, it understands contextual questions too, like if I needed an umbrella today. You don’t always have to ask a direct question. Google is using all its learnings from search in its voice game and these advancements here are critical for the company to expand the scope of the search.
Then it can do more complex stuff.
‘Hey, Google… what is the square root of 3?’ Approximately 1.732, it says.
‘Okay, Google… how do you make Aloo Parantha?’
Here it offers a recipe and asks if I need the ingredients or preparation first. I say ingredients and it gives them to me one by one. So sitting in a kitchen top, Google Home can be your very own Tarla Dalal.
You can also ask it to set reminders or alarms. You can create a shopping list by asking it to add stuff as you remember them. All very convenient. All very hard to remember for someone who is not a digital native.
What I did remember to ask was for music. Google Home does a decent job of pulling up playlists — latest Hindi songs, top Malayalam songs etc. However, unlike Amazon Echo, it struggles to get context here. So queries for happy songs, sad songs all fell on deaf ears. But then these are early days, and we are sure Google Home will learn.
There is news too. You can ask for top news. But with very few partners active, this ends up being international news at the moment. In fact, I spend some time cleaning up Fox News and other fictional sources from my list. This is something Google will have to work on fast. But listening to the kind of sources it has from the US, I think Google Home might breathe some new life into the entire podcast space.
One good thing is that all your queries are logged on the app as well. This means when Google Home pulls up a link in search to read out the answer, it also gives the link to the app in case you want to read. The same goes for directions, as the map opens in the app.
Google Home, as the name suggests, can do a lot of stuff around your home. This is a work in progress. So at the moment it can adjust the lights in your home given they are Philips Hue connected lights. You can also link the Philips Bridge controller to get it to do more. This is the first step of what a device like Google Home will actually be able to do.
What Google Home can’t do?
Having used the Amazon Echo Plus for a few months, I think the Google Home is in the early stages of its evolution. All these cloud-based services will need lots of users and queries to understand what people want, the accents they have and the specific use cases in a country like India.
For instance, when asking for a song, sometimes it plays from Google Play Music and at other times it says the song is available on Google Play Music. News from India is mostly international stuff from sources like Forbes and Al-Jazeera at the moment, certainly not what you would want to listen to. There are a handful of news sources, but none that have really been made for a voice-first device like this. Also, compared to Alexa, there are a lot of local services which are missing. As I said, these are early days.
Should you buy Google Home?
Yes, if you a fan of the Google ecosystem. If not, Amazon devices seem to have a bit of an edge on Google at the moment, given the sheer number of things Alexa can help with. But I guess it is just a matter of time before Google Home catches up. Google Home is certainly a smart speaker, and we are sure it will get smarter.
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