Home automation to me has always seemed like it’s a bit of a pipe dream. As fascinated as I am with the idea I’ve scoffed at many early implementations because they either weren’t fullly developed or I didn’t believe the companies offering them would stick around in the longterm.
It seems like 2017 is the year where that all changes though. We’ve seen a flood of home automation devices pushed by some of the largest technology companies out there like Amazon, Google, and Apple. I have both faith that these companies will stick around for the foreseeable future and have ability to manage large software ecosystems.
It seems like there are a few different smart home standards fighting for their share of the market. Zigby, IFTTT, Home Kit, who can keep track.The Google Home was my choice because it offered the widest range of support for smart home standards. The fact that I’m already pretty deeply invested in the Google ecosystem didn’t hurt either.
Aesthetically I don’t love the Google Home. I don’t hate it either. Dont get me wrong, it isn’t unpleasant to look at, some people might really like it, but the white plastic clashes with the rest of my black gadgets. A few color options would’ve been nice Google. I would’ve accepted a faux wood or metal finish. I’m sure Apple enthusiasts will be ok with Google’s color scheme here, but they’re probably never going to buy a Google Home anyways! It seems like the Google Home Mini is being offered in a few colors so at least Google is moving in that direction with their new products.
Functionally things are a little hit or miss. When it works right, I’m often very surprised at the depth of functionality it offers. It can access my Google Play Music account and play any song I can think of. It can turn on and off my TV (through an attached chromecast) and start playing my favorite Netflix show. It can let me know if I have any items on my calendar for the day. The list goes on, and I’m not going to list them all because I’ll be here all day. I will say I’m very impressed with how much they’ve packed into this device, the Google Assistant can do a lot. I’ve also found myself using it way more than I do the Google Assistant on my Android Phone. Technically my phone should hear me say “Ok, Google” even when it’s asleep, but it almost never does. As a result, I almost never use that feature of my phone. If I have to pickup my phone, unlock it and then say “Ok, Google” it’s probably faster for me to just type my search query out the old fashioned way. The Google Home has a MUCH higher hit rate, which has led me to rely on it more often.
So where’s the “miss” I mentioned before. Well it all comes down to the times when the Google Home doesn’t hear me, or misunderstands what I’m trying to say. Getting the Google Home to play one of my pre-made playlists is a pain and almost never works. I can say “Ok Google, play my Hip-Hop playlist” and 75% of the time I will get “Ok, playing Hip-Hop radio” as my response. It loves to give me radio stations instead of playlists. I’ve also taken to using the Google Home as my alarm clock. In the wee hours of the morning I often have to yell “Ok Google, stop the alarm” a couple of times before it will stop. This is the quintessential problem with all voice recognition software, you’re often forced to stand there like an idiot repeating yourself over and over again just to get the result you wanted.
While this can be a bit annoying, and has even generated a few eye rolls from my girlfriend, it isn’t a complete deal breaker. Hopefully these are all problems that will be fixed down the road as the software is refined. I have faith in Google as a software development company and they seem to be pretty good about supporting their first party hardware.
Currently the only smart home devices I have are my TVs. Both the TV in my bedroom and the TV in my living room can be controlled with the Google Assistant. My bedroom TV is actually an older “dumb” TV and has a simple $35 Chromecast attached to it. The Chromecast is then able to stream content, turn on and off the tv, and even adjust the TVs volume. Pretty impressive for a cheap add-on. In my living room I have a nVidia Shield attached to my Vizio Smart TV. The Shield Runs Android TV and functions very similarly to the Chromecast with a few more features. I’m pretty sure I could even get my Vizio Tv to respond to the Google Home without the Shield, but I haven’t tried. The TV functionality is great, I can do anything I’d normally do with a remote with my voice. It’s made hunting for the remote a thing of the past.
Moving forward I’m going to be adding more smart home products to my house and documenting my experience with them. Smart lights, smart locks, you name it, the skys the limit. I’ll show you how to install them and give you my hands on impressions of them. Stay tuned for my smart home content!