Google Home review: Just as Amazon brought its Alexa-laden connected Echo speaker to the UK late last year, Google too has now made the same move with Google Home. Five months on from its original debut Stateside, how does it fare in its new British incarnation?
Google Home UK Review: Design
The Home sits a snip over 14 centimetres high, with two-thirds of the body occupied by soft-touch white plastic. A sheer angled top face houses both the speaker’s dual far-field microphones and a touch surface, backlit by multi-coloured LEDs that animate depending on what the Home has been tasked with.
The lower half, meanwhile, is made up of a grey fabric grille. It serves as a nice textured contrast to the speaker’s smooth, sculpted top and detaches magnetically so you can swap it out and change the style of the Home for one of six other fabric or metal bases to better suit your own decor in seconds (priced between £18 and £36 each).
Even as is, Google’s done well to create a product that treads a nice aesthetic line between attractive technology and unassuming homeware. Sure, it kind of looks like an air-freshener or a candle, but it appears decidedly more at home on a tabletop or shelf than Amazon’s more utilitarian Echo offerings.
Google Home UK Review: Functionality
Since its original US launch, Google hasn’t expanded the Home’s functionality in any specific area, save for throwing a British accent on there and adding in a few colloquialisms in the process. Despite this, it still packs in the same wealth of features and support for a range of popular standards and services.
Google’s hit almost all the necessary beats on the audio and video front by letting you access your tunes (and in the case of the former, podcasts) from the likes of Google Play Music and Spotify, whilst radio and other shows are predominantly accessible over TuneIn and directly available from the BBC.
Video meanwhile falls to YouTube, Netflix and Google Photos (videos and stills), all of which can be thrown to a Chromecast or Chromecast-enabled device all using your voice. At this early stage, even with the millions of tunes you are able to play, the source list feels a little light on the audio front and no Google Play Movies support seems like an oddly significant oversight.
Beyond media streaming, the Home plays nice with connected home and IoT devices that adhere to standards like SmartThings, as well as products from the likes of Nest, Philips Hue and WeMo tech.
The Google Assistant is the other big part of the Home’s voice-based experience. By tieing into your Google account it offers tailored news, weather and calendar information on request and the ability to answer your general queries, give you directions and even serve as a magic eight ball of sorts. The big hook in Google’s eyes is that the Assistant is context aware, being able to keep tabs on two or three steps into a threaded conversation on a particular top, but again, this hinges on you asking it the right questions and in the right format.
Google Home UK Review: Performance
Learning that Google Home had just two far-field microphones whilst its biggest rival packed seven didn’t bode well, but in practice, it’s proven pretty reliable. It can pick you up from anywhere within the same room if it’s quiet and is successful at hearing the “OK, Google” wake command more often than not, even when things get a little noisy.
As for executing on those commands, despite effortless setup, sometimes requests to interface with specific services just don’t quite connect. We tested Home with a few Philips Hue lights and whilst connecting them to Home via Google’s companion app was painless, actually knowing which commands and device names would work and how to manipulate them proved problematic.
There’s a physical mute button on the back for peace of mind when you want to guarantee that Home can’t listen in, whilst the grille at the base conceals a respectably loud single 2-inch ‘high excursion’ driver accompanied by two passive radiators. It doesn’t hold a candle to the likes of a Sonos Play:1 in terms of audio fidelity, but if you want a bit of background music, it should suffice for most people.
Google Home UK Review: Verdict
At £129, Google Home is a more personalisable connected speaker than those from its leading rivals; Swapping out the ability to buy stuff online using your voice for a better understanding of general queries out the box.
Multiple account support would allow for user-specific preferences making Home a better fit for families or groups all sharing a single device, whilst Google is in a much better position than Amazon to instil its speaker with the ability to send messages to contacts by voice too. With such additions, it might have the edge, but right now you just have to pick the brand that you prefer.
You can watch our full Google Home video review below: