It has been a big fall for Google. After years of toying with the idea, the behemoth company finally jumped into the hardware game full stop, with the driving force being its new AI assistant, the Google Assistant. Despite its uninspiring name, the Assistant could shape the future of Google and so the company is doing everything it can to get its AI into as many homes as possible.
It’s available to everyone via Allo, the latest chat app from Mountain View, on the new Pixel phone and with Google’s take on the connected speaker, a direct competitor to Amazon’s sleeper hit Echo, dubbed Google Home. Given its $130 price tag, $50 cheaper than the Echo, Home is perhaps the most important new product Google has released this fall. Users are far more likely to add a connected speaker to their living room than to switch smartphones, meaning this device is the best gateway for Google to get its Assistant into the world in large numbers.
We’ve been testing the Google Home for the last day, not nearly enough time to make a definitive conclusion, but certainly enough to encounter a few curiosities.
Here are three things that surprised us about Google Home:
It Is Small
Jokes centering on the Google Home’s design have been rampant, particularly one labeling it as an air freshener look-alike. The jokes aren’t wrong, the first thing my girlfriend said when I showed her the connected speaker was “It looks like an air freshener.” But the design allows the gadget to seamlessly integrate into your existing decor, in the same way an air freshener should. And it does, really well.
The biggest reason it’s able to accomplish this is its demure size. I knew the Home was a small device and had seen dozens of pictures of it both in promotional materials and various hands-on articles. Still, I was surprised at just how small it is when I unboxed it. No larger than a potted plant, and actually much smaller than most of the pots I own. It’s dwarfed by a drinking glass, even. I’ve yet to put it to the full test by having a friend over to see if the device draws any attention, but thus far I am impressed with how easily it slid into my living room.
Having experienced the Google Assistant with Allo and Pixel, I knew games were part of its repertoire. I did not, however, expect playing games with Google Home to be so fun. Right now, as with much of the device, the options for games are limited. Extremely limited, in fact. Only three currently exist; Lucky Trivia, Madlibs and Spin the Wheel. Yet, when trying out the games last night, I was floored by the potential within Home for your game night get togethers.
Both Trivia and Madlibs are goofy and silly, but also wickedly fun and show off some of the personality Google built into its assistant. For instance, when playing trivia, the Assistant asked my girlfriend and I for our names, but instead chose to refer to us as Meerkat and Alfalfa. Why? Who knows! But it was great.
Obviously, with only three options at the moment, games with Home grows stale quickly. In the coming weeks and months, I hope Mountain View doesn’t overlook this small feature as something simply thrown in for kicks. If it’s developed, I could definitely see the device becoming a part of board game nights, for a relaxing pick-me-up after a stressful game of Pandemic.
There’s A Lot It Can’t Do
Unboxing my Google Home, I knew full well it wasn’t going to live up to its potential right out of the box. Like the Amazon Echo, it will get better over time, but it’s still shocking the standard things Home can’t yet do. I’ve only had it for a little over a day, so this is by no means an exhaustive list, but several things I expected the device to do out of the box it failed with. Like set a reminder, read emails, add events to a calendar or send a message. All things Home should be, and hopefully will be, able to do.
The good news, if you’re of an optimistic mind, is a lot of these basic functions can be done by the Google Assistant on the Pixel, just not yet on the Home. Why the Assistants aren’t one and the same is confusing and, frankly, a huge oversight. But, given the amount of information Google currently has, and the amount it adds every day, the ceiling for the connected speaker is quite high. It may not be perfectly useful yet, but it could make big strides quickly.
We’ll have much more about Google Home, including a full review, in the coming weeks.