So a few months back we bought the Google Home, you know the speaker that uses the Google Assistant to play music and control stuff in your home if you happen to have a connected home, We bought it just to get a feel of the smart speaker.
Google or Amazon
I remember my colleague initially wanted to buy the Amazon Echo or a variation of the Echo. It’s cheaper than the Google Home in general and it has sold more than the Home. I advised against the Echo saying Amazon did not have much of a footprint on the African continent and a lot of times Amazon assumes everyone to be American thus the speaker could be near useless in Zimbabwe.
I won the argument. Google is as global a business as they come and we use their products daily at the office and so we decided the Home would be more relevant. We bought and patiently waited for the speaker to arrive. I work with geeks as you can imagine so I lied, we waited unpatiently.
The speaker came and not long afterwards our smiles were replaced by frowns. The damn thing was dumb. Yes it responded when we said “OK Google” and asked questions but we were not too happy with how little “it knew” or what we could do with it. All of us except one guy were really disappointed and were feeling like we threw our little USD into the trash. The one guy with a different opinion is too weird a geek so we didn’t pay attention to him.
It can do what a speaker is made to do and little else
Of course the speaker can play music. You can stream your Spotify through it or cast your mobile music player unto it. Once playing there you can use voice commands to change the volume, skip songs, pause, resume and the like. The sound quality is quite decent. I am not much of a sound buff but there are two expensive headphone wearing weirdos in the office who certified the sound as decent (yes one of them is the outlier geek).
When linked to your Google account the speaker can read out your calendar and such if you ask it. It can tell you accurately what the traffic situation around you or where you are going is as well as give you the weather. Of course you can ‘Google search’ through voice on the speaker. An impressive thing though is how well Google Home can ‘hear.’ Even when playing music on it at very high volume it responds when you say “OK Google” or “Hey Google” with your normal voice.
That’s just about it. Our experience went downhill from here.
News is not equal to CNN
You would think of all companies, Google would understand the importance of context. If you ask the Google Home to give you the news it gives you CNN, BBC and other such. Come on Google, you know I am in Zimbabwe! We thought if we specifically ask for Zimbabwean news things would get better but no. Google thinks news is only found on CNN.
The damn thing doesn’t have a battery. It has to be plugged in at all times. Our outlier geek made a valid point though that we were silly to expect a battery when the speaker is meant for the home and not to be taken around the ghetto like we used to do with the ghetto blaster back in the day. Valid point but we still wanted a battery, Google should know that there is a power company called ZESA whose mission is to unguarantee electricity.
We were bothered by the number of things the assistant said it doesn’t know and is still learning. Come on, you are GOOGLE!
Then I took Google Home
Google and my wife clicked almost instantly. In no time she had found work for Google to do and Google was too happy to oblige. They are chatty with each other. My wife’s interaction with the speaker won me over and I changed my mind about it. I think our mistake was to change Google’s last name from Home to Office. The thing is called Google Home for a reason.
I have to give a disclaimer: my wife is no geek, not at all.
My wife obviously likes streaming music from Spotify onto the speaker and when a song she doesn’t know plays she doesn’t hesitate to ask the ever obliging Google. She randomly asks her search related questions. At one time she discovered a little mole on her face and immediately asked Google of a remedy.
One thing that my wife is, is a foodie. She likes cooking and is quite good at it (yeah am lucky). The Google Home is useful for her when she is trying out a recipe or cooking something she has never cooked before. She asks for the recipe and the speaker helps her through step by step. It knows that she will be actually cooking so it just doesn’t read out everything. It gives her the first ingredient or step and waits till she says ‘OK Google’ again before it gives the next one and so on.
We never thought about it at the office but my wife asks Google to tell her jokes. She just says, “OK Google, tell me a joke.” Most of the jokes though are not to her taste but I just marveled at how she interacts with the thing so effortlessly and naturally like a real person.
She also uses the speaker as a timer quite a lot. She just says, “Hey Google set a timer for 5 minutes.” Google responds, “OK.” Five minutes later the speaker rings an alarm whether or not it was playing music.
I also caught her using the speaker to spy on me. The speaker is connected to my email account so she was asking it, “Hey Google, when is my next meeting?” She knew very well that Google thought she was me. It made me make a note to change the settings so the speaker can distinguish my voice from others.
Long story short: technology should not be just viewed through geek lens, it should be given to the everyday user and they will validate whether it’s useful or not. Now I am going to buy my own Google speaker for my home and maybe connect a few gadgets to it to add to its utility. Who knew?