Review: Google Home

Google HomeThe Internet of Things is finally upon us, and Amazon and Google are fighting it out for the interface to that new world. Amazon’s Echo, priced at $179, was a little too expensive for me. So I bought the Google Home, a more compact and sleek device that reminds me of a Glade air freshener. Price: $129.

Google’s AI is what separates it from Amazon’s Echo. You can ask it how many movies Tom Hanks has been in, and it will tell you. You can then ask, “How many Oscars has he won?”, and Google will remember that you’re talking about Tom Hanks, and tell you.

It’s a neat feature. You can ask it anything from when the Mesozoic Era was to what the atomic weight of tungsten is, and it will tell you. Unfortunately, I’m still in the “Let me Google that for you,” and with my laptop and phone being within walking distance, I still haven’t gotten used to typing a question into Google for simple answers. I do ask Google Home the weather each morning, which is a big help in dressing.

But let’s get to the music.

Sound Quality and Playlists

In its attempt to make it sound like a true hi-fi speaker system – not just a portable Bluetooth piece of crap – Google has boosted the bass quite a bit. The result is a rich sound, but it’s lacking in the high frequencies. I am by no means an audiophile, but even I noticed the sound quality.

The place where Google Home is truly lacking is in playing the right songs and the right albums. I’ve uploaded my entire library to Google Play Music, and I was hoping that Google Home would play albums that I have uploaded. Alas, if I ask it to play my “Best of Boston” album – a collection of my favorite Boston songs – it will interpret that as “Boston’s Greatest Hits” and play the true album, not my customized one. The only way around this is to create a playlist – “Peter’s Boston Playlist” – and ask it to play the playlist.

Playlists are the key to making Google Home work. It won’t play any song that isn’t in its catalog, even if you’ve uploaded it to Google Play Music. Google says the ability to play songs in your library is “coming soon,” which for Google can mean an eternity, or never. But I can create a playlist with obscure B-sides and live shows, and it will take those from my library and play them.

I sometimes wish I had shelled out the extra $50 for an Amazon Echo. Google excels at controlling the Internet of Things such as turning off lights (you need $60 light bulbs for this to work), but I’m not interested in that. I just want a device that will play what I ask it to – no confusion.

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Peter Lee