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Okay Google, I think we’re going to get along

We put Google Home through its paces this weekend. The first generation digital assistant is surprisingly good.

Google Home is a voice automated digital assistant. It’s a new category of home computing device that includes the Echo from Amazon.

Google Home is priced at £130 but if you shop around you’ll find it for around £100. It’s clearly priced aggressively to appeal to tech curious consumers.

The device is the size of a large mug. It has a single connection for mains power.

Set up is straightforward. An app connects your Google Home to the wifi network and Google account.

A series of LEDs in Google’s red, yellow, green and blue brand colours alert you to when the device is active. It’s a lovely design touch.

The next job is to train the device to recognise your voice, and recognise prompts. Up to six people can link their voice and Google account.

“Okay Google” is the standard trigger prompt. It can’t be personalised. It’s one of the few downsides of the device.

The voice recognition is incredibly good. Google Home recognises a range of ages, dialects and voices. Even the Posh Geordie managed to make herself understood. Its microphones pick up instructions from around a room.

Okay Google, entertain us

We spent the first 24 hours making demands of our new home assistant.

“Okay Google, tell us a joke.”

“Okay Google, count to 100.”

“Okay Google, set a timer for 10 minutes.”

“Okay Google, how long does it take a Venus Fly Trap to eat a fly?”

“Okay Google, what’s the weather going to be like today?”

These are trivial examples but they quickly enable you to being to understand the computing power and potential of the device.

Requests for information are served by the most popular websites. The BBC and Wikipedia are frequently cited.

Okay Google, who are you?

Inevitability a series of existential questions follow. The kids were naturally curious and keen to explore the relationship between human and machine.

“Okay Google, who are you?”

“Okay Google, do you have a soul?”

“Okay Google, can we be friends?”

“Okay Google, do you have a name?”

“Okay Google, how old are you?”

Google Home always maintains good humour.

Okay Google, you’re disintermediating the internet, again

The device knows its location and has access to your search graph and user history across Google services including Maps. It also constantly learns.

Voice activated searches work incredibly well. Google Home will discover anything that you can find online via the search engine.

Any request for information about films, restaurants, sports and transport is localised. It’s incredibly useful but it also creates another level of disintermediation of the web.

Integration with music services is excellent. Linking Google Home to Google Music or Spotify creates a voice activated juke box.

It also seems to be able to connect and play any live radio station.

The speaker works well in the home. It doesn’t have the resonance of a Sonos device but it’s a good alternative packed with all the features of a personal assistant.

Running your finger in a circular clock motion on the top of the device turns the speaker up or down. A series of white LEDs follow your finger motion. It’s another neat design feature.

Audio isn’t the only entertainment option. You can link Google Home to a Chromecast connected screen to access your Google Photos or play content from YouTube.

You can connect to almost any entertain app that you can think of via the app library. Home control, news and shopping are areas that we still need to explore.

Okay Google, what about privacy?

There’s been numerous scare stories about digital assistants illicitly recording conversations. I recommend you check out the privacy policy for any device.

Google Home listens to snippets of conversations for its trigger. These are deleted if the keyword isn’t detected.

When Google Home detects that you’ve said “Okay Google” the LEDs on top of the device light up to tell you that recording is happening.

It records what you say, and sends that recording to Google in order to fulfil your request. You can delete those recordings via the app.

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Stephen Waddington

Partner and Chief Engagement Officer, Ketchum and Visiting Professor in Practice, Newcastle University.

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