What can you use Google Home for if you won't give it the keys to the kingdom? That was the question I wanted to answer when I recently bought a Google Home.
After unceremoniously unboxing it, I put the power cord in a wall outlet. It took a few seconds for it to boot and then a loud voice instructed me to get the Google Home app. I complied, and the app led me through the process of setting up the Google Home with our Wi-Fi network and my iPhone (where the app was).
It was a quick process in which I had to decide how much information I’d let the Home device save as history that it could use to improve its help to me over time. Things like my transcribed instructions, surf history, YouTube history, and so on. I started out letting it save almost no history of anything. Later I changed that. I was surprised by how well they described what they could save and how that would help me. They also assured me they would not use it for anything else. It felt believable. That’s why, once I understood what Google Home could do, I decided to increase its freedom to save my history.
You need a Google account to use Google Home. Without one, you can’t even set it up. I created a Google account especially for Google Home since I don’t trust them with all the information I have on the other ones.
The first thing I said to Google Home was “lower the volume”. Factory default was 100 percent, so I felt like it yelled at me. A thing that struck me was the clear sound of the small speaker (it's a Google Home mini).
After the setup, I put it in the living room. That’s where we spend the most time. Since then I have peppered it with questions to find out what it can do. It tells time and it wakes you up. It converts between dates and weekdays or the number of days until a certain day. It gives you weather forecasts for any day of the week and it sets timers for anything you want. You can tell it to change the volume. Either by saying “lower the volume”, “raise the volume a little” or “set the volume to 30 percent”. You can ask it for the price of something and it will tell you both the price and where it found it. It can translate words between languages. It can tell you the meaning of words and spell them. It can answer many questions you would normally use Google Search for, like “how do you make pancakes?” or “when did World War I start?”. Since you only get one answer it isn’t always the one you want. It can tell jokes. You can ask it for conversions between measurements and currencies. It can do calculations (4285 x 8425, but not the square root of 8). You can ask for distance to a place, between places or how long it takes to walk somewhere. It can tell you how to get somewhere with public transport and when the next bus/train/subway leaves. These are examples, but it should give you an idea of how you can use Google Home as a stand-alone-device.
I think a device like Google Home could be the successor to classroom encyclopedias. Sure, you could use it to cheat too, but it’s a fast and easy way to get short answers for common school questions.
Another use is to settle disputes and bets at home or in the office. That alone would easily mean five or ten questions a day. 😀 Add to that all words you come across and don’t know the true meaning of, and word translations you need help with. Google Home will be busy.
I suppose most people will use Google Home combined with smart home devices and other services. Let it connect to Spotify or YouTube Music, and you have a personal DJ with a repertoire of tens of millions of songs. With a TV screen (do people still have that?) and a video service you can ask Google Home to play whatever you want to see. Connected to Philips Hue, Google Home becomes a personal butler. “Hey Google, I’m home!” can turn on certain lights, play a movie and remind you of things. “Hey Google, turn on the window lights” will do that. Google Home is compatible with a huge range of smart home devices, like surveillance cameras, baby monitors, smart thermostats and speakers.
If you are very brave, you let Google Home access your contacts and calendar. Then it can brief you of your day or week, it can schedule meetings and call people. I’m not that brave. 🙂
All in all Google Home has been a pleasant experience. I may even get one or two more of them. Then they can be used as intercoms within the house. I would use it to let everyone know when dinner is ready instead of having to walk down the stairs and tell them in person. Again, like having a butler.
The sensitivity of the microphone in the Google Home mini is impressive. I can speak with a low voice and it hears me. I can shout from another room and it will still hear me. When it plays music, it hears me through the noise when I say “Hey Google”.
I paid 40 USD for the Google Home mini. Well worth it.
Do you have a Google Home? How do you use it? Do you agree with what I have written? Comment below.
(Photo by Kevin Bhagat at Unsplash)