Everything you need to know about Google's smart speakers
If you're curious about Google's smart speakers, you've come to the right place.
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Next to Amazon’s Alexa, Google Assistant is the most popular smart assistant out there. Whether you’re a smart home junkie or just dipping your toes in the water, you’re probably at least slightly familiar with what Google Home and Google Assistant can do.
But, if you’re looking to take a deep dive into learning more, you’ve come to the right place. Using our expert knowledge and experience, we’ve compiled everything you need to know about Google speakers.
What is Google Home?
Introduced in May 2016, Google Assistant is a virtual smart assistant developed by Google that's built into the company’s growing lineup of smart speakers. When using Google Assistant, you can ask the smart helper to play music, view photos, check compatible security cameras, watch YouTube TV, check the weather, control your smart home, get news updates, and more.
From a bird’s-eye view, Google Assistant doesn’t appear to be much different than its popular counterpart, Alexa. But when you start to zoom in, there are some vast distinctions between Alexa and Google Assistant.
The easiest way to engage with Google’s helper is to purchase a Google Home smart speaker. But, before we go over the different speaker options, you should know that in 2019, Nest, a smart home company that makes the best outdoor smart security cameras and the best smart smoke and CO2 alarms, merged with Google's hardware team in the hopes of making "the smart home less complicated" and "more helpful." The result? A few new Google Assistant-enabled smart speakers were introduced to Google’s existing lineup of smart speakers.
Here’s a brief overview, in no specific order, of each Google smart speaker that is currently available:
The Nest Mini is the second-generation of the Google Home Mini, offering faster response times and improved sound. The Nest Mini is designed with a bracket on the backside, so you can easily hang it to your wall without purchasing extra equipment.
Nest Hub Max
If you’re looking for the standout star, the Nest Hub Max is it. It’s Google’s largest smart display, offering crisp and clear sound and video, a built-in Nest Cam, Face Match technology, and more awesome features.
Released before the Nest Hub Max, the Nest Hub is mostly just a mini version of its larger younger sibling without the Nest Cam.
Google Home Max
Designed with dial 4.5-inch woofers, the Google Home Max is a good option if you like to play music at home. It's smart enough to read the acoustics of your room and adjust the equalizer settings as needed to make your favorite tunes sound even better.
Google Home is the OG of Google's smart speakers and, while one of the older models, is still a great pick if you're looking for an option with good sound quality, touch controls, and modern design.
Google Home Mini
Google Home Mini is the first iteration of Google’s most compact smart speaker. Its small design makes it a good option for apartment dwellers or anyone who is tight on space.
How to use Google Assistant
From misunderstandings to repeating commands, talking to your smart assistant can sometimes feel like an uphill battle. Luckily, even if you’re new to the world of smart home, getting the dialogue down pat with Google Assistant is easier than you might think.
That’s because Google Assistant has been able to carry a conversation for quite some time and is more in line with the way we speak in our everyday lives. Other smart assistants, like Alexa, seem to rely more on specific commands and can sometimes get tripped up if the phrasing isn’t quite right. However, that’s not the case with Google. The smart assistant offers a fairly seamless conversation, much like one you might have with a friend.
Results from the Loup Ventures 2019 Smart Speaker IQ Test appear to back this up. The test found that Google Assistant answered more questions correctly than Alexa—or even Apple's Siri. After asking the same 800 questions to each smart assistant, Google Assistant understood 100% of the queries and answered 92.9% of questions correctly, beating out Alexa and Siri.
Currently, Google Home speakers only respond to “Hey, Google,” or “OK, Google,” but a subreddit thread also notes that “Hey Boo Boo” can be used to begin chatting with your Google Home speaker. While this command does work, it’s a little wordier to use than the usual, “Hey, Google.” But, there’s still some fun to be had.
You can switch up the sound of Google Assistant in the Google Home app, where there are 12 different voice options to choose from. To change the sound of Google Assistant on your Google Home speaker, open the Google Home app, tap your account in the upper-righthand corner, and make sure you have the right Google account linked. Then, go back to the home screen of the Google Home app. Navigate to Settings > Google Assistant services > More Settings > Assistant > Assistant Voice. There, you can choose from one of 12 voices, including celebrity voices like Issa Rae and John Legend.
Finally, Google Assistant has more than one million actions to choose from. Actions, as Google refers to them as, are basically like apps for your smart speaker that you launch and interact with using specific voice commands. Some of them are built into the smart speaker already, and some you have to install with the Google Assistant app on your phone. Google Assistant can handle up to three commands at once like, "Hey Google, turn off the bedroom lamp, set the thermostat to 75, and set the volume to 3."
How to integrate your Google Home speakers with the rest of your smart home
One of the handiest things you can do with Google Home speakers is control your other smart home gadgets that are compatible with Google Assistant. Google Assistant works with more than 30,000 devices from over 3,500 home automation brands, like TP-Link, Lutron, Philips, LG, Sony, Wemo, August, Vivant, and more.
Now, chances are high that most of your appliances and electronics aren’t smart, but you can turn them into smart appliances with the best smart plug, the Currant Smart Outlet. It works with Google Home, so you can say things like, “Hey Google, turn off the office lamp,” or “OK Google, turn on the TV.” Of course, the command will differ based on what you have hooked up to the smart plug—and what you’ve named it within the app.
Entertainment options for your Google speakers
While you won’t be able to stream Prime videos or listen to Amazon Music on Google speakers, there are plenty of entertainment options available that work with Google Assistant. For example, you can access cable channels like Food Network, HGTV, Disney Channel, ESPN, and more on YouTube TV.
However, you’ll need a smart display like the Nest Hub Max or Nest Hub to watch your favorite shows, as Google’s other speakers like the Google Home Mini or Google Home don’t come with a screen. At the time of publication, Netflix was unable to be streamed on Google's smart displays.
Any Google speaker can be paired with popular music streaming services like Spotify, YouTube Music, Pandora, Deezer, and Google Play Music. And this is where you may want to consider the Google Max, since it was designed with audio in mind. You can stream music to the Max over WiFi, Bluetooth, or plug in a record player. Podcasts are also supported, so you can catch up on the latest episode of your favorite online audio show.
Google Home and privacy
With stories of hackers gaining entry into smart home security cameras, privacy concerns are at the forefront of many consumer minds these days, and rightfully so. And, if you have a smart home speaker in your home already, you may already be mindful of how your information is shared and your ability to control privacy settings on a particular device.
Major tech companies like Apple and Amazon have addressed privacy concerns overusing audio recordings as part of their respective voice-assistant quality evaluation processes—and Google did the same in 2019.
The tech company published a blog about how the company is working toward protecting user privacy as it relates to Google Assistant. But, the company underlined that they do not "retain your audio recordings" and have never done so.
So, what does it mean for you? Google won’t automatically store your conversations with Google Assistant unless you give your Google Home speaker permission to do so. You can opt-in to Voice and Audio Activity when setting up your smart speaker.
Depending on the Google Assistant-enabled speaker you buy, there are other ways to assure that Google isn’t listening in on your (or watching if you have a smart screen display). On the bottom portion of the Google Home Mini and Nest Mini, you’ll find a toggle switch that shuts the mic on and off.
If you have a smart display, like the Nest Hub Max and the Nest Hub, you can shut off the camera and mic by swiping up from the bottom of the screen or using the switch on the back of the device.
For Google Home speakers, the mute button is found on the back of the speaker. To mute, press the button once. To unmute, press the button twice.
Which Google Assistant-enabled speaker is right for you?
Apartment- and dorm room-dwellers, or really anyone who doesn’t have much space at home, should consider the Nest Mini. It’s the smallest smart speaker Google offers—and the newest. It fits just right on a credenza, bookshelf, or desk.
It’s also built with three far-field microphones that can usually hear you from the next room over. However, it’s still a good idea to have a few sprinkled throughout the main living areas of your home, like the kitchen, living room, entryway, or office, where you’re most likely to use Google Assistant.
Google’s smart displays, the Nest Hub Max and the Nest Hub, are the only two with screens. One of the things we love the most about smart screens, more specifically the Nest Hub Max, is that you can find and choose a recipe and follow around right on the screen. It’s also great because Google supports YouTube TV. If you’re a current subscriber, you can say, “Hey Google, put on Disney Junior on YouTube TV” to keep the little ones occupied. It’s also great for making video calls and using as a digital picture frame.
It all just depends on how you plan to use Google Assistant in your daily life. For more casual use, the Google Home or Nest Mini make great options for answering basic questions about the weather, reading headlines, managing your tasks, and more. But, for a more interactive experience, the Nest Hub or Nest Hub Max are the way to go.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.
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