Google Home and Home Mini are the latest members to launch in Singapore. No longer do consumers have to import them from overseas or face dodgy support. Now, you can get local warranty units and enjoy the company of intelligent personal assistants around the house.
I don’t use Google Assistant a lot on my phones, because I generally find them not accurate. It frustrates and embarrasses me if I say the commands and Google does not respond correctly. But I do agree that it has grown to be more accurate over time. Now that I have the review units, I might as well give them a well-deserved test.
iOS devices like iPhone and iPad can also work with Google Home, as long as the phones are installed with Google Home app and sign in with Google account.
Between Google Home and Google Home Mini, the functions are the same. Google Home is a larger speaker unit with a wider frequency response, more sensitive microphones, and touch panel on top to control volume and playback. There is also a mute button to stop Google Home from listening for commands.
The Home Mini is a smaller speaker unit that produces clearer sounds at the upper frequency, and the touch panel is limited to 2 sides of the LED for volume control, while the mute button is a switch inconveniently located at the bottom.
Why should you get a Google Home or Home Mini when you could probably do the same thing on the smartphone with Google Assistant? Well, there are similar sets of functions, say for instance, on either the smartphone Google Assistant or Google Home device, you can ask for information like weather, set timers, translate, spell, find phone. But only on Google Home can you control home devices like Philips Hue lights, aircon via Sensibo, smart appliances from LG and Samsung, to name a few. There are also things that Google Home cannot do, like reading messages from your phone.
The biggest reason to get Google Home is that it is a family device that can be shared with 6 people through voice match. Say, when my wife asks for information, it will retrieve from her account. The built-in speaker means the audio is loud and clear, and it is so convenient to play music by calling out the artist, or album, or playlist, or radio station. Plus, Google Home can do more actions, for instance, play games like “Lucky Trivia” or “Song Pop”. It turns Google Assistant into a game host who reads out questions for multiple players to answer. Google Home can also broadcast messages to all the speakers, like “Dinner Time”, switch music playback from one speaker to another. Install multiple units around the house so that the nearest Google Home will respond to your requests. There are also “Easter eggs” that are waiting to be uncovered: try asking Google to beatbox, or read a poem, or sing “Happy Birthday”. Google Assistant is also already localised to Singapore users, so now and then you will hear Google Assistant use Singlish to reply. Can lah? (Note that the device language should be set to English (Singapore) to achieve better localised context).
Google Home can also trigger multiple actions with pre-defined commands (feature is phone dependent). For instance, say “Hey Google, Good Morning”, and Google Home could read the first appointment of the day, play the latest news from Channel NewsAsia, and turn on the lights. Before bed, say “OK Google, Good Night”, and Google Home will turn off the lights, set the phone to silent, and play soothing background sounds. When Chromecast is installed to a TV, Google Home can also be used to play TV shows from Netflix, videos from YouTube, slideshows from Google Photos.
The engine behind it, Google Assistant, is incredibly smart in interpreting what I say and then determine the closest result that is relevant. For instance, when I asked to play “Piano Spa”, Google Home will play my “Piano Spa Favourites” playlist. But when I ask to play “Piano Spa 7”, Google Home will play the music album. There are still a lot of questions that Google cannot answer correctly. For instance, it cannot answer when is Singapore’s next public holiday. It also cannot recognise other languages in the command, which means I cannot ask to play Mandarin songs. There are also privacy worries since Google Assistant must be granted permission to personal data stored in your phone to help you, for instance, to read your calendar events or check the traffic near your location. Google also keeps the history of all the interactions with Google Assistant, including the sound bites of your commands, in case you do not already know. Also, you can delete the history of the interactions.
If one day you decide to cut Internet ties, you can even use Google Home as a normal Bluetooth speaker.
After 1 week of playing around the Google Home and Mini at home, I realise how useful and fun they can be. If you already have smart home devices at home, then getting a Google Home will allow you to interact with the smart devices. But if your home does not have any smart appliances, I would still recommend getting the Google Home Mini which is considerably cheap, with the price comparable to a normal portable speaker. I really love the ability to call out any song title, artist, radio station, news outlet, and Google will play them out (some services require subscription or app installation like Spotify or TuneIn). I also like the “Routine” feature (known as “My Day” in Singapore) where I can say a key-phrase and Google Home will execute multiple actions.
Of course, there is also the fun factor of playing games with Google Home, and asking Google about anything under the sun, for help in translation, spelling, dictionary. After all, Google is the best search engine.
Google Home (S$189) and Home Mini (S$79) is now available on Singapore Google Store, Challenger, Hachi.Tech, COURTS, and StarHub shops with bundle offers. Chromecast is also available at S$65, converting your normal TV into a smart TV to watch YouTube, Netflix, project media from your phone.