Can Google really tell you apart from your significant other? Can Google tell your kids apart if they're the same gender and roughly the same age?
Last week, the Google Home added support for multiple users in a much anticipated update. The always-listening smart speaker from the search giant uses voice recognition to customize responses to certain questions. This week, we put this multiuser functionality to the test.
What multiuser can do
As a quick refresher, the Google Home is a smart speaker similar to the Amazon Echo. The Home has Google's assistant -- aptly called the Google Assistant -- built-in. Say the wake words, "OK, Google" or "Hey, Google" and you can ask the Home to play music, set a timer, search the internet or control your smart home.
The Google Assistant can even use info from other Google apps -- such as Maps and Calendar -- to personalize responses if you ask about things like your daily schedule or the traffic conditions on your way to work. The Home's recent update allows multiple people to link their Google account to a Home. After each person trains the Home by saying the wake words "OK, Google" and "Hey, Google" a few times, the speaker should start to recognize individual voices and respond accordingly with the appropriate calendar, traffic info, or even customized playlist.
Putting voice recognition to the test
We wanted to see how well this voice recognition works in practice. The Google Home supports up to six accounts simultaneously, so we had six people go through the setup process -- four males, and two females -- to see if it could reliably tell us all apart.
The results were mostly favorable. Google never mixed up the two females. Of the males -- Rich Brown, Steve Conaway, Chance Lane and myself -- it correctly identified myself and Rich every time.
The Google Home successfully identified Steve roughly 80 percent of the time. On a couple of tests, it didn't recognize Steve's voice at all; in another test, it thought Steve was Rich. Chance had less success -- the Home thought Chance was Steve about half of the time, didn't recognize Chance a handful of other times, and only got Chance's voice right a couple of times. Chance even tried retraining the Assistant, but his results did not improve.
Not meant for security
The Home app you use to set up multiple accounts warns you that the tech isn't perfect yet. As you train the Google Assistant, you see the disclaimer "a similar voice or recording might be able" to trick the Home.
When the feature launched, I asked a Google rep if the company was going to use voice recognition to add security features. For instance, if the Google Home knows who's talking, it could unlock your August Smart Lock, and you wouldn't have to worry about a stranger giving the same command. The rep confirmed over email that the company's voice recognition wasn't robust enough to allow this yet, and our testing bore that out.
We were able to get Google to respond to a recording of Steve's voice -- the voice recognition is based on the wake words, so someone could access your info if they had a clip of you saying "OK, Google." We tried splitting up commands. Steve said "Hey, Google" and I followed with "what's my name?" Google responded with Steve's name. When we flipped it, the Home responded with mine. Additionally, another coworker was successfully able to impersonate my voice.
Even in terms of basic convenience, the feature isn't perfect yet -- the Home still can't integrate multiple accounts for a single user, such as a home and work account.
A solid first step
Still, taken for what it is -- a convenient way for multiple family members to check personal info -- the Home's voice recognition works well. As long as no one in your family sounds too similar, the Home will reliably be able to tell people apart and provide appropriate customized responses. But heed Google's warnings, and don't expect perfect voice recognition from the Home yet. And do not give the Home access to info you want kept private.