Google Home has launched in Australia, finally giving Aussies a focal point to build a smart home around and an excuse to start tinkering with connected IoT (internet of things) devices in their homes.
The device, which is powered by Google's voice-controlled Google Assistant, can be used to control light bulbs, appliances and smart power switches, or to answer trivia questions, set calendar reminders and give you an update on the weather.
And at AU$199 (available from The Google Store, JB Hi-Fi, Harvey Norman, Officeworks, The Good Guys, Telstra, Optus and Qantas Store) you're not paying too much more than the US $130 price tag (equivalent to AU$155).
Google Home launched in the US late last year, and while it's the first major smart home hub launched in Australia, it was fairly late to the party in the States -- competing with the hugely popular Amazon Echo smart speaker (and its Alexa voice assistant).
But while Amazon is setting up warehouses in Australia and hiring staff for its online shopping business, Alexa is nowhere to be seen Down Under. If you want to start building a smart home ecosystem, Google Home is your best option right now.
So what does it do? How Aussie-friendly is it? And where is it falling behind compared to the US version?
CNET's team in the US has put the Google Home through its paces in the fully kitted out CNET Smart Home in Kentucky to test all the features as Google intended. You can read the full review here. But now that it's in Australia, CNET Australia has done some Google Home testing of our own. Just note that this review -- and the rating -- specifically reflect how the product works in Australia.
True Blue (and red and yellow and green)
From the moment you ask Google Home a question and the coloured lights on top of the speaker blink in acknowledgement, you'll hear why Google Home is different in Australia. You'll be greeted with an Australian accent (admittedly more Aussie newsreader than totally ocker sheila) and local info.
From there, you can ask questions to get cutesy Aussie-tailored responses. Think, "Hey, Google, are Drop Bears real?" It's a little naff, but it's a nice touch. Be sure to check out our list of Aussie Google Home Easter eggs (or Easter bilbies, as the case may be).
But that localisation goes deeper. Want to hear the news? You can get headlines from the ABC, The Australian, Fox Sports News and Sky (not to mention all the headlines from CNET's Tech Today). Want the weather? It's localised to your suburb (unlike before, when Google Home users who'd had a device shipped from the US were forced to cludge their way around using a US postcode).
Google Assistant's language recognition feels natural -- no need to speak like a robot or ask specific phrases in a certain order. As long as you wake it up with the key phrase "OK, Google" or "Hey, Google" you're good to go.
I had a few issues with the Assistant bugging out on me, even when I was saying basic phrases, and replying in a stilted voice that "something went wrong." But this is a known issue and wasn't an ongoing problem.