Welcome to CNET's guide to thesmart speaker and Google's . Perhaps you're wondering if you need a smart speaker, a , both or neither. Do you want one with or with Amazon's competitive voice assistant, ? Should you buy one now or wait for the new coming this summer?
Maybe you've already made your decision and bought one of Google's smart speakers or smart displays and now you want to know what you should do with it.
I can help. Below, I'll familiarize with the basics of Google Home, then dive into everything you can do once you're up and running. I'll also look at the flaws of the system and what's next for Google's smart home.
If you're not sure whether you want a Google Home, anor perhaps an , I can help with that, too. CNET has created a for you, and here's a built in to smart speakers -- , Amazon's and Apple's . If you just want to get caught up on the latest, here are the .
What is Google Home?
The smart speaker from the eponymous search giant was designed to compete with the popular Amazon Echo. The Google Home can play music, but it's primarily designed as a vehicle for Google Assistant -- Google's voice-activated virtual helper that's connected to the internet. The Google Assistant you access via the Home is the same as the one on recent Android phones such as the .
The Google Home is always listening to its environment, but it won't record what you're saying or respond to your commands until you speak one of its preprogrammed wake words -- either "OK, Google" or "Hey, Google." Here's a.
Google actually has three smart speakers. Google Assistant debuted in. The $50 squeezes all of the smarts of the original into a smaller, more affordable package. The $300 puts Google's smarts into a speaker designed to deliver premium sound.
All three speakers give you access to the same Google Assistant service. They differ in size, sound quality and price. You use the same Google Home app to set up all three, and they all respond to the same wake words and commands.
You can also use Google Assistant through a variety of third-party smart speakers such as the portableand the . The will as well, though Sonos has been promising that update for awhile. Unless it's specifically stated otherwise, all of the Google Home features I discuss below work with any Google Assistant-enabled smart speaker. Pick your speaker, then . Here are a few and a few .
In addition to the voice commands, each Google Home speaker has a limited set of physical controls. You can change the volume, mute the microphone, and play or pause your music via a physical interface on the speaker. Check out the video below for details on these physical controls.
Where to buy a smart speaker
You can buy the original $100 Google Home, the $300 Google Home Max and the $50 Google Home Mini online via the Google Store. You'll also find Google's speakers at a number of electronics stores, including Best Buy and even hardware stores such as Lowe's. Third-party speakers like the $250 JBL Link 300 are also widely available at electronics stores. The , making the Max in particular more appealing at $300 instead of $400.
Once you get your Google Home set up, you may want to use it to listen to music. You can use a Google Home as an ordinary Bluetooth speaker and pull up the song you want to listen to on your phone. Better yet, use your voice to tell Google what song you want to hear. You can even search by lyrics if you don't remember the name, or tell it to start a playlist of a certain genre.
Google pulls songs from a variety of streaming services including, , and . In the Google Home app, you can pick one of those services as your default, and Google will search that service first when you ask for a song or a playlist. You can still access music from any of the other services by asking for it by name.
Here are. The article also discusses how to group multiple speakers so you can play a single song synced throughout your house. If you don't like the sound quality of your Google Home or Google Home Mini (both are serviceable but not outstanding) you can send music to your speaker of choice via either a streamer or a connection.
Google Assistant can even play music on your TV if it's Chromecast-enabled, and you canthrough a variety of streaming services such as Netflix and HBO Now. You can , but can't launch Netflix on Roku devices. At I/O, . You have to push a button on a remote to give a voice command, so the TV isn't always listening. . Google Assistant will soon come and as well.
Ready to assist
Since it launched in November 2016, the Google Home has gotten a lot better as a personal assistant. Here's aand the many new features it gained throughout the year. Here is . Google also had a in Las Vegas in January. Here are all of the company's .
You could always ask your Google Home to perform basic tasks like searching the web and checking your calendar. Now, Google Assistant in your smart speaker can do so much more. You can train Google Assistant to, which will enable it to . Google can then offer personalized answers if you ask about your commute to work or your schedule for the day.
You can add different profiles for each member of your family and if you want Google Assistant to respond to you in a unique voice, you, including musician . Better yet, different family members can pick different voices, and Google will switch which one responds based on who's talking.
Read more: The
With the, you don't have to say the wake words every time you want to ask a question. The Google Home's microphone stays hot for up to 8 seconds so you can ask a follow-up question without saying, "Hey, Google" again. It'll shut off early if you say "Thank you," and if you don't want Google's mic to stay listening for longer than normal, you don't have to enable the feature.
As of Google I/O 2019, you can also. Just say "stop" and you'll be able to silence your smart speaker. While your alarm is sounding, "stop" essentially functions as an additional wake word.
You can evenverified only by your voice. Be careful with this functionality, though, as we were able to .
Thanks to frequent feature updates, you can now do quite a few things with your Google Home., including third-party skills.
Other highlights of the Google Home's resume include:
: Make an announcement to one Google Home and it will play on all connected smart speakers throughout your home. You can also with a simple voice command.
: Your Google Home can help you cook with step-by-step instructions, skipping forward and back as needed.
: You can use your Google Home speaker to make a phone call. (Note: You can't use Google Assistant to make calls on third-party speakers for now.)
: You can issue two commands to your Google Home in sequence.
- : Your Google Home can automatically lower the volume of its vocal responses and music streaming at certain times of the day.
- : Your smart speaker can read aloud a number of stories from Disney and Nickelodeon. Better yet, you can read certain stories while your Google Home provides appropriate music and sound effects.
- : You used to just be able to make shopping lists with your voice. Now you can create to-do lists, gift lists and more.
: Give a command such as "Good morning" or "I'm leaving" and you can customize your Google Home to respond in a variety of ways, including telling you about your commute, playing the news and controlling your .
Google Home in the smart home
Routines make it easy to control multiple smart home devices with a single command. Plus, they're getting better. At first,. Now you can and add any element you want to any routine -- including podcasts, smart home controls, music playlists and calendar updates.
Routines are getting more advanced, as you canto come on gradually leading up to your scheduled wake you time. They will soon be integrated with apps like Google Clock, so your alarm can trigger your morning routine. Third parties will also be able to build specific functionality for routines, such as playing meditation music on your Google Home.
With customizable routines and now more than 30,000 compatible devices, the Google Home's gotten quite comfortable in the smart home. You can now sync a variety of devices with your Google-equipped smart speaker. Here's a .
Here's Google's list of compatible devices. It includes thermostats, smart lights, smart switches, smart locks, sprinklers, security systems, large appliances and even some cars. and made them easier to control with natural commands. Here's CNET's guide to Google's compatible smart home devices.
For most gadgets, you'll need to use the Google Home app to sync your Google account with the account for any smart device you control -- such as youraccount for your smart light bulbs. Certain let you set them up directly from the Google Home app. Once it's set up, either way, you can control your smart devices with a voice command to your Google Home. You can add them to rooms and control multiple devices at once by giving a command such as, "Turn off all lights in the living room." You can also add them to routines.
At I/O, Google rolled out a developer kit similar to what C by GE uses so more companies can enable setup in the Google Home app. Thiscould also make your smart home faster. Instead of communicating with the cloud of every third-party device, the kit allows your smart speaker to store cached versions of certain commands. They can then process the command locally and communicate with the device directly over Bluetooth and Wi-Fi.
Touch controls and smart displays
After filling out the voice control options for the smart home, Google turned its attention to touch controls at the company's Made by Google event in October. The Google Home app was previously only useful during setup, but it's now a handy way to.
Shortcut buttons at the top let you perform common tasks such as turning off all of your lights with one tap. Scroll down and you'll see all of your gadgets organized by room. The app allows you to quickly access any connected gadget and control it in detail -- you can set the exact brightness oror change the temp or settings of your smart thermostat.
You can also use the app to reorganize and rename your gadgets and even add multiple accounts to your home so people you live with can also see the gadgets via the app on their phones. Or you can group your gadgets into different locations if you've set up smart gear in your office and your home.
In addition to offering a visual reference of your smart home and an alternative means of controlling your gadgets when you don't feel like talking, this new-look app will help you keep your devices organized in a way that makes sense to you.
Google's new focus on touch controls shows up in devices like theand the newly debuted Nest Hub Max. Both are part of a relatively new category of devices called . The Home Hub launched in October. Google announced the bigger Nest Hub Max at I/O and will roll it out this summer. Both have Google Assistant and respond to all of the same voice commands. They add a touchscreen to the smart speaker formula, so if you swipe down on the Home Hub or Hub Max, you'll see a similar .
While the app makes organizing your smart home easier, the smart displays offer a centralized place for your family to control your devices either with their voices or by touch.
The touchscreen also comes in handy when you're cooking and want to see the steps and ingredients spelled out on the screen. If you ask about the weather, you'll see a visual overview of the forecast for the week. Search for restaurants, and the screen will show pictures and hours of nearby places. It can even pull up a map and send directions to your phone. You can also use the screen to look at pictures or watch videos on YouTube.
Unlike with the Google Home, third-party smart displays equipped with Google Assistant hit the market before Google's own models. Theand the were both built in partnership with Google. They feature the same Google Assistant and have all of the same functionality as the Google Home Hub. They didn't launch with a smart home control panel, but that rolled out to both devices through an update.
with Google Assistant. with splash resistance and even more cooking help through the Yummly app at CES. in the works.
You can make video calls on all current smart displays. But unlike the models from Lenovo, JBL and LG, the Google Home Hub doesn't have a camera, so the video call's recipient won't be able to see you.putting the Hub in any room of your house. The smart displays from Lenovo, JBL and LG all have physical shutters that slide over their cams.
The Nest Hub Max has a built-in Nest Cam, so it can detect motion when you're away and send you an alert. If you sign up for Nest's premium Nest Aware service, you can get alerts based on who the camera sees. You can also use the cam for video calls, and it can pan, tilt and zoom to keep you in frame. The cam can recognize gestures, so you can play or pause music by looking at the Hub Max and holding up your hand. Google also announced Face Match for the Hub Max, which is an optional feature that will allow the cam to recognize you and show you personalized notifications when you walk into the room.
The Google Home Hub costs $150 with a 7-inch screen, and you can buy it from the same retailers as the Google Home. The Hub Max will cost $230 and have a 10-inch screen when it launches this summer. The Lenovo Smart Display comes with a 10-inch screen for $250 or an 8-inch screen for $200. The JBL Link View costs $250 and the LG WK9 costs $300. Both have an 8-inch screen. The smart displays from Lenovo and JBL are also widely available at major electronics retailers. Head to LG's site to find retailers for the WK9 in your area.
Kitchenaid's display will have a 10-inch screen, is due out in the second half of 2019, and will cost between $200 and $300. Sony hasn't announced the details of its upcoming smart display yet.
Here's aand here's how to .
All of Google's smart speakers, smart displays, Chromecast streamers and Wi-Fi products will now be grouped under a new brand called Nest team and Google smart home team , and at I/O they united under a single brand.. The
The Google Nest Hub Max is the first product under this new brand. The Google Home Hub is being renamed the Google Nest Hub. Other products could eventually get a name change too. All of Nest's products, like theand the , will be produced under the new brand as well.
If you already own a Google Home or any of Google's other smart home products, this change isn't likely to drastically affect you. Look for more integrations with Nest products in the future, but your smart home setup shouldn't be affected.
If you have Nest products and a Nest account, Google will soon encourage you to merge it into a Google account and will shut down the Works with Nest program for third-party products. If you have a smart home setup centered around a Nest product, here's.
Flies in the ointment
Though Google's done an admirable job of adding features to its smart home lineup, the company's had its share of issues with Google Assistant gadgets as well. Perhaps most importantly, Google's struggled to catch up to its main competitor -- the Amazon Echo and the smaller-- .
At CES,. That's an impressive number, but it includes the many Android phones on the market and Amazon still accounts for roughly 73 percent of smart speaker sales.
In many smart home respects, Google is still chasing Amazon. The Google Home was meant to emulate the Amazon Echo. The Google Home Mini took notes from the. The Google Home Hub combined a smart speaker with a screen like the before it. At CES, Google and Lenovo partnered to show off a trimmed down smart display meant for your bedside called the . Even that has an Amazon precedent called the .
The growing competition between Google and Amazon in the smart home space has mostly been good for customers as the companies try to outdo each other with newer, better features. However, it resulted in a. Amazon stopped selling some Google products on its website. Google retaliated by pulling YouTube rights from Amazon's smart display, the . Here are .
Google's launch of the Google Home Mini also ran into some trouble, as a user discovered a, instead of just after you said the wake words. Google patched the issue quickly, but it still raised the issues of privacy and trust around Google's always-listening assistant.
After launch, athat he was able to use to reset the device and change some notifications settings. Google responded quickly to this issue as well, but called the claims of a vulnerability inaccurate. The company noted that you'd need to be on the same Wi-Fi network to access the code in question.
More to come
Now that you're caught up on the current state of the Google Home, here's a quick glimpse at what happens next. Third-party devices with Google Assistant built in are becoming more common, such asand . I could see even more third-party Google Assistant devices soon, as and recently . In fact, you can even with the company's speaker kit.
At CES, Google showed off, which promises to make it even easier for manufacturer's to build interesting devices that work with Google's smart home. Google showed off a that could turn on your lights and an e-ink display at CES that could show the weather and the traffic. Both sent signals to a nearby Google Home Mini, which took care of communicating with the cloud on behalf of the Connect gadget. This would allow manufacturers to focus on unique hardware while Google handles the computing. Gadgets communicate over Bluetooth or Wi-Fi to a nearby Google Assistant device like a Google Home.
Google also debuted a fascinating feature calledat CES. Interpreter mode uses a Google Assistant device as an intermediary between people speaking different languages. Smart displays will show and speak translated phrases on its screen.
While interpreter mode could be pretty useful in the right circumstances, the coolest feature Google debuted in 2018 is pretty experimental. It shows Google's goal of creating a more human AI.can actually call restaurants and make reservations for you. I don't just mean it can dial for you, it will do the talking and it pauses and stutters just like a human. . It's stunning and it's widely available at this point. At I/O, so that it can navigate websites for you to book cars and snag movie tickets. As Duplex continues to develop, it could make your Google Home much more like an actual human assistant.
Google also showed off aat I/O that processes commands locally. This second generation Google Assistant will launch on the company's smartphones later this year. Google Assistant will also soon. The Assistant app will have a "You" tab to organize contact info, see your activity and update your privacy settings. Then, you can ask Google Assistant to remind you to get a gift for your mom's birthday and it will look up the info and comply.
Smart displays will also be able to show you customized recipes and podcast and event recommendations based on your search history. As Google ventures into all of these extra personal details, the companyas well.
For more than two years, the smart speaker landscape has been changing quickly. We'll keep this piece updated as it continues to shift. Fortunately, it's a safe time to invest in a smart speaker. Google, Amazon and Apple are all battling for supremacy of the market and rapidly rolling out new features, but the features get sent out as updates to existing devices, so you don't have to worry about your new assistant getting left behind -- at least, for now.
First published April 27, 2018 5 a.m. PT.
Update, May 8, 2019: Updated after Google I/O 2019.