Google offers its Home family of devices as part of its connected home offering. The devices are an alternative to Amazon's Echo range of devices and the family consists of the Google Home, Home Mini, Home Max and Home Hub, the latter of which has been rebranded to Nest Hub. There's also the Nest Hub Max, which will be available in the coming months.
All the Google Home devices have the power of Google Assistant behind them, like Echo devices offer Alexa. This feature breaks down everything you need to know about Google Home, including what it is, how the Google Home devices work, what devices work with Google Home and where you can buy these speakers.
What is Google Home, Home Mini and Home Max?
- Wi-Fi smart speakers
- Google Assistant
- Smart home control
Google Home, Home Mini and Home Max are all Wi-Fi speakers that double up as smart home control hubs and personal assistants for the entire family. You can use them to playback entertainment throughout your home, manage everyday tasks, and ask Google things you want to know.
The three devices vary in terms of speaker and technical specifications, design and cost but they all offer the same functionality when it comes to Google Assistant, smart home control and music playback. You can read about how they differ in more detail in our separate feature.
All three devices have LED lights to indicate when they have heard you and are responding, and they all feature a physical button for turning the microphone on or off.
What is Google Nest Hub and Nest Hub Max?
- Google Assistant
- 7-inch display / 10-inch display
Google's Home Hub – now called Nest Hub – and Google's Nest Hub Max both offer the same features as the Google Home, Home Max and Home Mini, but they add a display to the mix, making them ideal for smart home control and video playback. The Nest Hub has a 7-inch display, while the Nest Hub Max has a 10-inch display, as well as a Nest camera built-in.
The displays allow you to watch YouTube videos for example, read news snippets, control any smart home devices you have using the touchscreens, as well as view any Google Home-compatible camera feeds. Of course, they too offers Google Assistant so you can use your voice to control everything too, as you can with the rest of the Home devices, but the displays brings everything to life.
As with the Home devices, they too have a physical button for turning the microphone off.
The Nest Hub Max is not yet available to buy but it is coming soon. You can read how it differs to the Nest Hub in more detail in our separate feature.
How do Google Home devices work?
Music and video playback
Google Home devices are Wi-Fi speakers and can therefore stream music directly from the cloud. You can access songs, playlists, albums, artists, and podcasts from your favourite music services with just your voice. Or, if you prefer, you can send music from your Android or iOS device through Google Cast.
With Google Cast support, you can also use Google Home devices to control other connected speakers in your home. You'll even get multi-room playback, meaning you can add one or more Google Home devices to a group of speakers in order to blast tunes throughout your house, if they are compatible.
Google Home can also control your video content through Google Cast. Let's say you want to watch your latest episode of Daredevil on Netflix, or a cat video on YouTube. Issue a voice command to Google Home and the content will then appear on your TV. This only works if you've set up both devices in the Google Home app, however.
Smart home hub
Google Home devices can be a control centre for your entire home. They will allow you do the basics like set alarms and timers and manage to-do lists and shopping lists, but they will also connect your smarthome and support popular network systems. It's worth mentioning that you will need the Google Home app to set everything up.
Once you set up your Google Home device and all your smart devices in your home in the Google Home app, you will be able to control them. This applies to smart lights from various companies, switches, plugs, Google's own Nest products and pretty much any compatible smart home device.
It's also possible to control things beyond the home too, such as book an Uber or order dinner. Bear in mind that you will have to ensure everything is setup first though. The best part is all this is done with just your voice, though as we mentioned, if you have the Nest Hub or Nest Hub Max (when available), you can also use the display to control your smart home devices.
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Google Home devices allow you to ask Google anything, from the weather to specific facts. Google's years of search experience is behind Google Assistant so you can ask specific questions like "how much fat is in an avocado?" or "what is Wayne Rooney's shirt number?", but Google Assistant is also capable of conversation so you can ask follow up questions too like "where did he go to school?", without repeating the "Ok Google" or "Hey Google" wake words before the follow up question.
Google Home devices will be able to connect the "he" pronoun to your previous question about Rooney or whoever in order to serve up an accurate answer.
You can ask complex stuff too, such as: "OK Google, what was the US population when NASA was established?". Google Home devices will give you immediate answers each time and they can read the relevant parts of webpages back to you, or show you on the Nest Hub or Nest Hub Max.
Which services does Google Home support?
Google Home works with numerous music services, including YouTube Music, Deezer, Spotify, Pandora, Google Play Music and TuneIn. The list has grown considerably since the original Home device was first announced. Home devices are also compatible with various news outlets, such as the BBC, Telegraph, and Guardian in the UK, among others.
You'll need to connect your accounts for these services to your Google Home in the Google Home app but you'll be prompted to do this when you set your Home device up. Connect as many accounts as you have for the best experience.
With support for these various services, you can ask: "OK Google, play that Shakira song from Zootopia." Without having to name the song, Google Home can figure it out and play it from your favourite app. Thanks to Google Assistant and its machine-learning capabilities, Google Home knows you and your preferences and learns over time.
Google Home also works with a multitude of smart home companies. The list isn't quite as rich as Amazon's Alexa, but it is continuously growing and there are plenty of compatible services. Nest, SmartThings, Philips Hue, IFTTT, Ikea, TP-Link, Arlo, Hive and Netatmo are among the services compatible which means you'll be able to control these smart home devices and activate your IFTTT recipes using your Home device.
Google Home also acts as a Chromecast Audio receiver. We know we sound repetitive, but again, you must set these up with the Google Home app.
What is Google Assistant in Google Home?
Google announced Google Assistant in 2016 as an adaption of Google Now and OK Google. The service improved the two-way conversation experience of the previous offerings with AI and machine learning.
These advances essentially add context to your questions. For instance, when you say, "OK Google", followed by "What's playing tonight?", Google Assistant will show films at your local cinema. But, if you add, "We're planning on bringing the kids", Google Assistant will know to serve up showtimes for kid-friendly films.
You could then say "Let's see the Jungle Book", and Assistant will buy tickets. You can even ask, "Is the Jungle Book any good?", and then the assistant will display reviews, ratings, and a trailer. Google Assistant is able to string your questions together in order to determine context and serve up the right information.
It can do basic stuff like retrieve your travel itinerary, daily schedule, commute time to work, package delivery information, and more. Google Home devices aren't the only devices with access to the Google Assistant, however. Assistant is available on numerous devices including Android smartphones, Android Auto and third-party speakers.
Assistant on Google Home devices is the same as Google Assistant on your smartphone. Data is shared across your devices.
When and where can you buy Google Home?
All Google Home devices are available in the US and UK, except the Nest Hub Max which is coming soon. The Google Nest Hub Max is expected to arrive in September 2019.