Monday, November 27, 2017

Google Home Mini

Recently, I was getting a new toy at home that I wanted to get for a long time: A Google Home (Mini)

The Google Home Mini package.

What is Google Home and what does it do?

Well, it is the Google Assistant that you might know from your Smartphone, just as a stand-alone home device. 
It enables you to speak to the assistant like the crew of Star Trek The Next Generation does when they say "Computer, play music" or anything like that. Just that the keyword is "OK Google" instead of "Computer".
Google Home also enables you to control other smart home devices like switching on or off the lights by simple words. It also answers questions like "Will it rain today?" or "What is 350 $ in €?" or calculations like "What is the third square of 375?". Also, questions about things of common interest like "Who is Benedict Cumberbatch?" it will try to answer by presenting results from web searches.

Why did it take so long to get one for me?

Well, Google Home has been released about a year back in November 2016 ... but it first got released in Germany by August 2017. When the Google Home Mini got released at a much lower price (about 59,- €), I needed to get one, finally.
Of course, I could have gotten an Amazon Echo or Echo Dot before but I really wanted the Google device as it works together with my Chromecasts and Smartphone so well.

What is included?

Not all that much, but enough.
The Google Home Mini itself, a USB cable (micro USB) and some documentation.

Google Home Mini + Micro USB cable.

The setup is quite easy. Just plug it in and open the Google Home app on your Smartphone. The rest is just following the instructions there.

White LEDs to show status and volume.

The device itself has some LEDs at the top to indicate it's status or the volume and a microphone mute button at the backside. When the microphone is muted, the status LEDs will permanently be red.

Red LEDs to show that the microphone is muted.
The audio quality is also quite good for such a small speaker. Of course, it is not comparable to a huge stereo system, but it's still quite good.
Another thing that surprised me was how well it detects the keyword even while there is music or videos playing and without shouting at all. 

How does it influence my daily life?

For most people, it might feel strange at first to talk to a machine. As I am using voice commands on my Smartphone with the Google Assistant for quite a long time now already, it was not that much of a difference, more of a convenience.
At the moment the Google Home Mini sits on my desk at my office at home. Asking questions like for the weather, some currency rate conversions when I am shopping online, when I am interested in some facts, want to hear the latest news or simply just want to listen to some music.

For example, I tell: "OK Google, play a Lindsey Stirling radio mix."
And that's exactly what I get, it plays a Lindsey Stirling radio mix.

Or I ask other things like my next appointment, my commute time to work, to set a reminder and so on.
I also have a few Chromecasts at home, which also enables me to just tell Google Home to play a TV Show from Netflix on my TV or some YouTube videos, show some of my photos as a slideshow and so on ...

Are there any downsides?

Of course, where there is light, there is also shadow.
I have set up my system to English US as some features tend to be available there first and I also like the sound of the AI voice better there. In fact, all my systems are set to EN-US, always.
But as I am not a native speaker, sometimes it's a bit harder for me to pronounce the terms right. Or when I ask for specific German names or locations at a system expecting English, it's still hard sometimes to get these things right.
Another problem is when you want to set it up in an environment where you're not alone. Other people could get disturbed by it a bit or the Assistant can get a bit confused with other people telling orders as well. This is also an issue when your watching YouTube videos and they simply say the "OK Google" keyword ... I would wish Google would allow setting your own keyword.
Some people are worried about a device that is always listening to the keyword, just most of them do not even notice, that they are carrying such a device in their pocket, all the time ...


Do I like it? YES!
Would I buy it again? Of Course!
I really enjoy this little step towards a future most of us where dreaming of when we watched sci-fi shows in our childhood. Somewhat it feels, we are approaching these fictions now.
Also, I am very curious to see what's coming next and where it will lead us to.