Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Google Home

For my birthday this year I received a trio of Google products, the Pixel phone, the Google Home device and the Google Daydream headset. I have been spending a lot of time with each and have been pretty happy with them all. Previously I wrote a bit about the Pixel. Today I want to talk about Google Home.

So first off, I have to say that I am totally bought into the Google ecosystem and that this starts with Android which I have used since it debuted on the G1. Everything else here should be viewed through that bias.

My father in law has had the Amazon Echo for two years now and my kids love asking it the same goofy questions they would ask Siri or Google. I toyed with getting the Echo but I always felt that my need for weather, traffic or some random information was pretty low at $150. Around my birthday the price for the Home was dropped from $139 to $100 so I figured at 50% of the cost, what the heck!

The device has a great low profile. The speaker for the system is pretty good. The ability for the device to hear commands from anywhere around the room is downright scary...even over other noises.

So here are some high level thoughts...

The Bad -

Ecosystem - Not much set up for the system yet. The Echo has a 2 year head start on the ecosystem development so the Google command set seems really limited. I suspect this will rapidly change now that the Google Actions and Assistant API pieces are opening up to developers. I suspect it will grow as quickly as the Android ecosystem did once it got rolling. I bet what I am calling a Bad today will quickly become an awesome.

Sonos Integration - I have 3 Sonos speakers in the house. It kills me that there is no integration point with Google Home. While the Home speakers are good, they are not of the quality you have with Sonos. I really hope that Sonos decides to do some kind of integration.

Language interaction - While I don't have any extensive experience with the Echo, I bet that it has a similar problem. The Home wants some pretty specific commands to interact with you. I was struggling mightily to get the Nest interaction down right. Now that I know how to do it things are easier but new interface interactions are going to always have a learning curve in the near term.

The Good -

Design - Low profile. Good sound quality. Creepy good listening.

Nest integration - Love this. I had a bit of a hard time working out the commands but now that I do it is killer to tell the Google Home to warm the house up or to cool it off.

Pixel integration - When you call the action word - Ok Google, both devices respond. If there is an interaction it comes on the louder Google Home. The two devices appear to work seamlessly together although I know that there are some occasional hiccups with that.

The Future - Being totally bought into the Google ecosystem I know that the future holds the ability down the road to search through my old emails, update my calendar, read me a particular document etc. The creation of an "App store" like framework for developers that can be used for things like Android phones and Chromecast devices has some killer potential for home automation and interaction.

Bottom Line - If you are a Google centric user, save the money and grab a Google Home. It is not at the same place as the Echo in terms of support currently but my guess is that it will get there in the next 12 months and accelerate beyond the Echo. If you are not a Google user and you want to experiment I am guessing the Echo dot might be a good call. I haven't looked into it yet but I believe that you can get one solo without an Echo. I suspect voice interfaces are in for a lot of great developments in the coming year.

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Google Pixel

Over the last few extended weeks of my birthday celebration, I managed to get 3 gifts that are from the current Google lineup. I wanted to share some brief thoughts on them. Today is the main one, my new Google Pixel phone.

I have been an Android user since the first Google phone the G1. Along the way I have repeatedly updated my phones as the newer version have come to market. In many cases I have had a later model iPhone as well as a testing phone for the various companies I have been at over the years. While I know many of my friends love iPhones, my favoring of Android has never let up.

Over the last 6 years I have exclusively owned Google Nexus phones. While I know a number of people who enjoy the Samsung and other variants of Android devices, I have always preferred the stripped down software on Nexus devices and I have enjoyed having early access to the latest flavors of Android.

My most recent phone until the Pixel has been the Nexus 6. I recall at the time it came out I was very disappointed that I only had one option to buy a gigantic phone. Over the two years I used it I definitely became comfortable with the size and all in all it was a pretty outstanding phone.

The Pixel for me is a move back to a smaller device which I am generally excited about. I think I could have easily gone with the Pixel XL as well but it was nice to switch back to a smaller device.

There are a number of great sites that have comprehensive reviews of the Pixel so I am not going to try to cover much but instead wanted to highlight a couple areas that are either very interesting or very disappointing. Before I do that I have to say that I really love this new phone so any issues are generally minor.

The Bad...

GPS - My GPS has something crazy going on. When using Maps or Waze, the Pixel occasionally looses precise location tracking. This has resulted in some annoying freeway announcements from my phone as well as literally getting lost in a residential neighborhood while trying to pick up a kid from a friends house. I have contacted customer support and sometime in the next few days will try to take the steps that will fix it. Unfortunately I don't think the steps will work but we will see.

Speaker - The speaker on this phone is just bad. I cringe at the thought of using this phone for conference calls in speaker phone which was something that was stellar on the Nexus 6. I am dumbfounded on why you would go cheap on a premium phone in the speaker department.

USB C - Guess all my old chargers are obsolete now. The upside though is that the charging time is amazing.

The Good...

Software - Clean new Android software with lots of good bells and whistles.

Camera - Probably the best camera I have had on a phone.

Speed - Everything is lightning fast.

The Awesome...

Google Assistant - While this is not where it needs to be today....it is light years ahead of Siri and is a big improvement on the Google Voice / Google Now services that I have grown to love on the Nexus 6. Google will be granting API access of some sorts for Assistant in the coming month and I am sure that there will be some great development in that arena. I especially like the way Assistant interacts with the Google Home device. I will chat more about that next.

Google Daydream - Wow. That like the Google Home will be it's own topic but suffice to say it has been the first wow moment I have experienced with virtual reality.

Back soon with comments on Google Home and Google Daydream.