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I got a Google Home voice activated speaker and wow… is there room for improvement

Google Home Voice Activated SpeakerI’ve been using Google Now/Google Assistant for quite a while and have become used to the quirks of the fairly unimpressive Alexia third party interface I’ve had for a few months, so when a lot of allergy medication muddled my senses I decided to run to Target to get a Google Home voice activated speaker.

First off, build, setup, sound, and voice recognition quality are premium. I was up and running in a couple of minutes and had given it the access it needed to talk to my thermostat, my Google account, all the fun stuff.

I had my daughter with me and decided to do a quick test and teach her how to get it to tell her a joke. There were two ways to do this that I saw right off the bat, “hey google, tell me a joke” and “hey google, talk to best dad jokes”. After exhausting the first of anything I was particularly interested in we moved on to Best Dad Jokes.

“Hey Google, talk to best dad jokes”
“Did you hear about the kid who fell asleep in school? He woke up” (or something)
“Tell me another”
“I’m sorry, I don’t understand”
“Hey google, talk to best dad jokes”
“Did you hear about the kid who fell asleep in school? He woke up”
errrr… repeat two more times to determine it’s stuck

OK, no biggie…it was a little warm so I told it to turn the heat down, which it did. A little while later it was getting a bit cold.

“Hey Google, set the hallway to 74 degrees”
“I can’t, the hallway is off”
“Hey google, turn the hallways on and set it to 74 degrees”
“I don’t know how to help you”

I’ll save the stumbling, but where I can tell Alexia I’m cold and it’ll pop it up a couple of degrees, the current interface appears to require me to send two commands. Set the hallway to heat, set the temp to X. Eh, just a little natural language issue that I would have expected would have been cleared up months ago when this came out… first day.

Where it really started to become annoying was Google Play Music.

“Hey Google, Play Ruby Vroom.” <- album I have purchased more times than any human should. I own that, it’s in my Play Music, it’s in my CD collection, etc.
“I can’t find Ruby Vroom in your music library, playing Ruby Vroom radio”

Repeat this for several albums. I checked on my phone and saying “OK Google, play <anything I own>” worked fine. Reading up it appears that it’s just not there yet which is why they were offering six month Red subscription originally (looks like 3month now). But there’s a whole lot of my music that never made it to the matrix.

OK, not a huge issue, I can cast music from my phone to the thing, but my 3yo can’t tell it to play any of her albums and have it respond correctly.

I found a lot of my little Bluetooth devices looked like people had been working on IFTTT applets for, but that required an Android device sitting in range of them. Eh, I don’t have a huge problem with that and I didn’t really expect Bluetooth support, but meh.

It gets probably nine out of 10 “hey google” requests, and I can talk to it from nearly anywhere in my house, but that tenth one it may just not pick up “hey Google.” I did find it catches “OK google” quite a bit better, but I’ve come to like saying “hey google”.

At the moment if you’re wanting to do something (easily,) it seems like Amazon is winning. If you want to know something, Google seems to be it out of the box.

Everything being tied to one account also is a major bummer. I want to know what’s on my schedule, wife wants to know what’s on hers, it’s tied to mine, too bad. Seems there needs to be a way to allow multiple accounts even if it comes across sloppy.

My phone can recognize my voice for OK Google, seems like a dedicated device should be able to as well. Shouldn’t be too much trouble… well, I’d assume.

The hardware is great, the Google backend is great, the naturalness of it not there for me yet.

Getting help on what to ask is also somewhat clunky.

So anyhow, my current feel is that as of March, Google Home wins for asking questions and getting relevant answers, Alexia wins for natural language and utility out of the box without bringing IFTTT into the equation, but I think both will end up being great. Both just feel so beta sometimes.

Some other issues a lot of people seem to be having have been listed out here in a current common problems piece. I’ll be potentially addressing some of these later on, but for now read Roland’s piece.

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Paul E King

Paul King started with GoodAndEVO in 2011, which merged with Pocketables, and as of 2018 he's evidently the owner. He lives in Nashville, works at a film production company, is married with two kids. Facebook | Twitter | Donate | More posts by Paul | Subscribe to Paul's posts

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