Back in January, we welcomed a Google Home Mini into our house. As the name suggests, it’s the smaller version of the Google Home, which is Google’s smart assistant. It competes with Amazon’s Echo/Alexa range, and Apple’s new HomePod.
In the run up to Christmas, the Google Home Mini was significantly discounted, and being bundled with mobile phones. We got ours bundled with our Nest Protect smart smoke alarm, which I reviewed last month. We placed it in our living room, seeing as that’s where we spend most of our time awake, and because it works well with a Chromecast.
Indeed, this is probably the thing that we use it for the most. When you have a screaming toddler, it’s handy to be able to shout across the room ‘OK Google, play Paw Patrol‘ and have it come on the TV without having to find a remote and navigate menus. We recently inherited my parents’ old Sony TV which supports HDMI-CEC (Consumer Electronics Control), and so through the Google Home Mini and the Chromecast, we can turn the TV on and off using our voice, which is pretty cool.
Our Nest Thermostat is also able to communicate with the Google Home Mini, so we can use it to find out the current temperature and also change the temperature on the thermostat. This, together, is the extent of our foray into the so-called ‘internet of things’ and we haven’t yet invested in any other smart home devices. Although I’m contemplating either a smart light bulb or plug for a standing lamp in our living room.
Having support for Spotify built-in is also handy, although it works best if you have a Spotify Premium account as then you can play individual songs. This prompted me to upgrade. Sadly, although you can have multiple Google Accounts linked to one Home Mini, you can only have one Spotify account. As I found, when I opened Spotify at work, to find that Christine was already using it to listen to the Moana soundtrack.
The support for multiple Google Accounts works well; it’s able to identify whether me or Christine is talking to it. So if I ask it to add something to my calender, I know it’ll go into mine.
Support for third party services outside the Google ecosystem isn’t great. Whilst the Google Home can connect to a wide variety of smart home devices, it’s limited to playing video content from YouTube or Netflix, and music from either Spotify, Deezer, Google Play Music or Apple Music (if you have an iOS device and a valid subscription). Fortunately, there is IFTTT integration, and I was able to set up a link with my to-do list in Wunderlist, albeit in a roundabout way using IFTTT and email. But Amazon’s Alexa platform has a much wider variety of ‘skills’.
I was sceptical about whether we would actually use the Google Home, but it’s become part of our daily lives. On a morning, it’s handy to ask for a time check whilst getting ready, or for a weather update. And it works really well with our Chromecast; we’ve not really used our Roku player since we got the Google Home. I wish there was more third-party support; being able to request content from BBC iPlayer would be a great help.
I recently visited a friend who has five Google Home devices around his house – including the bathroom. I don’t think we’ll ever get to that stage, but the thought of having one in the bedroom has crossed my mind more than once. Maybe we’ll consider it the next time there’s an offer on.