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Heart Is Where 'Home' Is

Google’s secret sauce of AI and deep learning could well be the edge Google Home needs over Amazon


From a party of none to a number of recent launches from Amazon and Google, the battle for supremacy in the AI-driven smart speakers space has spilled into our homes. Amazon’s Echo series may have had a headstart in India, but Google Home, launched recently, isn’t far behind and Google’s secret sauce of AI and deep learning could well be the edge it needs over Amazon. But is it enough to convince Indian consumers to bring a Home into their home?

Aesthetically, Google Home is a pleasing device, in that the design doesn’t scream “gadget” and can fit most decors without standing out or looking too “industrial”. The angled top is touch sensitive, and illuminates with multi-coloured dots when you wake up the device with an “OK, Google” or “Hey, Google,”, the phrases that signal to Home that it should start listening. You can use the surface to change volume, play/pause music or turn off the alarm, but for the most part, you will be using your voice to control the device using Google Assistant.

How well Assistant responds to your queries and conversation is what would make or break such a device, and the results are… along expected lines. Assistant on Home isn’t significantly different from the garden variety Assistant you see on most modern Android phones, which means that it is quite good at figuring out exactly what you are asking, even if you don’t phrase it a syntactically correct manner or are one with a thick accent. Ask it for a recipe or a podcast and it will play it back without a hitch, as it will music from Play Music, Saavn and Gaana. You can even connect to and control smart home devices via the hubs, or play things on Chromecast if you have one plugged in. Plus, its ability to recognise voices and personalise responses for up to six users make it far more useful for a family than the Echo devices, which serve up standard responses no matter who asks.

That said, there are a few places where Alexa edges ahead — third party skills (tonnes of them!) and pronunciation of local names and places — which clearly shows the work done towards India localisation by Amazon. Oh, and this is a personal preference, but calling out to “Alexa” instead of “Okay Google” just feels more personal and natural, as does the actual Alexa voice (Assistant sounds a tad robotic). All of this can be remedied by software updates, so maybe it is just a matter of time.

What does bother me is the strictly average audio playback for a speaker that costs nearly 10 grand. The bass is just a bit too boomy, and the mids and highs lack the sort of definition one would expect at this price point. There is no audio out jack to connect to an external speaker, which means you are stuck with the dull audio. The two far-field microphones manage about okay if you are in the same room, but you have to speak louder for Assistant to respond, particularly if loud music is playing.

Yet, if you are invested in the Google/Android ecosystem and are looking for a smart assistant to control smart devices, set reminders or even something for the kids to ask questions, Home is well worth considering. Looking to dip your feet without spending this much? Try the smaller Mini instead.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

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Magazine 28 April 2018 Echo Google Home

Tushar Kanwar

The author is Technology Columnist and Program Manager in Bengaluru, India

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