Google’s Growing Stable of Smart Home Devices

Last week we walked you through Amazon’s swelling line of home automation tech. Bezos has been continuing his acquisition frenzy, and the stable of products is swelling. But, the home automation market never sleeps, neither does Google smart home devices.

We also looked at how Apple might fight back to start better competing in the smart home space, perhaps with a change in strategy.

Today, it’s time to examine the scope of Google’s lineup of smart home devices so we’ll jump right in.

Smart Speakers

The smart speaker market is effectively a two-header.

While HomePod will continue to attract a small market silver, the battle is taking place between Amazon with their Echo range and Google with the trio of Home smart speakers.

Google Home

The flagship Google Home brings the power of Google Assistant into your smart home. For hands-free control of your devices along with much, much more, Home is a powerful weapon.

Just over 5.5 inches tall and measuring only 3.8 inches around, this dinky device will fit almost anywhere.

Sound quality is average at best, but we’d suggest you double down on how you intend to use this speaker. While Google describes the soundscape as “big” and “rich,” we’d have to take exception. You’ll be able to listen to your favorite streamed music, but it’s certainly no room-filler.

As with all smart speakers, it’s the smart part where Google excels. Assistant returns intelligent search results as you’d fully expect from the master of search. You’ll also be able to enjoy robust control of your smart home kit using nothing but simple voice commands.

First launched back in 2016, Home is still punching above its weight today.

Google Home Mini

If you want all the smart home control offered by Home in a far smaller form, Mini is a pocket-friendly disc also powered by Google Assistant.

Again, sound quality will inevitably disappoint, and you won’t be able to hook up Mini to an external speaker either. You could, of course, connect it to a Bluetooth speaker. As we said, though, as counter-intuitive as it might seem, most people are not buying smart speakers for the speaker component.

You can call other Home devices hands-free, and you’ll get all the general admin assistance from your favorite virtual assistant.

Choose from a trio of colorways and embrace the subtle fabric finish, a nice change from the cheap plastic look plaguing many smart devices.

Super-simple to set-up and equally straightforward to use, Mini makes the ideal gift. Treat yourself or even treat an elderly relative if you want to introduce them to home automation the easy way.

Google Home Max

Google Home Max is the beefiest and costliest in its smart speaker lineup.

In return for that bulkier footprint and heftier price tag, Home Max packs a substantially harder punch than its stablemates.

On the audio front, Max delivers fully. The only meaningful complaint here is that it tends to sound a little bass-heavy.

You can pair multiple speakers if you want a genuinely immersive stereo sound and you’ve got a more fluid budget. You can also wire up your Max to other compatible speakers.

As with all Home speakers, you’ll be able to take full advantage of everything Google Assistant has to offer. Far-field recognition along with no less than six microphones means your virtual butler will hear you effortlessly from a distance.

So, from rock-solid music streaming with crisp, powerful audio through intelligent search and smart home control, Home Max is a worthy addition to the stable.

Smart Displays

Amazon added Echo Show to its line of smart speakers, and Google entered the fray with Home Hub but is it any good?

Google Home Hub

Google Home Hub is the first and foremost a smart display despite what’s suggested by the name. In essence, you’ll get the best a smart speaker has to offer with the inbuilt benefit of a 7-inch display.

Don’t panic, you will be able to control compatible smart devices using Home Hub, but you won’t have quite the same functionality as you’d get from Samsung’s SmartThings Hub or Wink Hub 2. That said, you’ll still be able to take command of over 5000 compatible devices from more than 400 major smart home brands.

You won’t get the same sound quality as Echo Show delivers from what Google describe only as a “full range speaker.” Bass is a let-down, and the overall sound is weak, somewhere roughly between Home and Home Mini, so nothing to write home about.

The 7-inch LCD with 1024 x 600 resolution is more than fit for purpose and gives a nice visual edge to search.

We can’t in any conscience describe Home Hub as the best smart display on the market. As a vehicle for Google Assistant with a bonus screen, though, it’s affordable and hits the spot.

Mesh WiFi

Increasingly, consumers are tiring of the lackluster performance from conventional routers.

If you have a larger home and you’ve got plenty of devices competing for bandwidth, a mesh WiFi system is a far more efficient route to blanket coverage.

Check out our look at mesh WiFi right here.

Google WiFi

With Google WiFi, you can set a solid foundation for your connected home with this punchy mesh system.

Using modular WiFi points, you can enjoy a full-strength signal throughout every corner of your house. The single node will cover up to 1500 square feet while this 3-pack offers even better value and covers 4500 square feet.

Dead zones and flat spots can be tiresome when you’re streaming a movie but how about when poor performance hampers the connectivity of your smart devices? You don’t need to tolerate that any longer and Google’s entry into this growing market is not just practical but also affordable.

The set-up is straightforward using the free and responsive app.

You’ll get dual-band WiFi (2.4GHz and 5GHz), so you can avoid the congestion at the lower frequency. You won’t need to manually switch bands either with Network Assist running in the background. All devices will be optimized to receive the most reliable connection. You’ll be able to change priorities and keep an eye on what your kids are doing in-app, too.

You can build out this modular system with more nodes if your needs change.

Do yourself a favor and consider updating your WiFi. You’ll find a distinct improvement in performance from your smartphone and laptop to your smart tech and streaming.

Smart Phones

Often overlooked when it comes to smart home tech, a phone is often the primary method of controlling devices throughout the home.

Google Pixel 3

Google has pulled a savvy marketing trick by offering the Pixel 3 at a cut-throat price if you trade in an iPhone.

Where Samsung is supersizing things with the Galaxy Fold and cameras seem to be multiplying, Google sticks with the single 12MP rear camera on the retooled Pixel 3. There are also a pair of front-facing cameras with the second of these outflanking the iPhone XS for wide-angle action.

The primary weapon Google employs to challenge the smartphone status quo is artificial intelligence. Google Assistant can step in to improve the camera performance and performs a range of other tricks.

Since Pixel phones hit the market in 2016, Google has continued to invest more heavily in branded hardware as today’s study shows. From VR headsets to streaming dongles alongside the Pixel range, Google wants its gadgets in your smart home and also in your pocket.

With over a half-billion Google Assistant devices now shipped and Assistant now compatible with over 5000 devices, Google is ramping up their assault on the connected home from all angles.

Streaming Devices

With home entertainment at the core of most connected homes, Google’s offering comes with a brace of streaming dongles.

Google Chromecast and Chromecast Ultra

Chromecast is, in essence, a simple dongle you slot into the HDMI slot on your TV to smarten it up.

By using your smartphone or computer as a controller, you can stream an array of video content to the bigger screen in your home theater. You can mirror from a browser using a toolbar extension, and you can do the same from many Android handsets.

Powered by USB, Chromecast runs on a pared-down version of Chrome OS. The dongle acts as a transmitter between your TV and streaming provider. Broadcast directly to Chromecast; it’s then displayed on the larger screen.

Now into its third iteration with an optional Ethernet adapter to enhance connectivity, Chromecast is a portable and user-friendly way to enjoy streamed content supersized.

Chromecast Ultra is double the price and packs the same functionality but can broadcast 4K content with HDR color.

Check out 20 Ways To Get The Most Out of Chromecast if you’re toying with adding this device to your connected home.

Smart Light Starter Kits

Smart lighting is one of the most popular entry points for beginners to home automation.

Google has now dipped its toes into the starter kit waters with a clever twist.

Google Smart Light Starter Kit

Bundling a GE Life bulb with a Google Home Mini is a neat method of introducing new customers to the magic of Assistant with an immediate practical application.

This kit targets those unsure about the benefits of either voice control or home automation. It allows you to test the waters at a price-point that’s pretty much in impulse-buy territory.

The bulb is dimmable and allows you to take remote control hands-free or via your smartphone and the Home app, a free download and very user-friendly.

Think about it.

If you try this starter kit and decide home automation is not for you, you’ve lost nothing and gained a powerful little smart speaker for not much more than list price.

With that stable of Google first-party products now looking broad and deep, there’s another strong arm to their overall smart home strategy so we’ll look at that right now before rounding out.

Expansion: Google Buys Nest

Back in 2014, Google paid an eye-watering $3.2 billion for smart home company Nest.

Google’s parent company Alphabet has invested in 8 companies they term Other Bets:

  • Nest
  • X
  • Calico
  • Access
  • CapitalG
  • GV
  • Verily
  • Waymo

While these Other Bets only account for roughly 1% of Google’s turnover, these companies are an open secret as they appear on Google’s financials. They gift us an insight into the future of technology in the eyes of the search giant.

Since 2015, Nest continued to operate as a separate company under the Alphabet umbrella but in early 2018 something momentous happened.

For the first time, one of these Other Bets in the form of Nest was folded back into Google.

Now shepherded by Rick Osterloh, head of Google’s hardware division, Nest will be a potent addition to Google’s swelling hardware unit.

With so many Other Bets losing money and proving to be questionable bets, Google’s complete dominance of online search and advertising allows them to shoulder these poor performers.

Since joining Google, Nest’s trajectory has continued to rise. In 2017, they sold more devices than in the previous two years combined.

Their hardware portfolio also doubled. The current Nest range is looking rock-solid:

  • Nest Thermostat E: The smallest and cheapest Nest thermostat, it comes with fewer wiring options that the classic Learning model. The display is also  tougher to read, but it’s an excellent entry-point for smart home novices
  • Nest Learning: The enduringly popular intelligent thermostat that keeps your indoor climate regulated and automated while saving you money each month, this model is a must if you have a larger and more complex HVAC system
  • Nest Protect Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Detector: Too many people overlook the safety angle of smart home tech. Sure, a security system is an obvious purchase, but safeguarding your family against the silent menace of smoke and carbon monoxide is made affordable and straightforward with Nest Protect
  • Nest Hello Doorbell: This nifty video doorbell works seamlessly with Google Home Hub so you can watch the live feed on a larger display. You’re advised to consider the Nest Aware subscription to get the most from this smart doorbell. Even without the paid package, though, you can stay connected to who is coming and going even when you’re away from home
  • Nest x Yale Lock: This outstanding smart lock brings you the hardware expertise of a lock legend along with Nest’s smarts. While limited in terms of interoperability, if you fully invest in Google’s ecosystem, Nest x Yale is a wise addition to your connected home
  • Nest Secure: A DIY smart security system, use Detect sensors along with Nest Guard hub – this has Google Assistant onboard – to keep your precious smart home and its contents protected around the clock. This system is expensive, so it’s not for everyone
  • Nest Cam Indoor and Nest Cam Outdoor: Whether you want to keep your eye on your kids or your pets when you’re away from home, keep your eye on the garden, or monitor the comings and goings of service staff, Nest Cam gives you an extra pair of eyes. Both these cameras are available in IQ version which adds a tweaked 4K sensor along with improved software for differentiating between people, animals, and objects

So.

Now back in the bosom of Google, we’re sure there are exciting times ahead for Nest. In turn, this will bring even more choice to you, the consumer.

Final Word

By now you should have a sound overview of how the big three tech giants are shaping up in terms of smart home tech.

Come back soon for more of the most current smart home news. We update our blog daily Monday through Friday with a Saturday round-up in case you missed out on anything.

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