Thanks to advances in artificial intelligence, smart speakers are now today’s new tech trend ready and waiting on your command to answer many of your pending questions, control your smart home devices, play games, and so much more. Around now for several years but only available in the U.S., Amazon’s Echo and Google Home have been the envy of all Canadian tech enthusiasts. That has now changed as Google Home has just recently made it into Canada. L
What is a smart speaker for anyone that does not know?
A smart speaker is a wireless smart audio playback device that supports both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity. Smart speakers have special features to enhance ease of use, connect to multiple types of audio sources and provide additional functionality.
Some of the newer smart speakers like the Amazon Echo and Google Home also feature voice-activated digital assistants and can operate as home automation hubs. So, with a high quality built-in microphone and high quality speakers you just say the trigger word and these digital assistants activate to answer many of your questions, play your music, turn on or off lights, increase or decrease your heat, or read you the news.
What types of smart speakers are currently available and is one any better than the other?
So, right now there are several companies vying for your attention in this new niche market. You have Amazon Echo, which is currently not available in Canada, you have Apple’s HomePod which is not available to anyone until later this year and then you have Google Home, which has been out in the U.S. for a while and now available here in Canada.
Each speaker has different strengths and weaknesses, but the companies who are making them; like Amazon, Google, and Apple seem to be working hard developing the artificial intelligence which powers the digital assistants in them. When you speak to Google Assistant if you use Google Home, Seri, when we get Apple’s HomePod, and Alixia if you are lucky to acquire one from the U.S. (and Brian I do believe you might have some experience with the Echo?)
And so I know for me using Google Home the best thing about having a smart speaker is that it frees up my hands and gets me away from my tethered smartphone. You can ask Alexa, Google Assistant, or Siri what the temperature is before you run out the door or ask if you need an umbrella. The voice assistants can also read you recipe instructions or set timers when your hands are occupied in the kitchen. They can play you soothing music after a long day or read you back the latest news. Many times I find myself asking Google Home to play a local radio station, ‘what my day looks like’, can it turn off lights and lock my doors at night, and wake me up in the morning.
My kids are loving it as well. They ask the Google Home Assistant to sing to them, play their favorite music, and to spell and find out word definitions. The new trend with them now is to get the Google Home Assistant to make animal sounds for them. I have to say, once you’ve used one, you won’t want to be without it.
Many people are probably thinking is are there any privacy and security concerns we should be aware of?
As with all smart devices, there are security and privacy concerns and so this is no different for smart speakers as they use highly sensitive microphones to listen and record your voice, connect via Wi-Fi and transfer that data over the Internet. Many of these smart speakers work well because they have high quality mics that can pick up your voice anywhere in a room and so they take your recorded voice commands , upload it to a server to determine what to do; the same way your voice assistant works on your phone.
Privacy experts have expressed concern that some companies producing smart speakers are also known to harvest user data. But with Google Home, the words you speak are only captured when you make a request using specific key words that will activate the assistant and the microphones. So, for most of these smart speakers everything you say in your house is not recorded, its only after you say the keywords. For anyone who feels uncomfortable, there is a button on the back of Google Home to turn off the mics and so it has touch technology at the top of the speaker to continue using it for controlling music and volume.
The bottom line:
Google Home does an excellent job at answering many of your questions, playing music and controlling other smart home items it’s compatible with. The sound from the speakers is loud and basey and the price is about right at $179. The type of artificial intelligence technology powering Google Home is only in its infancy as I foresee much more advancements in this type of AI over the next decade.