Quick Thoughts on the Google Home Max
Posted on December 21, 2017 Posted by John Scalzi 28 Comments
Google went and made a big-ass home assistant called the Google Home Max, which boasts two 4.5-inch woofers, and commensurately-sized tweeters and the promise that it would be a) useful like the regular Google Home and b) sound pretty good, for $399. Well, I have a fair number of home assistants in the house now, but none whose sound will carry well into another room, and I came into some money recently, so I decided to give it a shot.
And, well. It certainly is loud. I have it in my office right now, and fills up the room at probably 40% volume, and I can hear it pretty much anywhere in the house at that level. I suspect at 80% I’d start rattling windows; I haven’t taken it up that loud. The sound fidelity is pretty good too. I’m mostly using it to play stuff from Google Music and Spotify, so a lot will be dependent on what streaming quality one is using. But it works for my needs, soundwise.
Otherwise, it works like Google Home — you can ask it things and it will answer via the Google Assistant, it can operate smart appliances in your home if you want to go that way (I don’t; I can turn on lights by myself) and you can use it to call people if you have yourself an Android phone. You can operate the speaker via your Android phone via the Google Home, and it has a touch-sensitive strip on the side for raising/lowering the volume and for pausing music.
All of this works reasonably well but I’ve actually had several glitches in getting it to do things for me. The reason for this, I suspect, is because I have more than one Google Home device within earshot when I speak to it, and the other ones are picking up the instructions, and the devices sort of fight among themselves as to which one gets to fulfill the request. This means requests for me are a little laggy unless I modulate my voice jusssst right.
(Not to mention my phone is Android and has Google Assistant on it and will also try to fulfill the request.)
So there’s an irony here, which is that indulging Google’s likely desire for me to have more than one Home gadget (and an Android phone) means that their performance degrades because they can’t tell which one I’m meaning to speak to. I suspect this could be solved by the ability to use a wake phrase other than “okay, Google” — i.e., consumers are able to name their home assistant devices (and phones) and have them respond to that name. It doesn’t seem like this should be a real technological issue at this point. Google and Amazon (and Samsung and Microsoft and anyone else doing assistant software) needs to get on it.
But this may be an issue specific to me and others who have multiple devices of this sort. For anyone else who wants a home assistant that can also blast tunes loud enough to alarm your pets, the Google Home Max is a very nice, if not exactly cheap, choice.
But John– KEY question here on the volume issue: Does the control indicator go up to 11?
I’ve experienced much the same issue. It’d sure be nice if I could interact with timers, etc via the phone or Google home interchangeably. Setting a kitchen timer, but needing to return to the kitchen to turn it off is rough.
It does not a have numerical indicator.
I had a similar issue with the Home Mini I bought recently. It’s the only home assistant device I’ve got, but I’ve also got a Pixel phone, and for the first couple of hours, every time I said “OK Google,” they’d both fight to answer me at once. I fixed this by simply using “Hey Google” for the Home Mini and “OK Google” for my phone (though for the most part when I’m at home, I only ask questions of the Home), but online research suggests they’re supposed to be able to work out amongst themselves who gets to answer when a human addresses them with the same keyphrase – i.e. the Home is supposed to answer if they’re in the same room. This hasn’t been my experience, but I suspect this is down to the devices not being able to tell how close together they are. That, or it’s a this-only-sort-of-works-in-Canada issue. I’ll be interested to see how future firmware updates address the question. I, too, would really like to be able to just, y’know, name each device and be able to call them by name rather than using a universal keyphrase. It really seems like this is something we should be able to do by now? After all, the Home devices can address us each by name and even take correction when it comes to pronunciation.
(insert BrainPal joke)
Dang, Google’s missing a marketing trick, there. Not like them…
BrainPal joke: I’m not getting any of these assistants unless I can program them to answer to “Hey, Shithead.”
I have an original sized Google home, and while it’s dumber than a box of hammers, it has fantastic taste in music and the speaker in it is really high quality.
It’s not good for much other than trying to get me to subscribe to Google Play, but the music it does stream is relatively close to what I ask for.
I’ve also trained it to refer to me a “Lord Commander.” You know, fer the lulz.
While the home family of devices do not have a numerical indicator for volume, you can tell it to set the volume to 11
The problem with being able to change the wake word/phrase arbitrarily is that recognition of it is done locally, in the device. When it has detected the word, it turns on more microphones and starts streaming audio to the big server farms to be recognized and interpreted. Allowing users to say whatever they want to wake their device would probably make recognition much more unreliable for a lot of them, thereby giving their devices a bad rap.
I’d rather have Amazon and Google work on the problem of getting multiple devices to cooperate. It seems likely that they are aware of the problem.
Amazon Alexa had this problem at first, but they fixed it so that now the closest device responds and it has worked well for me.
Good thing dogs and cats can’t voice operate devices like the Google Home Max. Otherwise, humanity would really be in trouble.
If you’re interested in any of the various devices from any of the companies putting them out, go visit your local Best Buy as it’s a technophile’s dream right now. Tablets and home assistants alike are there for the, err, lusting after. I almost bought an Amazon Fire Tablet and only didn’t because their WiFi network wasn’t operating so I couldn’t see how well it it worked netwise.
Uleaguehub, good question! But surely, in the spirit of progress, it should go to 12 now. Though any more would be unlucky…
PC Magazine likes it.https://www.pcmag.com/review/356626/google-home-max
I think it’s fairly simple to change the wake phrase for Amazon devices. A couple of friends of mine have done it.
Your phone is supposed to recognize when you’re in the vicinity of your Google Home and not respond, I think? I was curious how this would work (since I use Google assistant on my Pixel XL and was considering getting a Home) and I’m pretty sure I read that somewhere.
In honor of OMW, I guess you should name it “Asshole”. Or are you holding out for the Google Brain Pal?
I don’t know about the home devices, but you can certainly program the activation code on your phone. I trained mine to respond to “expialidocious”.
Of course, because we live in a dystopia, I have to pick the tone I say it in to be one I can use consistently so I’m saying it in an incredibly dour way.
And, of course, Oblig. XKCD
Aw, man. We are so close to the Jetsons I can taste it!
Amazon at least has a list of words you can pick from, so you can alleviate this issue. One can use Alexa, one can use Amazon, etc.
Can’t you give them all names? “Hey, Fred, what’s on TV tonight? And, Jolene, play me some country music. Bart, how’s that sandwich coming along?”
They said, “You have a blue guitar,
You do not play things as they are.”
The man replied, “Things as they are
Are changed upon the blue guitar.”
Ok, google, get me the hell off this planet
I will only buy a personal assistant when its wake phrase is “Computer” and it responds in Majel Barrett’s voice.
Tip: your Android phone will not respond to the the activation phrase “Hey, Google”, but the Google Home devices will. So if you only want “speak” to the Google Home device, try using “Hey, Google” instead of “OK, Google”.
The challenge with activation phrases is that you want the devices to handle them without needing to semantically understand them; and that means the phrases can’t be ones that occur in other contexts but rarely. This is why none of the smart devices can use phrases such as “Hey, shithead”, or “Computer….” The necessary semantic understanding, or for that matter, machine learning algorithm, can’t run on a small device such as a phone or a small consumer electronic device; and hence the only way it could be made to work is if the audio stream was being continuously sent back to the data center. And that’s problematic for too reasons — (a) it would use way too much data center computing resources, (b) it would be considered a rather terrifying invasion of privacy problem.
(Note that the FBI has already tried to force Amazon to give it whatever audio recordings it has from Siri queries — just imagine what a totalitarian government taking orders from the Orange Haired One could done with a continuous audio stream from everyone’s smart speakers. Only used to protect us from those evil brown-skined eeeeevil-doers, but still….)
The day when we can squeeze speach query recognition in a phone, we’ll be able to do even more interesting things. Of course, at that point people will *really* start worrying about what happens if data center sized AI’s have access to a 3d printer. :-)
It apparently also makes a great stand for cruise ship ukuleles. See you in Feb.