If you have an android phone you may have already been interfacing with some iteration of Google’s Assistant for several years. If you’ve ever been too busy to use your hands, but needed information and said “OK Google, how do I get to Sainsbury’s?” or said “Hey Google, show me pictures of kittens” (and who hasn’t!?) then you’re already an experienced Google Assistant user.
Because that’s all it takes. Say “OK” or “Hey Google” and it starts listening for instructions. Google’s language analysis is now well advanced over its competitors and can follow several complex linguistic challenges which any child could understand, but computers really struggle with.
Linguistic challenges include context. Google’s Assistant can ‘turn off the light’, which seems innocuous, but other smart assistants will need to be informed which specific light you mean. Google’s application can also follow a string of instructions, for example ‘OK Google, turn off the lights and put the heating on too’ contains ‘off’ ‘on’ and the word ‘too’ which could easily be mistaken for the number 2. According to machine learning, this is an incredibly hard thing for a computer to understand, and Google’s assistant seems to have cracked it more elegantly than other devices on the market, such as Alexa or Echo.
As well as contextual understanding, it also allows you to have an ongoing conversation, so you don’t have to use the ‘Hotword’ (the spoken trigger that starts these devices listening) every time you want to have the assistant do something. It also recognises different voices, which is great for access to shopping, games and parental controls over adult content. Read more
Google’s Home Hub does all the things you’d expect it to, from controlling media throughout the house to the temperature and access, including security cameras, doorbells and intercoms. You can also make broadcasts, announcements, reminders and notes, and search the internet just by talking to Google assistant, which is built in. Just like any other smart home device, you connect all the apps on your phone, tablet and hub and you can control anything from anywhere.
As well as all the other apps and devices, Google have added Nest to their portfolio, and if you don’t know, Nest are market leaders in wireless environmental controls, a broad brief which includes security cameras and motion detectors, intercoms and doorbells, thermostats and alarm systems, such as smoke, fire, CO and intruder alarms.
The Home Hub Nest allows you to monitor security cameras both inside the home and out. With Nest you can not only see when people are coming to your door, but watch the pets or keep an eye on your kids if you think they’re being naughty when you’re running late home from work! Motion detectors activate the cameras, sending you footage when people are moving about, and yes, you can even set it to recognise when it’s a person or a pet.
All the security sensors can alert you through a variety of means, such as an SMS or email, record footage to the cloud, livestream to your tablet and, with a single touch, let you call the emergency services.
Here’s Not Looking At You, Kid
Unlike other devices available on the market, the Google Home Hub doesn’t come fitted with an integral camera. Which seems odd until you consider that without it, nobody can hack the camera to invade your privacy, or record images without your knowledge. And it’s really no inconvenience since so many other devices can be synched which do have cameras. Because it lacks a camera, it is slightly cheaper than competitors which don’t. A double plus if price and privacy are on your mind.
The Google Home Hub comes in a variety of colours, including beige, charcoal, turquoise and off white, and is fitted with a speaker and mic, which you can turn off just by flicking the switch if you want it to stop listening for a while.
Another feature which looks like a disadvantage on the surface is the cable. To operate it needs to be plugged into a power source via the 1.5m long cable. We’re so used to all our device being wireless that we’ve forgotten that it’s actually an advantage to tie some things to the wall. There’s no chance of the hub getting lost down the back of the sofa, someone wandering off to another part of the house and forgetting to put it back, or the batteries running out when you’re in the middle of something important.
When you’re not using it, the Home Hub sleeps in a default screen which either shows the time, or a clock with the current temperature, weather, and a handy item or diary schedule on display. A simple down swipe will load all your rooms, apps and connected devices, sorted by category, waiting for your instructions.
Smart devices (Technically SMART, it’s an acronym for ‘self-monitoring analysis and reporting technology) are interconnected, intelligent products such as fridges, TVs, lights, home security, including doorbells and intercoms, heating and air conditioning and even vacuum cleaners. All these devices operate on a range of different platforms, such as BlueTooth, HaLow, (low power, long range wireless) or WIFI. Because the signalling between devices isn’t compatible with one another, it will be necessary to invest in a home hub. These are the voice activated characters we are becoming familiar with. Say “Alexa, do this!” or “OK Google, do that!” and the reassuring, yet robotic voice will reply while it puts your command into action.
If You’ve Heard About Smart Home Devices, But You’re Not Sure What They Are Or How They Can Improve Your Quality Of Life, Read On
Our new, and hopefully regular update of the latest ads, with explainers and insights. Every week a new ad appears on TV, via social and on web pages, making the latest tech look life-changing. You didn’t know how you lived without it and now you know it exists, you’ve got to have it. At least according to the advertising. We take a look at what’s being offered, judge how useful it really is and the kind of use the regular householder will get out of it. #MythsBusted #ThatsActuallyBrilliant
Hive have released a new indoor home surveillance system called View. It’s designed for use inside the home, with stylish, good looking cameras which also have mics and speakers so you can use them to communicate with the home. Kids acting up? Tell them off via the security system. Dog chasing the cat? Yell at it over wifi! The cameras come with livestreaming so you can see what’s happening as it happens in your house, and person detection, so pets won’t set it off, but people in your house will. As well as livestreaming straight to your tablet or phone, you can record and keep footage for review later. The cameras are small, sleek, and come in a range of colours and finishes which should fit in with any home.
Pros: The cameras are small, and can be discreetly positioned in any room in the home. You set the time that they are operative, and you can also set them to ignore movement from pets, etc and only start recording, streaming or taking shots of people in the house at specific times of the day.
Cons: Your kids might feel a little intruded upon if they know that you’re watching them at all times. They don’t actually act as a deterrent. If someone has already broken into your home and is stealing your stuff, then gathering evidence is great, but wouldn’t you rather have exterior cameras which put burglars off of breaking into your house in the first place?
Ring produce a wireless intercom which lets you see who is calling, or lurking around your home and property. You can speak to people who call at the door, so if you’re busy, not in the mood, or even away from home altogether you can let callers know you’re on your way, that you can’t come to the door, or even that they’re being watched and should go away. The system has additional cameras available which can be installed anywhere on your property, and these have mics and speakers too, so if someone is in your garden, peeping in the windows or trying the back door you can tell them to leave or that you’ve already called the police.
Pros: the cameras can be installed anywhere, and there is an attractive bell press for the main entrance and the range can be expanded from a simple two way intercom and cam for the front door to an infrared night vision and motion detector enabled, multi-camera security system.
Cons: The hardware comes with a two year warranty, but with any wireless security camera, they’re only effective so long as the batteries are fully charged. A camera will act as a deterrent, but when the batteries start to die the signal will become less reliable. This will mean not being able to see or talk to people, and footage may not be captured in the event of a break in. Also, the intercom feature is all fine so long as you can get to your phone or tablet. If you don’t have reception, you’re busy at work, driving or out of service for whatever reason, you don’t get to enjoy many of the features.
Watching something ace online on your phone or tablet? Flip it straight over to your flatscreen TV to enjoy it on your home entertainment system for super sound and picture. All you need do is insert the dongle in the back of your TV, install it into your home hub, synch it up with all of your families’ laptops and phones and you can instantly switch from device to device. When you flip over, you basically ‘tune in’ your TV to the media you were watching on the phone, so you free up that device for other things such as calls, browsing other sites, or tweeting.
Pros: It’s not just video you can cast, many music and other entertainment channels and Chromecast enabled websites can be viewed via your home entertainment system, computer or phone. They don’t need any additional subscriptions and you can apply all the usual parental settings when you add them to your options.
Cons: Using it can be incredibly annoying for other people if they were in the middle of watching something when you flip to the show you were watching. And if you’re RFID enabled the channel will follow you if you’re walking through the house listening to music, which is fine, unless someone’s doing something and doesn’t want to listen to what you’re playing.
Look out for next week’s Ads Explained for more products explained. If you have any questions or an interesting point of view, get in touch. We love to hear from our readers and look forward to hearing from you.