Introduction to Google Home
If you’re looking to purchase a smart speaker to use in Ireland, then you’re buying at a good time. The Amazon Echo created the “smart speaker” market from scratch and had no real competition for a few years until Google showed up with it’s competitor called “Home”.
Whereas Amazon is still at it’s core an online retailer, Google has a vast array of online services which lend themselves to being used by a smart speaker, for example Google Calendar, Google Maps and of course Web Search to name but a few. How useful some of these are really depends on how embedded you are into Google’s ecosystem of apps, but even if you don’t use any of these services the Home speaker is still really worth looking into.
Both Amazon and Google have also released smaller, cheaper speakers in the Amazon Echo Dot and the Google Home Mini. Both of these speakers effectively do away with the large speaker but apart from that are the same as their more expensive big brothers. The Echo and Home both go for about €55 usually but drop to around €35 when on sale. If you are not sure whether or not you will get any use out of the speakers, then give these a shot first. They can do everything that the more expensive speaker can do and for my money, music from these still sounds better than from your phone.
So with that in mind…
Should I buy a Google Home or Amazon Echo? What features work in Ireland?
This is the ultimate question. There are a few different ways to answer this depending on what you want to do with your speaker, so let’s look at what the main factors are:
Using the speaker as a quick way to find out info like the weather and getting answers to simple questions like “who plays Batman in Justice League”
Winner: Google Home
Why? The weather question is usually fine on both, however Amazon uses Bing maps to find locations and unfortunately we have heard reports that the maps aren’t that well built up in Ireland compared to Google Maps. This may mean that you have to set the location of your speaker in a large town near you, instead of your actual location which is far from ideal.
As for the general questions, having used both the Echo and Home for a number of months, we have consistently found that the answers given by Google are simply more accurate more often. There isn’t a big difference but over time the missed answers from Echo add up to an inconsistent experience and I personally found that this inconsistency led me to use the Echo less and less over time.
Another factor is that the Google Home can answer follow up questions, so if you ask it “Where is Auckland”, once Google answers you can ask a follow up question like “what’s the population there” and the Google Assistant will remember that you were talking about Auckland. Again this isn’t a massive advantage in itself, but all these little 1 or 2% advantages add up to just a better end-user experience for these types of searches. Also FYI Justice League is crap.
Asking for commute times and directions
Winner: Google Home
Why? In two words – Google Maps. If you use Google Maps on a regular basis then you will know just how good it is and how much it keeps improving. There are two examples off the top of my head that best illustrate why Google Home is better. The first is that when I say to the Google Home “How long to take me to get to O’Connell St, it will say “walking, it will take one hour and 20 mins. I’ve sent the directions to your phone”. This is because it knows I usually look for walking directions when using Google Maps and I have an Android phone, so I get a notification with these directions that I can easily access on the move.
Compare this to the Amazon Echo experience. When I ask Alexa the same query, it replies “I don’t know how fast you are moving”….
Asking for the News and Radio
Winner: Close call but it’s Amazon Echo by a nose
Why? All the large news companies like BBC and Sky News are present and accounted for on both, but Amazon Echo has a little bit of a lead here due to just being on the market a bit longer. An example of this is the RTE News skill, which reads you out the top few headlines from the radio news and is a great skill. There also seem to be more niche news sites too. So while there is probably more crap on Echo, there is similarly a higher chance you will find a news provider if you have a specific interest.
In terms of the radio, both services hook into Internet Radio site TuneIn by default, so out of the box, when asked “Alexa/OK Google, play Newstalk FM” both will find the station on TuneIn and begin playing it without any hassle. I’ve had a few more instances of Google not picking up the station name correctly, but this could just be me mumbling and that difference in experience is negligible. FYI both the Dot and Home Mini speakers are great for radio.
Listening to Music
Why? In our opinion and not being audiophiles, both the Home and Mini sound better and have better speakers than their Amazon counterparts. Having said that, if you are an Amazon Prime subscriber than you have access to a few million songs using their Music unlimited service which will save you the tenner a month that Spotify costs.
Having mentioned Spotify, both speakers connect to Spotify equally well, to make life easier on yourself we do recommend setting Spotify as the “default” music service on both speakers if you use it. This will save you having to denote “on Spotify” each time.
Using it to control your Smart Home
Winner: Amazon Echo
Why? Just like the News services, Amazon built up a decent head start here and you will find some services are still only available on the Echo. Having said that the majority of well known smart home providers are here. For example Phillips Hue, Nest thermostats, and WeMo/TP-Link smart plugs all work on both speakers. See below section on smart home products for more info on this.
Ok, I’ve decided on a Google Home. How do I buy one from Ireland?
This got alot easier since the Google Home was released in the UK, but is still far more difficult than just going to Amazon and buying an Echo as Google doesn’t ship the Home to Ireland. But never mind as there are ways around this and we will guide you through them.
- Go to Parcel Wizard and set up an account. Parcel Wizard will give you a UK address and you can then give this to Google to ship to. They will then forward it to your actual address.
- Once you have set up the account you will see that you have a Parcel Wizard “wallet”. Click on this and “add funds”, you will need to add about €3.50 to cover the cost of forwarding your package to you.
- Copy/write down the UK address they give you
- Go to https://store.google.com/gb/?hl=en-GB&countryRedirect=true
- Scroll down to the bottom and make sure that the UK flag is present. If it has the Irish flag then simply click on the flag and select UK.
- Buy whichever Google Home you like
- Enter in the Parcel Wizard shipping address
For those of you who don’t want to set up a Parcel Wizard account (note that there are other postage services you can use from the likes of Anpost, its just that we’ve used Parcel Wizard loads and the service is great. If someone from Parcel Wizard wants to give us money then that would be ace!), then check out Maplins, Littlewoods and Amazon UK, all of which have the speaker from time to time.
How hard is it to set up a Google Home in Ireland? What should I do?
The Echo and Home both really work from the app. So downloading this should be your first priority. Go to the Play store on Android or App store on iOS and download the “Google Home” app.
As you’ll see in the video, once you’ve downloaded the app it will guide you through the first few steps in a very easy fashion. These involve:
- Connecting your Google Home to WiFi
- Entering your address
- Connecting your Google (Gmail) account
- Accepting terms and conditions
There aren’t really any tricks or specific set up advice that you need to do for Ireland. So if you were worried that some features might not be supported due to the Home speakers not being on sale here then you can rest easy.
I want to live in the Jetsons house and control things from my voice. What smart home things work with Google Home in Ireland?
As mentioned above, most of the big name smart home technology companies have made their smart home tech compatible with Google Home by now, so you shouldn’t have any trouble finding something that works well.
Below are a selection of products that work with Google Home and are available to buy from Amazon UK:
- Phillips Hue Lights – These are the most popular and arguably best smart lights and we will have a review up in the next month or two. Starting at €50 for two bulbs they’re pretty cheap too. “OK Google, turn on the lights”
- Belkin WeMo smart plugs – These again are probably the best smart home plugs on the market, they’re a bit pricey though at €35 a pop. “OK Google, turn on the X”
- Nest Thermostat – Google bought this company as its products were so good so this will definitely work with the Home. It’s a thermostat that uses tech to decrease energy usage. While turning off and on the heat using Google Home is a great feature, the killer use for me is using the app to turn on the heat before you leave work. “OK Google, turn on the heat”
- TP-Link Smart Plugs – We’ve got a couple of these and they work grand with a strong WiFi signal and are a bit cheaper at €25 odd than the Belkins.
- Harmony Home Hub – Beware the official app for this isn’t available in Ireland yet, but you can easily use IFTTT.com to get around this fact, we did this and it works great. The Hub allows you to give commands and turn on your TV. “OK Google, turn on the TV/raise volume/change to movies etc”
- Nest Indoor Security Camera – If you have a chromecast then using Google Home you could ask “OK Google, show me the front kids room” and it will appear on your TV. Google has also announced that they will turn the microphone on the speaker on so that it will work like its own little Google Home.
Almost all these devices will have their own app which you will first have to download and set up an account with. Then it is simply a matter of going into the “smart home” section of the Google Home app and clicking on the + icon. This will then guide you through linking the product with your Google Home.
Did we miss anything? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter and we’ll be happy to answer your questions.
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