Sunday, December 31, 2017

Home Automation Adventure: Living With Google Home Mini

Photo credit Wikipedia
I didn't expect to have one of these and had voiced my opinion against bringing such things into the house in answer to my son's persistent begging for a while. My main objections (uneducated) were that I figured it would be less of a practically useful device and more of a pain to figure out and use, and that I didn't know how Google would end up using any information it picked up from being in our house. And I'm really not interested in working to automate things that we can do easily. 
But he got his way anyway and we suddenly had one, which my son's enthusiasm required that we quickly set up. turns out I am actually happy to have it! It's been fun enough to use that I've been plenty distracted from the important task of finding out exactly what the privacy policy is.  Here are the pros and cons I can come up with after playing around for a day.


  • Just a couple, first being the surprisingly poor quality of the Mini's speaker. It actually rattles as if some part has come loose, and I wonder if that's actually the case with ours.
  • To remedy the poor speaker quality I would like to connect it to some bluetooth speakers but it can only connect to external audio through Google Chromecast devices, like a Chromecast to a TV or a Chromecast audio plugged in to the auxiliary input to our stereo. To update, I have set that up, and find that while it continues to only speak through its own speaker, when you ask it to play music on the Chromecast Audio connected speakers it does. Unlike the TV, it doesn't have other controls on the stereo, like to turn it on or off.


  • Easy to set up, just connect up to 6 Google accounts through the Google Home app and each account owner's voice can be recognized. This leads to a mind blowing setup where it can differentiate people's information based on the sound of their voice. If I ask it how old I am we get a different answer than if my son asks.
  • The partnered products and services work amazingly well. Now we have it set up so we can just tell it to play a particular title on the TV or play "cat videos on youtube" and by itself it turns on the TV and starts playing! It even has commands like "rewind to the beginning" or "rewind 30 seconds" so you don't really need to touch a remote.
  • It was only $29!
  • I quickly found out how to make customized activities on the Google Actions web site. In a short time I had created a flashcard activity off a Google Sheets template so my son could practice his knowledge of animal classifications. This is only the beginning, and I was really surprised and pleased that they made it so easy to develop your own content for the device. The environment allows you to easily test your activities—apps—on the device connected to the same account, and then if you want you can submit it to be available to the public, though I don't know how that works or where it ends up for people to find it.
  • According to what I've read, Google Home is better at answering questions than the Amazon home assistant devices, which we find to be true in our experience and based on people's anecdotes with Alexa and Dot. I'm glad for that because my son finds it fun to look things up that way, so it could serve an educational role. 
  • The other thing I've read in comparison reviews is that Amazon devices are able to connect to more home automation devices. We really don't have any besides Chromecast devices so that's a feature I'm not missing in not having the Amazon brand.


Yeah, now it's time to do some research!

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