Keeping Your Home Safe With Google HomeBy - 04/21/2017
Anyone who aims to go up against Amazon’s Alexa is going to have a tough fight on their hands. Nevertheless, if anyone can do it, Google can. Toe-to-toe, Google Home appears to be a worthy competitor, but when it comes to home security there’s still one question that remains:Can it protect your home as well as Echo can?
What Is Google Home?
Google Home is an internet-connected speaker with a virtual voice assistant. It can play music and podcasts from Google Play Music, Spotify Premium, YouTube Music, Pandora, iHeartRadio, and TuneIn using its high-excursion speaker. It can also stream music from your phone via phone mirroring or Chromecast-enabled apps. Unfortunately, Google Home can’t stream music from Bluetooth devices, but it can play the same song from multiple Google Homes, something Echo can’t do. Google Home can also cast to your TV via Chromecast for access to Netflix and YouTube.
Google Home also functions as an assistant via Google Assistant, an evolved version of Google Now with the ability to engage in contextual conversations. For example, you can ask it about the weather today and follow up with, “What about tomorrow?”.
With your permission, the device can also “get to know you”, providing deeper customization. Using your location, your Google calendar, your search history, and any connected service or device (Android phones, Chromebook, YouTube, Nest, Gmail, etc.), it starts to piece together information about you. Combine this with Google’s search engine power, and you begin to realize that Google Home has the potential to be a valuable assistant. As an added bonus, Google Home can be an assistant for everyone in your house. Thanks to an update, it now supports six different user profiles and can learn to recognize voices so that it knows who is talking and whose account it should access.
For those who are concerned that Google Bots are listening to everything you say, you might find some comfort in knowing that Google Home listens and even processes who is talking locally. It uploads information to the cloud when the wake word, “OK, Google”, is spoken or when you long press the touch interface at the top of the device. To further protect your privacy, you can use Home’s lights as indicators. If voice control is on, the four dots at the top will light up red, blue, green, and yellow, indicating that it is ready to listen. If the lights are steady and red, it means the mic is off. You can also turn it on or off by pressing the mute button on the front of the device.
Google Home for Home Security
Let’s get to the important question: Can Google Home enhance your home’s security? Like Amazon’s Alexa, Google Home can’t create a more secure home on its own. You’ll need to connect it to compatible devices. As Alexa-enabled products have been around longer, they were and still are in the lead. However, Google is quickly catching up.
Initially, Google Home integrated with Nest Thermostat, IFTTT, SmartThings, Philips Hue, WeMo and a few other random devices. Google Home’s latest update adds compatability with several more brands including August, LIFX, Wink, Rachio, First Alert, and Logitech Harmony.
Google Home’s integration with SmartThings allows you to control connected devices. The focus of the integration is smart home control, but you can also use it to strengthen your home’s security. For example, you can ask Google Home to turn on all your connected lights if you hear a sound. Unfortunately, the integration is still limited to a few parlor tricks. As of now, you can’t connect SmartThings’ sensors to Google Home, so it’s not yet possible to arm your sensors with your voice.
For home security, IFTTT is a winner. IFTTT lets you trigger smart home devices using voice commands. The only problem is that you need to say the commands correctly word-for-word, similar to how Alexa interacts with Alexa Skills. If you can remember the trigger phrase needed, you will be able to interact with multiple smart devices, home security cameras, and even internet-backed services. With the right trigger phrase you can:
- Turn on your lights.
- Trigger a siren.
- Lock your doors.
Making Emergency Calls
Through IFTTT, you can also trigger a phone call using your voice, but IFTTT is limited to one phone number. If you want to use Google Home to contact loved ones in an emergency, check out Ask My Buddy.
Ask My Buddy was created as a skill for Amazon Alexa, but the free service can also work with Google Home. While not a substitute for 9-1-1, My Buddy will allow you to dial up to five emergency contacts using your voice. You can contact one person, or you can choose to alert all of your emergency contacts at the same time. In addition to sending out an emergency voice alert, Ask My Buddy will simultaneously send an email and a text message.
My Buddy is enabled through the Google Home app and activated by speaking the correct phrase. For example, “Hey Google, Ask My Buddy to Send Help”.
August is the first smart lock brand to work with Google Home. Although Google supports both the 1st and 2nd gen smart locks, you’ll need an August Connect Wi-Fi bridge to make this integration happen. If you don’t own an August Connect bridge yet, you can get one here. As an alternative, you can use the August Doorbell Camera as a bridge. Per a conversation I had with the August team, using the Doorbell Camera as a bridge is not something they have tested extensively, but they do feel that it will work.
You should also note that August isn’t listed as a Google Home compatible device. Instead, you can find August under supported services.
For now, you can only ask Google Home to list all of your connected August locks, lock your doors, or check the status of your locks. For security reasons, you can’t unlock your doors using Google Home.
Like Amazon Alexa, Google Home also works with Vivint, a company that provides professional security monitoring. The integration allows Vivint Sky panel users to check the weather, lock connected door locks, control the Vivint Element thermostat, and arm the Vivint security system. This is by far one of Google Home’s deepest plunges into home security.
Again, for security reasons, Google Home can’t disarm your alarm system or unlock your doors.
Google Home also welcomes Wink. Unfortunately, as of now, there’s little value to this integration as it only allows users to voice control Wink-connected switches, lights, plugs, and thermostats. When it comes to real security features, the Wink + Google Home partnership is still lacking.
If you’re a Wink user, don’t fret. Wink is one of the friendliest platforms to date, and we’re confident that their partnership with Google Home will eventually grow.
Similar to Wink, SmartThings, and WeMo, TP-Link now integrates with Google Home. And like those integrations already mentioned, it only goes as far as voice-controlled lights, switches, and plugs.
|Smart Lights/Switches||Smart Hubs/Thermostats||Home Security and Services||Other|
|Philips Hue, Nanoleaf (Coming Soon)||SmartThings, Vivint Sky, Wink, Racchio, Logitech Harmony Hub||IFTTT, Stringify, August Smart Lock, OneLink||Hyundai, Chrysler 300, Mercedes|
|WeMo, Switchmate Bright Smart Switch, TP-Link||Nest Thermostat, Honeywell||Control4||Ask My Buddy|
Google Home vs. Amazon Echo
|Google Home||Amazon Echo||Echo Dot|
|Microphone||Far-Field Microphones||Far-Field Microphones||Far-Field Microphones|
|Speaker||High-Excursion Speaker||360-Degree Omni-Directional Speaker||Lower Quality Speaker|
|Dimensions||5.62” (height) x 3.79” (width) x 3.79” (depth)||9.3” (height) x 3.3” (width) x 3.3” (depth)||1.3″ (height) x 3.3″ (width) x 3.3″ (depth)|
|Play Music From||Spotify, Google Play Music, Pandora, TuneIn, YouTube Music||Amazon Prime Music, Spotify, iHeartRadio, TuneIn, etc.||Amazon Prime Music, Spotify, iHeartRadio, TuneIn, etc.|
|Stream From Your Phone||Yes, via Phone Mirroring or Chromecast||Yes, via Bluetooth||Yes, via Bluetooth|
|Stream From Bluetooth Devices|
|Wake Word||“Ok, Google” or “Hey Google”||“Alexa”, “Amazon”, or “Echo”||“Alexa”, “Amazon”, or “Echo”|
|Calendar, Weather, Traffic|
|Shopping List:||Yes, and can order from Google Express Retailers including Costco, Whole Foods, Walgreens, PetSmart, and Bed Bath & Beyond.||Yes, and can order from Amazon.||Yes, and can order from Amazon.|
|Control Smart Home:|
|Questions:||Contextual Conversations||Working Toward Contextual Conversations||Working Toward Contextual Conversations|
|Users:||Supports six users. Automatically swaps between accounts.||Supports Households. Must ask Alexa to switch accounts.||Supports Households. Must ask Alexa to switch accounts.|
Base: Interchangeable (Silver, Black, White, Blue, Purple, etc.)
|Black, White||Black, White, Optional Skins Sold Separately|
|Buy Now||Buy Now||Buy Now|
In my opinion, Google Assist beats Alexa with its ability to follow contextual conversations and Google Search. However, not to be left behind, Alexa is currently working on the ability to engage in contextual conversations, though the skill is not as refined as Google Home’s ability. Also, matching Echo’s position in the smart home might be difficult, and Google will have to diverge from Works with Nest to catch up.
If interested, you can order Google Home for $129. The body comes in white with a slate fabric base, but the base is interchangeable (black, white, rose gold, purple, blue, and other colors). You can purchase new bases from the Google Store.