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  1. #21
    Site Admin Gink's Avatar
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    Well, we've taken the plunge.
    I spent a good amount of time researching smart thermostats for our new house to a) offer better/smarter and remote control of the heating/cooling. (prevent teenager from cranking the heat up while being the only one home because she thinks wearing shorts and a t-shirt in winter is reasonable, and god only knows what shenanigans she'll pull with the AC, since we haven't had AC before). and b) be able to track and hopefully reduce/minimize the costs of heating and cooling.

    Despite being pretty well invested in the Google ecosystem, I eventually decided against the Nest thermostat and went for the Ecobee instead due mostly to its remote sensors, having more IFTTT triggers available, and reportedly better geofencing auto home/away. Since the 4 just came out, I could have picked up the 3 at a price reduction since the only really new feature of the 4 is that is has Alexa built-in. However, the price reduction wasn't significant, and any future features added may not come to the 3, and I thought it would be cool to be able to get a weather report, etc. from Alexa as I wander by the thermostat on my way to coffee each morning.

    What does this have to do with Google Home?

    Well, I installed the new Thermostat Saturday, and the wife pretty quickly went wild for talking to it, having it play music out of its little tiny speaker, etc etc. Her birthday is next Sunday, and she decided that she wanted a full-blown voice control thingy (Echo or Home). I encouraged the Home because of our other google infused devices and services, and my faith that, while Echo currently has a bit more functionality, Home isn't far behind, and catching up fast. And Google are the masters of data, and already basically have all our personal information and deep dark secrets stored away somewhere anyhow.

    So, when the Home and other Google devices went on sale yesterday, she decided that warranted an early birthday present, and ran out and grabbed one. I also insisted she grab a Chromecast Audio while they were on sale.

    I was pretty amazed at how quick and easy setup was. We'd decided to play some NMS before dinner, and then she asked me to set up the Home while she cooked.
    I literally took it out of the box, plugged it in, opened the Home app on my phone, and then just waited while it downloaded updates. That was that, done in no time.
    After initial setup, we each re-trained Google Assistant to recognize our voices. Not sure why we had to do this, as we'd already trained it on our phones in the past. Either way, takes < 30 seconds.
    I attached the Chromecast Audio to the stereo receiver in the living room. Named it, and created an "Upstairs" group with the Home and the Chromecast. Now we can say "Play some Music", "Play Music in Living Room", or "Play Music Upstairs" depending if we want it to play from the Home, the Chromecast, or both at once.

    One of the best features at this point, is the voice recognition and ability to instantly switch accounts and personal data/media settings. The wife prefers Pandora, I prefer Play Music. If she asks it to "Play Some Music" it will start up one of her Pandora stations. If I ask it the same, it'll pull from my favorite Play Music stations. Eventually we'll get our music library uploaded to Play Music and be able to access that to. And of course, it's quite a bit of fun to ask it "What's my name" and have it recognize which of us it is and respond correctly. It also seems to record some information if you engage it in conversation. The wife asked it it's favorite color. It responded "Red, Green, Yellow, Blue, Google's colors, how about you?" She responded "Purple" and it said "Okay, I'll remember that". Now if she asks it what her favorite color is, it responds "You told me you like purple".

    Now, that's all fun. But it'll take time to see what the actual utility of it is. We're hoping it'll eventually be useful for family organization. Calendars, grocery lists, etc. Going to take some tinkering though, for sure.

    I'm surprised though, as I've never been fond of talking to my devices, that I'm quickly growing accustomed to it, and enjoying it. I usually enjoy my quiet time first thing in the morning while I have my coffee and wake up. This morning though, I asked it "Tell me about my day" and quite enjoyed the rundown of weather, my schedule, traffic, and then the latest reports from customizable news sources.

    So far, it's very cool, and will hopefully be useful. I just wish you could rename it, and change the trigger phrase. "Hey Google" isn't quite so clumsy as "Okay Google", but neither is as nice as just saying "Alexa". The wife and I have long referred to the Google Assistant as "Janet", which came about while travelling/mapping our way along on our honeymoon. I asked the Home if I could call her Janet, and she said "Sorry, no, there'd be too much paperwork involved".

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  3. #22
    Moderator GRRowl74's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Gink View Post
    thinks wearing shorts and a t-shirt in winter is reasonable
    This.

    Great review, so excited about these intelligent gadgets invading our homes. Famous last words, perhaps, but still - I love the idea of having a virtual servant to give orders to.

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    Thanks Gink, does the Google Home integrate with your Alexa based Ecobee thermostat? Have you separated your home into heating/cooling zones too, like you have with your music - so that you could say "switch on heating upstairs", etc?

    I've been thinking about doing this with a Raspberry, which you can now get both Alexa and Home on. However, I'd probably have to put in remote controlled radiator valves or something similar, which might be a bit much for my DIY skills.

    Quote Originally Posted by GRRowl74 View Post
    I love the idea of having a virtual servant to give orders to.
    True Say, it would make a change from being the actual servant receiving orders from SWMBO
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  7. #24
    MPV Major Stains's Avatar
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    Great review thanks Gink.

    When recently asked if there was anything I would like (or money towards something) for an upcoming age-related celebration I was seriously considering going for one of these home automated gizmos.
    What was holding me back was the only info that both Amazon and Google have on me is a vast back catalogue of gaming purchases and a outrageously large porn cache! I have never subscribed to any of their music services etc and don't fancy starting from scratch.
    Having heating/ lighting automated does appeal to me, but we are currently in no position to afford the most basic of installs as the whole heating system/ lighting circuits would require an upgrade to come even close to being compatible.

    So for me it would basically be a speaker for radio etc and asking the usual questions.

    Then low and behold, Apple announce their Homepod. Aimed at bringing Sonos quality sound along with all the functionality an Apple whore would expect. As much as I have come to hate Apple and their contempt for any of their gadgets that are one or two models out of date, there is no changing the fact that this house is full of their crap. From PCs to tablets, it's what we've known for years. So I guess I had better get saving for Christmas and look to getting the latest 'must-have' do I really need it?/ No I didn't think so, piece of hardware.

    Saying all that, between Amazon, Google and Apple. Everyone should find one to suit their needs which is a good thing.
    Last edited by Major Stains; 06-06-2017 at 03:20 AM.
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  9. #25
    Moderator JockoPablo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Gink View Post
    Now, that's all fun. But it'll take time to see what the actual utility of it is. We're hoping it'll eventually be useful for family organization. Calendars, grocery lists, etc. Going to take some tinkering though, for sure.

    I'm surprised though, as I've never been fond of talking to my devices, that I'm quickly growing accustomed to it, and enjoying it. I usually enjoy my quiet time first thing in the morning while I have my coffee and wake up. This morning though, I asked it "Tell me about my day" and quite enjoyed the rundown of weather, my schedule, traffic, and then the latest reports from customizable news sources.
    Glad you're enjoying it so far, Gink! I have yet to connect any home control devices to mine but I will at some point.

    Google have made steady improvement to the Home since I first bought it, but sadly they've also made one huge misstep. They moved the shopping list from the Keep app to Google Express, which not only makes it inconvenient to access but impossible to share.

    For your morning "Tell me about my day" update you can also simply say "Good morning."

    I've only scratched the surface of Home after all these months. The biggest problem with Home is there is no single place to get a list of all the commands you can use. Why Google doesn't publish and maintain such a list baffles me. I started a spreadsheet to collect commands I find listed here and there. You can get it from my Google Drive HERE if you like.

    Also be sure you're signed up for Home update emails from Google. They share some good tips that way.

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  11. #26
    Site Admin Gink's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by TonkaToys View Post
    Thanks Gink, does the Google Home integrate with your Alexa based Ecobee thermostat? Have you separated your home into heating/cooling zones too, like you have with your music - so that you could say "switch on heating upstairs", etc?

    I've been thinking about doing this with a Raspberry, which you can now get both Alexa and Home on. However, I'd probably have to put in remote controlled radiator valves or something similar, which might be a bit much for my DIY skills.
    The Home doesn't integrate with the Ecobee as seamlessly as I would like. I probably shouldn't be surprised by it, since Google bought Nest so has their own smart thermostat on the market, but Home does also seamlessly work with Honeywell thermostats. Since the Ecobee4 is the first to incorporate Alexa, I'm not really sure if it's some exclusive deal with Amazon, or just that Home is fairly new and still adding device support.

    That being said, this is something I'm finding the more I research home automation and the various smart devices out there. It's awesome that there are more and more devices available, but the whole "what works with what" is a pretty confusing mess. At this point, a lot of interoperability seems to rely on services like IFTTT (If This Then That), or the new, more versatile but more complicated Stringify that allows building "applets" or "flows" to create rules that when something happens with one device, it will trigger an action on another device or service.

    So, yes, I can control my Ecobee with the Home, or with Google Assistant on my phone, but it's through an IFTTT applet. I have one that allows me to tell it to set a specific temperature or "comfort profile" (Home, Away, Sleep, etc), as well as one that puts a button widget on my phone that I can put the thermostat into "Away" with one tap. Honestly though, I haven't used either so far. To me, the point of a smart thermostat is to improve on the programmable thermostat where you set it and forget it. The improvement being, that instead of just running your programmed schedule, it adds in the ability to interrupt that schedule based on motion sensors, or geofencing that realizes you've left home and flips it to a more conservative away setting.

    Now, I didn't realize the Ecobee only worked with Home through external services, because despite doing a ton of research, the marketing materials and media write-ups are often misleading or straight out say it works with Home, leaving out the bit about requiring IFTTT to do so.

    Unfortunately we don't have separate climate control zones in the house. So while I chose the Ecobee partially for it's remote sensors that allow it to know that the downstairs is a totally different temperature than upstairs, it still really only has the ability to turn heat/cooling on or off for the whole house at once. What it does, that's both interesting and confusing, is treat the current house temperature as an average of all sensors where it has recently detected motion. This is totally customizable and you can choose which comfort profiles use which sensors. For instance, since there are no bedrooms downstairs, during Sleep, it ignores the downstairs sensor. I will probably add a couple more sensors eventually, to both make it smarter, and so the averaging isn't quite so severe between upstairs and down.

    In order to get actual zones, I'd probably have to install smart dampers on some of the vents to open and close them, and they are pretty pricey and the jury is still split on whether it's a terrible idea to ever close any of your vents down, which increases pressure on the forced air system. Also, the impression I have gotten, is that if you do have a true multi-zone setup, you generally have to have a separate thermostat for each zone, and so far, none of the smart thermostats really work all that well with multiples of themselves. So each zone would be smart on its own, but won't really talk to each other. I'm sure you could still set them up to say "Turn the downstairs heat up", "Turn the upstairs head down", etc since you can usually give the devices distinct names.

    I'm currently reading up on smart home hubs and trying to make an "eventually" plan for more smart devices, and making sure they work together. I'm quite interested in openHab, which probably isn't as user-friendly as a lot of the commercial offerings, but is open source, can run on the Raspberry Pi, and is designed to be vendor-neutral and hardware-agnostic, with the purpose of allowing writing rules and making all sorts of smart devices work together. It is also one of few solutions that don't rely on "the cloud". Google has also started their AIY program, which, among other things, allows for building your own Home-like devices. So, for tinkerers and techies, there're plenty of options to fiddle with.

    Quote Originally Posted by Major Stains View Post
    between Amazon, Google and Apple. Everyone should find one to suit their needs which is a good thing.
    That's about it Stains. A large part of what will work best for someone will depend on the ecosystem they're already invested in. Which service is already housing their music, photos, data, etc. I don't know much about it, but it sounds like Apple has their entire own smart device ecosystem / protocol in HomeKit. From what I've seen, and not too surprisingly, devices that work with HomeKit often don't work with many other services, but I'm sure they work great with Apple devices and services. I'd like to see the smart device revolution happen in a way where everyone uses common and open protocols that make it simpler and more flexible for consumers to link together whatever they want. But that's unlikely to happen. So while I don't like Apple's closed ecosystem that doesn't allow me as much freedom to dig around under the hood and tinker, in a lot of ways they counter the confusion by allowing their users to know that anything with an Apple logo or the words HomeKit on the box can be brought home and will work together.

    Quote Originally Posted by JockoPablo View Post
    Glad you're enjoying it so far, Gink! I have yet to connect any home control devices to mine but I will at some point.

    Google have made steady improvement to the Home since I first bought it, but sadly they've also made one huge misstep. They moved the shopping list from the Keep app to Google Express, which not only makes it inconvenient to access but impossible to share.

    For your morning "Tell me about my day" update you can also simply say "Good morning."

    I've only scratched the surface of Home after all these months. The biggest problem with Home is there is no single place to get a list of all the commands you can use. Why Google doesn't publish and maintain such a list baffles me. I started a spreadsheet to collect commands I find listed here and there. You can get it from my Google Drive HERE if you like.

    Also be sure you're signed up for Home update emails from Google. They share some good tips that way.
    I stumbled upon the "Good Morning" action myself this morning. I greeted the Home, and was just hoping for a "Good Morning John", but was surprised when instead I got "Hey John" and then the whole daily rundown and news. I still would have preferred being greeted with "Good Morning" vs. "Hey", but I don't know if we can teach her better manners, or our preferred greeting.

    The shopping list thing is a bit of a fiasco. I'm hoping they'll get it sorted before too long. If you haven't heard about it yet, they've also just added in "Google Family", which allows you to basically tie together multiple accounts into a family and adds various sharing to things like Calendar, Photos, Keep, etc. Most useful so far is that it automatically creates a Family calendar that is shared among all members. And yet, now when you ask to add something to your shopping list, it goes to shoppinglist.google.com, and while you can add people to share that list with, your family group isn't an option, unlike in keep.

    We actually were messing with this for quite some time this weekend, before we'd gotten the Home. The wife always uses keep for the grocery list, and was trying out doing it by voice. It got more confusing, as when I tried it, I happened to have a Keep note titled "Shopping List" and my additions were added to that. I thought we could get around this, so I created a Keep note titled "Family Shopping List", and then asked assistant to add items to "Family Shopping List". But what it did then, was create a new Keep note titled "Shopping" and add to that. Eventually we found that, by sharing the list "Shopping" in Keep to the family, and then by voice requesting "Add items to Family Shopping List", we could both add items to that shared Keep "Shopping" note. Now, this makes absolutely no sense whatsoever, but seems to work for now. We'll find out next weekend whether adding the Home into the mix will totally break our illogical workaround or not.

    I've found a few interesting commands and features under the "Discover" tab in the Home app, but you're right, for the most part it's capabilities are an enigma and it's surprising both what it can and cannot do. I have to say, experimenting with requests can be pretty amusing. I asked it to pass the butter, just to have it tell me that luckily for me, it was designed to be much more useful than just serving as a "butter-passing robot". Cheeky.
    Last edited by Gink; 06-06-2017 at 12:04 PM.

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    Site Admin Gink's Avatar
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    As an aside... if anyone is interested in all this smart home automation wackiness, even if you don't have any devices besides your phone, tablet, laptop, whatever, I'd suggest checking out IFTTT. I didn't look into it until I started getting smart devices, but was surprised to see it had a ton of applets for doing tasks related to various common web services, email, notifications, etc that can be useful even without smart home stuff. I still haven't gotten deep into it, but know there are tons of premade applets to do everything from getting emails or notifications for weather, news, reddit/twitter/facebook/whatever, as well as stuff to automate photo backups online, and on and on. It seems like a pretty useful service for anyone with much of a digital life. It's a free service, there are tons of premade applets, so you don't really have to learn anything, but you can always make your own, or take an existing one to use as a template to tweak for your own uses. Pretty cool stuff.

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  15. #28
    Site Admin Gink's Avatar
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    After using the Home all week, we're enjoying it, but it definitely has a ways to go and Google has their work cut out for them connecting all the pieces of their systems together.

    It finally started responding to my "Good Morning" with "Good Morning" instead of "Hey", so that's nice, I guess it can learn manners. But for both the wife and I, it doesn't tell us anything about our commute, even though it knows where we work. Also doesn't have anything to say about our Calendar, possibly because we have multiple calendars and it doesn't seem to have that sorted out yet.

    The new Google Family features don't seem to be integrated at all. Number 1 being the Family Calendar where we put all our shared events, appointments, etc. Can't seem to get it to find that at all.

    The weirdest thing are the differences between it and the google assistant on my phone. Same voice, you'd expect mostly the same functionality to a degree, but nope. Home can't seem to add anything to Keep lists as far as I can tell. Phone assistant can. So our workaround of using a shared Keep note for our shopping list doesn't work, and the new google shopping list pretty much sucks.

    I'd really like to be able to use my phone as an extension of the Home. Have the home control the linked devices and streaming and such so I don't have to cast from my phone, but be able to give it directions through my phone so that I don't have to buy another Home just for downstairs, the bedroom, etc. Our downstairs gaming TVs can be controlled by voice from the Home, but the Home lives upstairs. I can cast to the TVs with my phone, they show up in the Home app, but voice control doesn't seem to work through my phone.

    Also, you can supposedly cast audio to your TVs that have chromecast built in, but you can't add the TVs to speaker groups. Eventually I'll get some compatible speaker setup downstairs, but would be nice for now to be able to have my Upstairs group with the Home and the living room chromecast, as well as a Downstairs group with the TVs so I could play music just upstairs, just downstairs, or on all of them at once.

    So, even for someone fully invested in the Google infrastructure, it leaves a lot to be desired. Fortunately, it's all just missing software features, the Home is still fairly new, and I have faith that Google will only keep improving, adding features and pushing software updates regularly.
    Last edited by Gink; 06-09-2017 at 01:39 PM.

  16. #29
    Moderator JockoPablo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Gink View Post
    It finally started responding to my "Good Morning" with "Good Morning" instead of "Hey", so that's nice, I guess it can learn manners. But for both the wife and I, it doesn't tell us anything about our commute, even though it knows where we work.
    Do you use Google Maps with location and tracking enabled on your phone(s)? Home needs to know the route you take -- not just your destination -- in order to give you estimated commute times.

  17. #30
    Site Admin Gink's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JockoPablo View Post
    Do you use Google Maps with location and tracking enabled on your phone(s)? Home needs to know the route you take -- not just your destination -- in order to give you estimated commute times.
    Yup. My phone always has a notification on it at the beginning and end of the day letting me know about the traffic. And we can even ask the Home if it knows our work address, and it will tell us how far and how long it will take. I've confirmed in the Home app that is has my locations set correctly at least. My commute is only 7 minutes and there's never traffic, so I figured there was nothing worth mentioning about my commute, but the wife does an hour up the freeway and back each day, so not sure why it doesn't have anything to say about it. Will have to sit down and dig through our settings this weekend, figure out what's missing.

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