The days of purchase of devices or smart assistants will be completed soon. Amazon and Google have both clearly stated their intention to make their AI device agnostic, so the days of Google Home or Amazon Echo could well be counted.
Assistant and Alexa are already built in everything from thermostats to lamps. In order for smart speakers to continue to have a place at home, they will need to be pregnant first and then smart. Proprietary products are already competing with major audio brands like Sonos, Sony and JBL. It is therefore not surprising that we have seen Amazon, Apple and Google go in this direction over the last few months.
The new Echo system offers a kind of improved audio, but Google Home Max and Apple HomePod offer similar visions for a future in which smart assistants are a good bonus on a device-driven high-quality delivery, ground-rumble, room filling audio. And with prices approaching $ 400 a piece, it's better to be.
The Google Home Max does not work here. It's big and it's heavy. The thing weighs 12 pounds. I am painfully aware of this fact because I foolishly have Google delivered to our office, and I then threw it in a backpack at home to test. I am currently studying the comp policies of our company for muscle stretched in my back.
I'm a little weird, of course (in many ways, but let's focus on this one for now). The Home Max is not really a portable speaker. In fact, if aesthetics dictates a purpose in this case, it's practically a piece of furniture, with a cloth-covered front in line with the rest of the Google Home offers.
The Home Max is not a flashy speaker from a design point of view. Like the rest of the Home line, the Max is designed to blend in with its surroundings. It's a boxy design that comes in black or white (charcoal or chalk, if you will). The Max is minimalist, it allows to exchange buttons against a simple touch panel and interact with a quartet of LED dots that glow under the front of the fabric. It's a nice device; underestimated, really.
The touch panel on the top controls the volume and turns off the system – but on occasion I had trouble getting it to work properly. It should also be noted a switch on the back of the device that turns off the microphone, a key feature of privacy, although it would have been nice if the company had made it a little more important like Amazon does with the Echo line.
Back to the wall
What is perhaps the most interesting from the point of view of design, is that Google is far from the 360 degree audio here. Almost all autonomous smart home speakers are built this way, ditto for the HomePod. The idea here, though, is that most people do not plop their speakers in the middle of the room. That's certainly the case with me. I brought the Max home and found a wall to counter it.
Like the HomePod, the Max promises a personalized soundprint according to its environment. But instead of trying to create a complete audio image of its environment, the system bases its audio footprint on the back wall, because much of what you hear is that reflected sound.
Google considered the "Smart Sound" feature, adjusting the audio equalization based on the wall. The system uses built-in microphones to listen for bass bouncing off the wall, adjusting the sound settings accordingly. According to Google, the whole process only takes a few seconds, but the system pulls it at 30 seconds to gradually facilitate a new sound.
The fit is subtle and quite difficult to detect. And, honestly, you probably will not run into this too often, given the pain in the ass (and lower back) that the system has to move.
Maximum of rock and roll
The Max sounds good. But is it $ 399 good? In a word, no. Given the smart speaker market, I would not be too surprised to see a price drop soon after the holidays – but in the state, the Max does not really meet the expectations of such a costly system.
But it sounds pretty good that many users will be perfectly happy. The audio is loud and clear, and the bass bumps like a mofo, thanks to a pair of 4.5-inch woofers. The audio quality is pretty solid, the company does not need to soften things with added bass, but the bass is pretty intense. Fortunately, you can change these settings as you see fit through the Google Home app.
The complete "room filling" experience is not a problem either. Granted, I have an apartment in New York City, so my space is not the most … demanding, but the single Max does more than trick and keeps ringing well, even at big volume, to the chagrin of my poor neighbors (but these bastards knew what they were signing when they moved next to a technical writer).
For those who need more than the Max firepower, buying two transform them into stereo speakers, enhancing the experience – and driving the price to around $ 800, of course.
A helping hand
The Max is an audio-first device, but Wizard is where the system shines. In a way, this is not surprising. Assistant is not just a platform for the company. This is the culmination of much of what the company has been working on for fifteen or so years. This is the contextual search, artificial intelligence and machine learning in one. All of this helps Assistant with contextual search – using other information to get the good results, rather than taking a picture in the dark.
It still has a length ahead of Alexa, though it is not yet perfect. My biggest trouble with the system came when I tried to test its lyrical function. This is a cool addition to the wizard music feature, where you can say "play me the song that goes" I never thought it would happen with me and the Clapham's daughter " and he'll play Up the Junction by Squeeze.
Or, as it happened many times, it will play "Play That Song" by Train and you will want to run the Max through a window, because Train is a terrible band that no one should listen to. Fortunately, it costs $ 399 and weighs 12 pounds, so leave it and move on.
That said, the voice recognition of the system is solid and I was impressed by his ability to recognize the "OK Google" and "Hey Google" commands, even when he played high volume music. In addition, congratulations to Google for allowing you to set up a third-party music service by default. Too often, these devices involve locking users into a particular ecosystem. Here, I was able to set up Spotify right out of the box (you can also use YouTube and Pandora music). You do not need to specify that you want to play a song on a given service.
However, if you want to play audio from YouTube, you must have a YouTube Red account. Fortunately, the speaker comes with a free 12 month plan. The least that Google can do with a $ 399 speaker.
This price tag of $ 399 will be difficult to digest, especially as more and more third parties come out with their own smart speakers. It is often said that it is $ 50 more than the premium speaker of Apple. Although the Home Max has decisive advantages over the HomePod, not the least, is that it is currently on the market. The Apple offer, meanwhile, is scheduled for some time early next year.
Overall, it's a solid offer. The Google assistant is hard to beat and the hardware is almost entirely self-contained. This is not the most stellar audio equipment at its price level, but Google has designed something that works right out of the box, while Smart Sound means you will not have to do random equalization. from its current position.
If you still want to personalize it, it's also possible. The Google Assistant app is much more robust than Alexa. But plug-and-play features will likely appeal to many users looking for a system that sounds good and that can also help them get ready for work in the morning.