The talkative Google Assistant isn’t always a very good listener, but there are a few tricks for grabbing her attention.
A Google Home speaker on the kitchen bench or bedside table can be really useful for getting things done during the day, but as soon as you introduce another Google Home to the house your problems can start to multiply.
Despite Google’s assurances, Google Homes don’t always play nicely with each other – especially if they’re at the beck and call of a busy household. After fighting with the Home and Home Mini for a few months, my family has slowly tamed them. We’ve spent less time with Amazon’s Alexa, but she’s next on our list.
Don’t steal music
The first major problem we encountered was that we kept stealing the music from each other when we’d ask different Home speakers around the house to play something. You can only listen to Google Play Music on one device at a time, so if you start listening on a second device it cuts out on the first device at the end of that song.
That’s not supposed to happen when each family member has their own Google Play Music account as part of a Family plan, like in my house. Everyone should be able to listen simultaneously, but the Google Home speakers don’t always see it that way.
You can teach each speaker to recognise individual voices, but for some reason the Mini refused to cooperate whenever my wife tried to train it. When it doesn’t recognise your voice it assumes that you’re the primary account holder – which in our house is me – so when my wife asked for music in the lounge room, my music would cut out in the kitchen.
A factory reset on every speaker in the house fixed this problem, yet occasionally the children would still steal my music from another room, even when the speaker recognised their voice.
After talking to Google’s tech support we discovered that it’s necessary for each user to manually set Google Play Music as the default in their Google Home app. You wouldn’t think this was necessary when Google Play Music is the only music subscription service in use, but the smart speakers don’t see it that way.
Seeing Red over YouTube
It’s also possible to steal your own music thanks to Google Play Music’s annoying integration with YouTube Red.
Google throws in a free YouTube Red subscription with Google Play Music, letting you access some premium content on YouTube while removing the ads. The problem is that Google counts this as using your Google Play Music subscription, so if you’re listening to music and play a YouTube clip on another device then your music can cut out.
Frustratingly there’s no way to unsubscribe from YouTube Red or break the link to your Google Play Music account. My workaround is to create a secondary YouTube channel linked to your Google account and use that as the default when browsing YouTube on your computer, smartphone or tablet.
Spell it out
Google Home is great when you ask for something simple like “Okay Google, play The Rolling Stones”, but the results are more hit and miss if you want a specific album or track, or if you want to listen on a specific Chromecast speaker.
The novelty of playing with Google Home is starting to wear off and my family is getting sick of having to argue with Google Assistant when it mishears a complex request. When it doesn’t get things right first time then it’s just as easy to reach for the phone in your pocket.
Even my children have taken to streaming music to our Chromecast speakers directly from their devices, because it’s less hassle than trying to convince Google Assistant that you asked for Chelsea Dagger by the The Fratellis and not some god awful sone from WWE wrestling star John Cena.
Mind your own business
If you say “Okay Google” and two speakers are within earshot then only the nearest speaker should respond, but sometimes they’re overly eager to please.
We have a Google Home near the dining table, which is handy for playing music during dinner, but sometimes the speaker in the next room will respond instead. Other times they’ll both respond, or one will respond while the other says it’s encountered an error.
On one occasion I asked for a 5-minute timer and they each set their own timers, which was a real mess.
The issue became worse when I disabled my standalone 5GHz Wi-Fi network and instead combined the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands, using bandsteering to automatically decide which band a device should use. I suspect the Google speakers would sometimes get pushed across to the 2.4GHz where they’re prone to interference from the microwave and other devices.
Experimenting with a dual-band mesh network has solved most of the problems with connection errors, as now there’s a base station reasonably close to each Google speaker so they’re more likely to stay on the 5GHz band.
We still have problems with the wrong speaker responding to a request, but it’s improved now that we’ve also moved them further apart. If possible, try to ensure that your Google speakers aren’t within earshot of each other.
Have you put smart speakers to work in your home? Are they up to the task?