back to article The Google Home Mini: Great, right up until you want to smash it in fury

At first, it wasn't entirely clear whether it would be worthwhile doing a review of the new Google Home Mini. The new, cut-down version of the digital assistant could probably have been summed up in a tweet. Something like: "Home Mini: smaller, cheaper, sound worse but still fine." But then, and it's not entirely clear how or …

  1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Gimp

    So, plays tunes you own, alarm clocks stuff you set and listens to everything you say 24/7

    Sounded like a s**t idea when I first heard of it.

    Still does.

    AIUI The excuse for the always on internet requirement is the "cloud" based voice recognition, but TBH this sounds pretty s**t.

    So it's a voice activated, wireless linked (I'm presuming otherwise you'd have to lay cable to it) media player that syncs with your diary and can have triggerable alarms.

    That might be a product I'd want to buy, without the always on link stuff everything I say to a remote server site.

    1. James 51 Silver badge

      Re: So, plays tunes you own, alarm clocks stuff you set and listens to everything you say 24/7

      Sounds like you're describing a pebble time without the speaker.

      1. SkippyBing Silver badge

        Re: So, plays tunes you own, alarm clocks stuff you set and listens to everything you say 24/7

        'Sounds like you're describing a pebble time without the speaker.'

        Or say my phone, which does all that stuff already and can be linked by bluetooth to speakers which are not tinny and shit.

        1. Tom 7 Silver badge

          Re: So, plays tunes you own, alarm clocks stuff you set and listens to everything you say 24/7

          linked by bluetooth to speakers which are not NECESSARILY tinny and shit.But probably are.

          1. SkippyBing Silver badge

            Re: So, plays tunes you own, alarm clocks stuff you set and listens to everything you say 24/7

            'linked by bluetooth to speakers which are not NECESSARILY tinny and shit.But probably are.'

            Oh, my av receiver has a bluetooth in so they're pretty good. But I agree a lot of bluetooth speakers aren't much better than the ones you get in a laptop.

            1. Mage Silver badge

              Re: av receiver has a bluetooth in

              But direct 3.5mm cable is actually better quality and lower latency than Bluetooth, which is an extra pair of codecs.

              1. SkippyBing Silver badge

                Re: av receiver has a bluetooth in

                'But direct 3.5mm cable is actually better quality and lower latency than Bluetooth, which is an extra pair of codecs.'

                True, but that rather limits my ability to place the phone where I want, i.e. in reach of me, rather than on the other side of the room.

    2. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

      Re: So, plays tunes you own, alarm clocks stuff you set and listens to everything you say 24/7

      "Always on" is really bad. I know Google want to know absolutely everything about you, but perhaps it would be easier to sell a gadget with enough on-board processing so that it recognises the (user-defined) safe trigger word locally, and only then needs to connect to decipher more complex things. And ideally it should be able to handle common commands without phoning home - perhaps a local copy of contacts to manage 'phone xxx' requests or 'play xxx'.

      And the contacts needs to cope with aliases - who includes an entry in their contacts for 'my wife'? Anne-Marie or Snookums, possibly...

      1. lostinspace

        Re: So, plays tunes you own, alarm clocks stuff you set and listens to everything you say 24/7

        It does - voice is only sent once the trigger phrase has been detected

        1. Pascal Monett Silver badge
          Big Brother

          That is what they want us to think.

      2. Jonathan Knight

        Re: So, plays tunes you own, alarm clocks stuff you set and listens to everything you say 24/7

        According to a presentation from Amazon I attended, the Echo does process the trigger word locally using a cyclic 20 second buffer and then passes the remaining sentence to the cloud to process.

        1. Mage Silver badge
          Flame

          Re: According to a presentation

          Why would I believe a marketing presentation, EVER. Especially one from a Tech Giant.

        2. This post has been deleted by its author

        3. John Smith 19 Gold badge

          "According to a presentation from Amazon I attended, the Echo does process the trigger word locally

          using a cyclic 20 second buffer "

          Well that does sound reassuring.

          Except that Googles implementation sometimes doesn't quite match their stated goals.

          Remember the driverless cars and their ability to collect WiFi network IDs as well?

          They didn't happen to mention how long the raw voice data is retained for, did they? Or how long it keeps recording before it cuts off, deciding you are no longer talking to it?

      3. R 11

        Re: So, plays tunes you own, alarm clocks stuff you set and listens to everything you say 24/7

        >>> And the contacts needs to cope with aliases - who includes an entry in their contacts for 'my wife'? Anne-Marie or Snookums, possibly...

        They already do. Google contacts has support for nicknames and phonetic spellings so that an unusual or non-English name can be correctly recognized.

    3. Muscleguy Silver badge

      Re: So, plays tunes you own, alarm clocks stuff you set and listens to everything you say 24/7

      Sounds like my Amazon phone, except I denied the Google App permission to access the microphone, so saying 'OK Google' has no effect. But I have a multitimer app which is great. I use it a lot when cooking. At Xmas I was kitchen major domo, timing mutliple dishes.

      In my previous Android phone running the older OS I managed to disable the entire Google App with no bad effects, the search bar vanished but that was good, I always use the Startpage shortcut. I tried hard to replace the bar with a startpage shortcut but it wouldn't go there.

      In this latest phone when I disabled Google App it bricked the phone requiring a factory restart. No biggie, I'd only just set it up but it disturbs me. Isn't this the sort of thing the EU went after Microsoft for when they tried to bake Explorer into the OS?

      1. R 11

        Re: So, plays tunes you own, alarm clocks stuff you set and listens to everything you say 24/7

        >>> Isn't this the sort of thing the EU went after Microsoft for when they tried to bake Explorer into the OS?

        When the EU went after Microsoft, they were probably making the OS for more than 9 in every 10 computers sold. iOS has >30% of the UK smartphone market, so there's not the same competition concerns.

    4. R 11

      Re: So, plays tunes you own, alarm clocks stuff you set and listens to everything you say 24/7

      Who on earth has their spouse in their phone under the name "My Wife"? I ask my Google home to "call <firstname>" and that's exactly what happens. It calls folk anywhere in the world at the first time of asking. And my accent is one from the lesser-populated northern regions of the UK, so it's not a "you need to speak slowly and clearly" thing.

      1. Argh

        Re: So, plays tunes you own, alarm clocks stuff you set and listens to everything you say 24/7

        > Who on earth has their spouse in their phone under the name "My Wife"?

        You don't need to. On the phone, at least, if you ask to call your wife, mother, sister, etc. it will ask you who that is, then assign that information to them (I think in the "nickname" field of the contacts), so it will work in future.

        I don't have a Google Home to test with, but it works fine on the phone or through Android Auto.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: So, plays tunes you own, alarm clocks stuff you set and listens to everything you say 24/7

        "Who on earth has their spouse in their phone under the name "My Wife"? I ask my Google home to "call <firstname>"....And my accent is one from the lesser-populated northern regions of the UK..."

        Aye 'appen as though wife's name int phone is under "Old Bag".

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: So, plays tunes you own, alarm clocks stuff you set and listens to everything you say 24/7

      The idiot reviewer WANTED it to record all the time (you need to wake it with OK google).

      I suspect this wish to have it record 24x7 with no wakeup command is to allow the writing of a click bait it records everything story...

  2. James 51 Silver badge

    They can't do the job and they're a privacy nightmare. Who in their right mind would buy something lime this?

    1. RyokuMas Silver badge
      Devil

      ... and the more they can force you to talk, the more data they can gather...

      1. Eguro

        So that's why they can't seem to understand things on the first go??

      2. TRT Silver badge

        Just wait until they learn to lipread.

        1. Flywheel Silver badge

          > Just wait until they learn to lipread

          No, that's your Smart TV's job, but don't worry - the individual tech spies will be conferring soon so all the data will get back to it's intended destination. One way or another.

          1. TRT Silver badge

            lipread...

            Open the garage door, Hal.

            Hal, open the garage doors, goddam you!

    2. P. Lee Silver badge
      Alert

      Yeah, I spent 50 quid because although I would like to to speak to you, the desire wasn't strong enough to get me to hold a phone.

    3. stu 4

      sheeple. in their unwashed hoards I would think.

      The same ones that twatter every breath they take, post to people they've never talked to on facepuke, and see nothing wrong with store loyalty cards, google, and every other big brother poc out there.

      it will no doubt be a roaring success...

      1. Amorous Cowherder
        Big Brother

        "sheeple. in their unwashed hoards I would think."

        I love a good bit of tech, think the idea is great but too much like the "TeleScreen" for me. People where I work banging on about how great their Echo thing is , "We asked it the time!", "The kids can ask it things for homework.".

        Whoopy-flipping-do! No need to have a discussion with your kids about sharing knowledge. One reason I don't let my kids just automatically jump on the internet when they have homework, we sit down and discuss ideas, concepts. If we're unclear then we both sit down and try to understand it together, then they get to hear someone else's interpretation not just the plain fact, which may or may not be right.

        God forbid we allow people to communicate, they may revolt and will not buy services and products we demand they buy. Generations to come will be born never knowing the joy of human communication, "All hail the almighty conglomerate of Amazon and Google.", then genuflect the sign of the A and G in front of their sacred devices.

    4. Voyna i Mor Silver badge

      "They can't do the job and they're a privacy nightmare. Who in their right mind would buy something lime this?"

      Well, the Feds are still placing contracts with Equifax and the UK government employs Capita.

      Oh, did you mean something else?

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        "the Feds are still placing contracts with Equifax"

        I read that they're rethinking that so maybe there's still hope.

    5. ibmalone Silver badge

      Who in their right mind would buy something lime this?

      This is comparing apples and oranges.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    1:1 pricing

    "(and £49 because in the tech world the dollar and pound have 1:1 parity),"

    Yes that makes good copy but you are not alone in forgetting that US prices are always before sales tax and ours aren't. So, to use a simplistic 1:1 is a cheap trick.

    It does not take much to work out the real price given the exchange rate and the 20% VAT now does it?

    But in reality, this device is a bit crap isn't it? This seems to be the norm for a lot of stuff that Google put out. Nice idea but never finished and then withdrawn because no one was using it.

    1. abedarts

      Re: 1:1 pricing

      1:1 pricing with sterling so weak isn't bad, we've had 1:1 pricing in the tech world since, well forever.

      1. Tom 7 Silver badge

        Re: 1:1 pricing

        £1:1 dime soon

    2. R 11

      Re: 1:1 pricing

      So at today's exchange rate it should be 44.60 GBP.

      But Google could only do that if Sterling was stable. You guys should maybe stop doing things like voting for Brexit.

      1. John Smith 19 Gold badge

        "You guys should maybe stop doing things like voting for Brexit."

        but

  4. Dan 55 Silver badge
    FAIL

    Silly Valley

    Completely unable to make a non-beta product that can cope with a household of more than one person.

    1. gv

      Re: Silly Valley

      Until somebody builds the equivalent of Orac, I'm not parting with my money.

      1. Chris King Silver badge
        1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

          Why does everyone always link to YouTube ? Can't anyone read any more ?

        2. Ben Bonsall

          Re: Silly Valley

          Orac? I want Masaq'.

        3. Mark York 3 Silver badge
          Big Brother

          Re: Silly Valley

          I always got the impression he was up to stuff in the background without the key (which presumably activated his Audio I/O).

          Zen's main function was to protect the ship, rejecting commands that potentially endangered it, apart from the occasional "Wisdom must be gathered, it cannot be given" type of observation.

          ORAC I am closing down. I have much to do. You have engaged my circuits on your petty affairs for far too long.

      2. graeme leggett

        Re: Silly Valley

        Orac was a bit wilful though. And mean.

        You: "Orac, phone my wife"

        Transparent blinky cube: "I am too busy to deal with your petty concerns at the moment. And for your information, your wife is currently in a bar with co-workers and doesn't want to be interrupted by you."

        1. James 51 Silver badge

          Re: Silly Valley

          Orac and Avon, it was always funny watching them spar.

          1. TRT Silver badge

            Re: Silly Valley

            Orac's recalcitrant attitude was a theme in that series. Zen also had a function built-in by the creators to prevent it being of too much use and thus making the crew lazy. Perhaps Google is doing the same.

            1. AndrueC Silver badge
              Happy

              Re: Silly Valley

              ..and the last thing Zen ever said was "I'm sorry".

              Nearly made me cry, that did :-/

              1. TRT Silver badge

                Re: Silly Valley

                Speech circuits had decayed at that point. What he REALLY said was an explanation of why he had been less than helpful over their past adventures; "I'm Siri".

          2. Mark 110 Silver badge

            Re: Silly Valley

            "Orac and Avon, it was always funny watching them spar."

            What you mean there was more than one character in the thing? Wasn't it just all about Dayna?

            (I was 12 at the time and my love of SciFi may have been overtaken by other urges that only became understandable a little later. Mmmmmm, Josette Simon)

            1. AndrueC Silver badge
              Thumb Up

              Re: Silly Valley

              Dayna?

              Yeah, she was a highlight of the 3rd series. Kept it going for a bit. It was the fourth series where it all went a bit wrong. Some very weak stories there.

              The entire series is now available to watch for free on YouTube (with a questionable funky introduction). The story lines are noticeably weak after Terminus. But for all that it stands the test of time reasonably well. Those of us that watched the original broadcasts (7:10pm Tuesday if I remember correctly) will always have a place for it in our affections :)

              Actually I missed the first showing of the Andromeda battle. My parents had me going to confirmation class and I didn't feel it worth the hassle of complaining. Maybe that's why I'm an atheist these days :)

              1. Mark York 3 Silver badge
                Alien

                Re: Silly Valley

                You really didn't miss much - Aftermath suffered from a very bad rehash of previous seasons ship footage into the clunkiest battle sequence unimaginable. It made the unmanned ore carrier & Nova Queen collision from Star One look good (& it got rehashed (with one of them switching sides) into the battle in the futile hope that the viewers wouldn't notice).

                Fortunately all that crap ended once Liberator emerged damaged from the battle (with the nice fly past of two federation pursuit ships). I'd go so far as to remove the opening minutes if I'd been the director\editor.

      3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Silly Valley

        "Until somebody builds the equivalent of Orac, I'm not parting with my money."

        And when somebody does it will just take your money anyway.

    2. Rich 11 Silver badge

      Re: Silly Valley

      Completely unable to make a non-beta product that can cope with a household of more than one person.

      Well of course not. Most of those nerds haven't bought a trophy wife yet.

      1. jason 7

        Re: Silly Valley

        And nerds are always too lazy to test shit!

  5. this

    Self driving car?

    hmm. Perhaps not.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "OK Google, I would like to use Google Voice to call my wife, last name McCarthy."

    ... probably refused to respond as its AI detected a high probability of you being Bart Simpson trying to spoof Moe into shouting out to the bar "I want my wife, McCarthy"

    1. Baldrickk Silver badge

      How hard is it to just say:

      "OK Google, call firstname lastname"
      or whatever her name is in addressbook? (i.e. if recorded as wife, just say "call wife")?

      1. DropBear Silver badge

        "OK Google, call firstname lastname"

        And that's exactly what I'd expect from any old voice recognition package. On the other hand, when you're peddling cloud-powered "AI Assistants" you gotta do better than that.

        1. Rabbit80

          Working from google assistant on my pixel - the first thing you go to do is tell it who your wife is..

          Once you have done that, call my wife works just fine!

  7. Mystic Megabyte Silver badge
    Coat

    Last week Google helpfully sent me travel directions to the airports that I had already arrived at. It must have scanned the boarding passes that were on my phone

    Due to strange voices coming from my pocket the OK Google function is disabled and I won't be buying any sort of "digital assistant".

    My coat is the one that doesn't talk back ============>

    1. katrinab Silver badge

      For me, it was

      "You parked your car in the middle of Piccadilly Circus. Here's the directions to get home by bus/train/another bus/a load of walking."

      I actually parked my car at a Zone 6 tube station near a motorway.

    2. Warm Braw Silver badge

      Google in becoming increasingly insidious. It started telling me about traffic on roads I had no intention of driving on and keeps asking me to take pictures or rate places I've just been. Some photos flashed up yesterday to remind me of a year ago - the photos aren't of a year ago, that's just when a batch of them was uploaded, but they could have been a sad reminder of the anniversary of a death for all Google knows. I have worked out how to turn off some of this stuff, but I've given up on the rest: too many settings in too many places. My tablet mysteriously acquired a second page of home screen with random news articles and the only way I could find out of that was to do a factory reset.

      I don't need any of this, not yet: I don't have dementia, I don't need prompting to conduct my own life. And while Google will happily turn all this stuff on without asking you, just try turning it off. I even have to jump through hoops to access their privacy web page because I won't keep their cookies in my browser and so every time I log on it's treated as a suspicious access from a previously-unseen device and I have to add some supplementary authentication information.

      And it's not as if I would store anything of any value or secrecy with Google. With their reputation for abandoning products and scanning everything, who would? They're a useful source of a free additional backup for contacts, photos and documents, but not essential. Who cares if someone else gets access to them when Google has access to them already.

      I certainly wouldn't get anything from Google that had the opportunity to be more pervasively intrusive than the phone and tablet I already have - and if they continue nagging me on those, I'm going back to my 6310i because the usefulness of my Android devices (to me) is actually being diminished while the usefulness of "my" Android devices to Google is clearly their overriding concern.

      1. TRT Silver badge

        Oh, I don't know...

        The little widget for Google traffic that sits one page back on the iPhone screen you only go to when you swipe by accident actually told me something useful the other day.

        "Heavy traffic nearby. Watford vs Arsenal today."

        Which was great, as it gave me a two hour advance warning that my parking space was likely to be blocked in by the moronic drivers / football fans that seem to leave their vehicle wherever they want, including private parking spaces in any apartment block within 20 minutes walk of the football stadium. This meant that I made the choice of walking to the bus stop to get the bus up to town for the must-have-that-day shop and put off the out-of-town trip which needed the car until the day after.

        1. phuzz Silver badge

          Re: Oh, I don't know...

          "my parking space was likely to be blocked in by the moronic drivers"

          On most cars the handbrake only locks the rear wheels. A trolley jack will allow you to lift the rear wheels and move the car.

          1. TRT Silver badge

            Re: Oh, I don't know...

            Excepting that it'll be rolling across a kerb and dropping down; trolley jacks / petrol tanks are expensive.

            1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

              Re: Oh, I don't know...

              "Excepting that it'll be rolling across a kerb and dropping down; trolley jacks / petrol tanks are expensive."

              It's not your car you move with the trolley jack, its those blocking you in. Extra points if you leave them somewhere that will need another trolley jack to get them out of.

          2. MJI Silver badge

            Re: Oh, I don't know...

            "Blocked parking space."

            The answer is, do I pull it out with a tow strop or do I push it with my bumper?

            Use low range, remove it.

      2. AdamWill

        settings in Maps

        You can turn off all those annoying notifications in the settings of the Maps app.

        Of course, this just prevents the app displaying the notifications. It doesn't stop Google drawing all these conclusions about where you're going and where you're parking your car when you do it :/

    3. Naselus

      Google has determined that I live at work, and so regularly tells me when my last train 'home' is when I get into bed at night.

      1. AdamWill

        in Maps app settings

        you can change / unset your Home and Work addresses in the settings of the Maps app.

  8. Salmon Guy

    You are not ready for a Google home. I have three of them and they work well. Google home is ready for me.

    Honestly, it really sounds like you should chill a little.

    1. kierenmccarthy

      "Google Home is ready for me."

      You do realise how mad this sounds don't you?

      1. Pascal Monett Silver badge
        Coat

        He's been assimilated. He is now lost to Humanity.

        1. Voyna i Mor Silver badge

          "He's been assimilated. He is now lost to Humanity."

          He seems to have 3 houses. Perhaps he's no great loss.

        2. hplasm Silver badge
          Alien

          He's been assimilated. He is now lost to Humanity.

          Username suggests he lives in Innsmouth... so yes.

      2. Doctor_Wibble
        Terminator

        > You do realise how mad this sounds don't you?

        And it's the wrong way round. These things never work properly (meanings thereof) unless the user has been trained in the art of sufficiently grovelling requests in the manner which the machine demands.

        Has anyone done a study on how much the user changes their diction whilst 'training' the device, or are people too afraid of the truth about who's dominant in the relationship?

        1. DougS Silver badge

          Changing the way you talk to suit your gadgets

          I see this all the time with people who talk to their phone to do stuff. They have this sort of well enunciated clipped speech pattern, and use short simple sentences. By trial and error, Siri, Google, Alexa and Cortana are teaching humanity a new way of speaking. Step 1) speak slightly louder and more slowly than usual. Step 2) clearly enunciate your words by accentuating the movement of your lips. Step 3) clip the end of your syllables cleanly. Step 4) Use simple sentence construction with only one subject and object, as if you were speaking to a preschooler.

          I live in the middle US, where it is considered that people have the least amount of accent in the country. I still find I have to speak differently to get understood - sure, I can talk normally and get understood more often than not, but it'll trip over certain words and you get annoyed and start adopting "machine speak" after you've had to repeat yourself a few times. It is like having to repeat yourself to someone who is hard of hearing.

          I don't use voice commands for much - basically the only thing I use it for is if I'm in bed and I think of something I want to remind myself of and don't want to hold a bright screen up to my face and set back my attempts to go to sleep. Perhaps I'd use it more often if I could talk to it the way I talk to a normal person, but they simply aren't there yet. They're 90% of the way there, but that last 10% is going to take another decade, at least. Those who want to hurry this along have compromised by speaking in a manner which maximizes the chance of a machine understanding them. It is like watching a Monty Python sketch about people who have been possessed by machines.

          I wonder if people who speak to their gadgets all the time will change their normal speech patterns and talk like that with humans? Maybe the way we'll finally break down "the common language that separates us" in the English speaking world is everyone being forced to homogenize their speech to be understood by their phones and other gadgets?

          1. Baldrickk Silver badge

            Re: Changing the way you talk to suit your gadgets

            That's odd, I find mine understands me fine, given that I speak with what people tell me is a 'posh' British accent (it really isn't, there is a huge difference, but granted, it's less than between me and say, scouser) that has always been notoriously difficult for voice recognition to pick up on for some reason, but I also tend to mumble a lot, even if I speak to my phone.

            The only concessions I make to my phone are in training it to respond to an odd intonation for the "OK Google" activation - to minimise it accidentally recognising something else, and a raised voice, because 99% of the time I will use it is while in the car, and decent signal to noise is hard to come by when the phone is mounted, picking up all the road/engine noise through vibrations and the air rushing past from the vent it is mounted to.

          2. Straus

            Re: Changing the way you talk to suit your gadgets

            Funnily enough, as a Brit who lived in the US during the late 90's, the steps in your "new way of speaking" describe exactly what I went through to adapt to conversing with Americans. Back here in the UK people now struggle to place my much diluted accent (from Yorkshire, so typically extremely identifiable) and I have no problem at all with voice commands.

            Pretty much every point you've raised can equally be applied to someone with a strong regional accent adapting to living somewhere new.

  9. Mr Dogshit
    FAIL

    "They have ended up doing some things really well: playing music, telling you the weather, setting a timer."

    Now let me see... I'll play music through my stereo, rather than some tinny little speaker. There's a fellow on the radio who reads me the weather forecast every morning whilst I'm brushing my teeth. You can get an egg timer from Poundland if you really have to.

    Now imagine it's 1999. I offer to sell you a thing for fifty quid. It sits in your home and listens to everything you say and then sends that information back to the world's nastiest corporation, in order that they can pimp your data and monetise you like the dumb ungulate you are.

    You buying it? No, I thought not. It’s like a fucking outtake from the film Brazil or a Stasi officer’s wet dream.

    How did we get to this situation?

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      With lots and lots of apathy.

      1. AMBxx Silver badge

        I used to think that people that watched all the weather forecasts were a bit odd. They now seem quite reasonable compared to all the people getting constant weather updates via their phones.

        PS Weather today is windy - all day, no need to check again.

        1. TRT Silver badge

          Poor voice recognition...

          Windy today, isn't it?

          No, it's Thursday.

          So am I. Let's have a cup of tea.

          I'm sure that joke could be re-written with an IoT slant.

      2. hplasm Silver badge
        Facepalm

        With lots and lots of apathy.

        True. Peak stupid is approaching.

        At leat I hope it's a peak, not an asymptote...

        1. Aladdin Sane Silver badge

          Re: With lots and lots of apathy.

          Not a peak, just a false summit.

        2. russell 6

          Re: With lots and lots of apathy.

          Intelligence has limits, stupidity does not

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      re. gow did we get to this situation?

      slow boil-frogging. Frog-slowling bog. Slow bog froiling. Well, you get the idea...

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    They're all crap

    I've yet to find any assistant or voice recognition 'tool' that can do the tasks I want faster than my fingers.

    I have to think the right sequence of words to make it do what I want, I have to say it properly (to my shame I have an accent which is not mid-atlantic) then I have to repeat that 3-4 times normally.

    Or I open the phone and type.

    Away form the Google's and Alexas the ones in my car is comedically bad and it's not a cheap car and its up-to-date and it's still so bad I'd rather pull over and make the changes by hand.

    This is generally my experience of voice recognition and I know others have said that this has come on leaps and bounds but really genuinely this is pretty much what I get - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sAz_UvnUeuU

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Re: They're all crap

      I was given an Amazon Echo Dot, for Christmas. It can't play music (unlike its big brother), although you can connect it to some sound systems and use it to run them by voice.

      It can do quick Google searches and bring you back results from Wiki - though I've never bothered trying. It can add stuff to your Amazon basket, and by default is set to one-click ordering (even though my Amazon account isn't).

      You can set timers on it, though it's not that much harder to pull my phone out of my pocket and do the same, or set the oven timer. Basically I use the phone for accuracy when boiling eggs.

      I tried to get it to wake me up with an alarm and some internet radio - but it won't. You say "Echo wake me up at 7am with..." and it's already answered saying OK - without telling you what it's going to wake you up with. Plus that would require having it in your bedroom. Listening to you...

      I don't have IoT lights or anything to control.

      It can apparently now call people, which might make sense when we all have SIP apps that work properly.

      I only do the timer once or twice a week when cooking (so next to the oven anyway) and my existing stereo can't be linked to it. The wake-up function is shit because all it does is beep, I can have Googe searches read back to me but if it's important I'll need to read the results (else how do I trust it's picked the right one) and if it's not important then it can wait.

      So what's it for?

      The big one has speakers. and is designed to tie you into Amazon music, so that makes perfect sense. If you're happy with the sound quality it's probably quite a good idea. Not sure about the little ones though. Mine's back in the box.

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: They're all crap

        "It can add stuff to your Amazon basket, and by default is set to one-click ordering"

        Design objectives fully met.

    2. The Indomitable Gall

      Re: They're all crap

      The problem is that we've spent a heck of a lot of time on natural speech recognition, which overcomplicates matters ridiculously.

      With our inefficient GUIs we've trained people out of the idea of learning "commands", and when it boils down to it, every speech recognition interface has some kind of assumptions coded into it that mean we really are dealing with a command set, but a fuzzy one, and one that isn't written down anywhere.

      OK, so Google will give you a rough overview of the command structure if you make a mistake, but only if you make a mistake that it recognises (such as it working out that Keiran was trying to make a call) and that it recognises as a mistake (it didn't realise it was phoning the wrong person, for example).

      I genuinely think people are open to a formalised compromise.

      I mean:

      OK Google, Call [[person]] using [[application]]

      seems straightforward, and quick. Getting rid of the "I would like to ..." part sets everything up for a straightforward paradigm.

      OK Google, Switch on the [[device]] in [[room]]

      And sticking with a fairly simple formula, you can get a reasonable degree of sophistication:

      OK Google, open The Register in Chrome and display on the TV in the living room.

      It's a strict subset of English, so easily learnable, and if you include a few clear variations (e.g. OK Google, use Chrome to open The Register on the living room TV), no-one's really going to notice that they're not able to say it every which way, because they'll get what they want done easily and quickly enough.

    3. ecofeco Silver badge

      Re: They're all crap

      My problem with voice anything is that it's always too noisy wherever I am and also, same as you, I can often find and do what I want much faster with my fingers.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: They're all crap

      My experience is the exact opposite. It's much fast for most things.

      OK google turn on all the lights.

      OK google watch Netflix

      OK google watch Narcos on Netflix (knows the last episode and starts the correct followup)

      OK google play my thumbs up playlist.

      (wife asks) OK google play MY thumbs up playlist, it plays hers.

      OK google read the news - plays the latest BBC news headlines.

      Given I picked up mine for £70 and it came with 3 months of Google Music, mine is an absolute pleasure to own. The fact it integrates with my Harmony remote and I can create my own commands (and shortcuts to those commands , for example OK Google Watch iPlayer will be serviced as a shortcut to OK Google Ask Harmony to watch iplayer)

      Of course if your end user is a clueless cretin, it's not going to work for you, and perhaps a job in tech media is not really your ideal destination...

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: They're all crap

        "OK google watch Netflix"

        It watches Netflix for you? When you get back from the pub does it tell you what happened?

        1. Ambivalous Crowboard

          Re: It watches Netflix for you?

          More likely it has no recollection of ever watching Netflix and tells you it's been doing "nothing" for the last few hours.

  11. Simon Ward

    "Sort of useful so long as you don't try to do too much with it"

    IoT in a nutshell, surely?

  12. Anonymous South African Coward Silver badge
    Trollface

    Can't the trigger phrase "Ok Google" be replaced with "Hey Cortana" or "Dear Siri" or whatever you want to use?

    More IoT tat. Meh.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      "whatever you want to use?"

      Oi, you.

      1. hplasm Silver badge
        Unhappy

        "whatever you want to use?"

        "Oi, you! Useless piece of shit!! Are you listening? ARE YOU!!?? Grrrrr...

        1. DropBear Silver badge
          Trollface

          Re: "whatever you want to use?"

          "ARE YOU!!??"

          Just wait until it actually starts replying "No"...

          1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

            Re: "whatever you want to use?"

            Just wait until it actually starts replying "No".

            And then tries to parse its own paradox and catches fire.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: "whatever you want to use?"

          @hplasm - How do you know the trigger phrase my wife uses when talking to me?

    2. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Amazon's Echo can respond to "Alexa" or "Echo". I thought a name was creepy, so changed it to Echo, which you have to do using the app. Then I put it back in its box.

      1. Voyna i Mor Silver badge

        "Amazon's Echo can respond to "Alexa" or "Echo""

        Which given that "Alexa" is pig Greek for "without words" or "away from words" is an odd choice.

  13. Joe Harrison Silver badge

    Something the article forgot to mention

    The gadget comes with free 500TB of online storage.

    At the NSA.

    1. TRT Silver badge

      Re: Something the article forgot to mention

      backed up at GCHQ?

      1. Flywheel Silver badge

        Re: Something the article forgot to mention

        I've already tried that - I keep asking where some lost backups are but they never reply :(

      2. DropBear Silver badge

        Re: Something the article forgot to mention

        Yes, but it's all write-only storage...

        1. TRT Silver badge

          Re: Something the article forgot to mention

          Write once, read many. Forensically sealed. They want to make it stick.

  14. ttGuy
    Facepalm

    Nice simple touch screen macros be way better

    Like I have setup on our mum's Android phone. (A Galaxy S5, water proof, plastic so won't break, v fast and reliable, great battery life.)

    She touches one short cut icon to call me, another another family member. Another to launch the calendar app, although her schedule is on the home screen 24/7.

    And it has been working flawlessly for 2 years.

    AI is AI, and we're based on it, and crash aircraft, cars, write buggy code, cannot spell, and when intoxicated, cannot talk or listen and so on. And Google are trying to replicate us? Really?

  15. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    Call my wife

    It's amazing that the people who design these can put huge amounts of effort into really difficult stuff like voice recognition and then forget the obvious.

    I had the same problem with the phone in my car. The phone book has an entry for "Home". The first time I told it to call home it insisted there was no such number. I eventually tried having it read out the phone book. It pronounced it Hume and that's the way it has to be instructed. Nobody thought that more people have homes than have contacts called Home pronounced Hume.

  16. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
    Alien

    "awkyguhgle proceed at warp 4"

    In future starships, commander's orders will always be preceded by the magic word "hawkyguhgle" (sometimes "rawkeygargle"), though the exact origin of this strange tradition will have been lost in the depths of time.

    1. TRT Silver badge

      Re: "awkyguhgle proceed at warp 4"

      A bit like "abracadabra" which activated the Al'mazin Home Delivery Top Hat service many millennia ago when the djinninet was the next big thing.

  17. Len Goddard

    Good enough?

    "It's not good sound quality – playing music can be a little grating compared to the larger Home, or Amazon's Echo, or, you know, an actual sound system. But it is good enough."

    No, it isn't. Unfortunately this sort of thing is why so much music playback today sounds like three blind mice chewing pianowire in the bottom of a bucket. The problem is that people get conditioned to listening to nasty tinny sounds and this becomes the norm and everything sounds like on-hold music on a faulty telephone.

    Sorry, thats my rant for the day. I won't do it again

  18. Bibbit
    Terminator

    Some friendly advice Kieran

    Get all that IoT nonsense out of your house. There are probably tons of script kiddies just waiting to turn your pied a terre into a straight-to-video version of Demon Seed.

    1. TRT Silver badge

      Re: Some friendly advice Kieran

      Ah, Julie Christie. Sexy. Mind you, I did kind of get into trouble as a kiddy using a Rubik's snake and the neighbour's Tiny Tears.

  19. Milton Silver badge

    Don't Be Evi— Stasi

    Even the East German Stasi secret police might have blushed before installing an always-on mic in every citizen's house.

    Now the lemmings are paying for the privilege.

  20. teknopaul Bronze badge

    Hi this is Kieren McCarthy, I'm not available right now please leave a message after the beep.

    beep

    "OK Google, phone 0898 333666"

  21. Cuddles Silver badge

    The big problem

    "And this is the big problem with digital assistants. They have ended up doing some things really well: playing music, telling you the weather, setting a timer."

    In other words, they can do things that were already trivial, but completely fail to offer any new functionality or convenience. Yeah, I'd say that's quite a big problem.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The big problem

      Well obviously as an assimilated citizen I would say this, but I like my Amazon Dot - I like getting a weather forecast when I want rather than listening to 30 minutes of John Humphrey's blood pressure raising blather, then realising I missed the weather, then remembering that i don''t own a radio with pause or rewind (why isn't that a thing???). I like being able to change radio channels when I'm cooking without turning my radio into a vat of salmonella. Sound isn't great, but it's as good as a transistor radio, and that's good enough to explore music libraries and remind me what i might want to listen to on the Hi-Fi later.

      Obviously I could do all of these things back in the Victorian era, mainly by telling the butler to ask the head gardener what the weather would be doing, or the governess to switch from Brahms to Liszt on the pianoforte. But I don't live in the Victorian era!

      1. iron Silver badge

        Re: The big problem

        I can get the weather forecast whenever I want by glancing at my phone. No need to record me 24/7 and send it to Google, no repeating the voice command because it can't understand my accent or whatever.

        More accurate to look out the window though.

        1. DropBear Silver badge
          Trollface

          Re: The big problem

          More accurate to look out the window though.

          Well sure if I would want to know what the weather right outside is, but who would want to know that when my phone can tell me what the weather is like ten kilometres away, out in a field a good while from the far end of the city, where the "local" meteo box actually is!

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: The big problem

          Yes, because having your phone on you 24/7 is WAY less privacy interfering than having an Echo in the kitchen.

          And congratulations, I am sure that when they next re-tender the BBC weather contract 'Iron looking out the window' will win on cost and accuracy.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: The big problem

            "Yes, because having your phone on you 24/7 is WAY less privacy interfering than having an Echo in the kitchen."

            That is not a requirement. Look at the top and you will see that the mic can be disabled with a tap. You only have to have it on when you want it on.

      2. katrinab Silver badge

        Re: The big problem

        I get the weather forecast whenever I want by tapping the Yahoo Weather icon on my phone or iPad.

        1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          Re: The big problem

          "I get the weather forecast whenever I want by tapping the Yahoo Weather icon on my phone or iPad."

          Or the barometer?

          1. Voyna i Mor Silver badge

            Re: The big problem...Or the barometer?

            Actually the barometer on my phone (Sony) is quite good enough to use in conjunction with the weather forecast to get a good idea of the weather in the next few hours. I don't need to tap it because it shows trends.

      3. Allan George Dyer Silver badge
        Holmes

        Re: The big problem

        @AC - "Obviously I could do all of these things back in the Victorian era, mainly by telling the butler to ask the head gardener..."

        And the butler would give you a clip round the ear, and tell you to get back to spreading horse manure round the rose bushes, like the head gardener told you five minutes ago. Your name clearly doesn't command any respect, AC.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: The big problem

          True. And that's why the world is nicer today than it was yesterday.

  22. Mage Silver badge
    Facepalm

    Therapy

    "Our house has a range of smart home devices: Nest and Ecobee thermostats, August smart locks, Ring doorbells, several smart cameras, and smart power sockets and light switches and so on."

    I think you have a much bigger problem than trying to review Google Mini.

    1. Warm Braw Silver badge

      Re: Therapy

      The obvious problem may have solved itself - the house might now be wide open to burglary, but noone is going to want the contents...

  23. Martin
    Happy

    Sometimes, voice activation is useful though...

    If I want to set an alarm on my phone, I touch the microphone icon on the Google search widget and say loudly "Set alarm for 8:30" (or whenever) and it sets the alarm.

    I do it like this for two reasons.

    1) it's quick and easy and works reliably

    2) I cannot for the life of me work out how to do it on my phone any other way :(

    1. Tim Seventh
      WTF?

      Re: Sometimes, voice activation is useful though...

      " I cannot for the life of me work out how to do it on my phone any other way :( "

      touch the microphone icon on the Google search widget and say loudly "how to set alarm on android".

      Here's a hint, you'll need to click on the clock app first.

  24. ecofeco Silver badge

    Again, the prefect American business

    Deliver nothing and make people pay for it.

  25. Dr Mantis Toboggan
    Stop

    I stopped reading

    When it was clear the user was a total cretin.

  26. johnnyblaze

    First, 'hey google' works well too, and is one less syllable. I use this in preference all the time. If you're linked into Google services (such as Play Music), it generally works really, really well. You can also have context sensitive conversations (of sorts) with it. One thing I don't believe it can do in the UK at the moment though is make phone calls, but Google should have this in place soon though.

    1. Swarthy Silver badge
      Devil

      But....

      I want it to respond to "Hey Mickey!"

      Just to see who sues first: Disney, or Toni Basil.

  27. inmypjs Silver badge

    I lost the will to live

    halfway through reading the article never mind actually doing what it describes.

  28. iron Silver badge

    Call My Wife by The Two Ronnies

    Loved the funny comedy sketch, not so much the useless Google spy tech.

  29. MJI Silver badge

    Google blew it

    When they played advertising

  30. Steve the Cynic Silver badge

    Dollars and pounds

    "$49 (and £49 because in the tech world the dollar and pound have 1:1 parity"

    They *do* have 1:1 parity, or sort of vaguely close to it, after you add 20% VAT to the dollar price.

  31. John H Woods Silver badge

    Google ..

    ... regularly tells me of heavy traffic when I am already on a train jouney it reminded me to get on (usually sometime after I got on).

    Also, wheneven the train stops, it says stuff like "At the Mailbox? Post a review"

    I've started to think that a lot of people who are shouting "I AM ON THE TRAIN" are actually talking to their digital assistants.

  32. Mr Tumnus

    So in 2017, you've NEVER previously used "OK Google" voice control, with any Android device, to make a phone call. And can't work out how to get it to work. Wow. Really, just wow.

    Is this the BBC tech page?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      The comments are worse, idiots claiming it records 24x7 when clearly you need to wake it with ok google,and despite all the recordings being on your google account page for your listening pleasure/deletion

      https://myactivity.google.com/item?restrict=vaa

  33. Kaltern

    Please would someone link some evidence to support the theory that these devices actively listen to everything around them, record and upload this constant stream of noise to a backend server, which is then used by whatever government department of snooping to somehow decide you're probably a terrorist?

    I think sometimes, they're not always out to get you.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I can link to data that is the opposite, it only records your voice commands after the wakeup word.

      https://myactivity.google.com/item?restrict=vaa

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      trust has to be earned .....

  34. dol

    How 'bout a muffin?

  35. confused and dazed

    Selling your soul ?

    I guess peoples' polarised opinions depend on how much one objects to Google (or anyone else) having even more access to your privacy. For me I want a physical switch and it'll stay off until these things can do something really useful, and even then I would choose the vendor carefully .....

  36. rdhood

    I've been using an Echo with a Samsung Smartthings hub to control quite a few devices/things around the house. A lot of it is just like this article... patchy and sketchy. But, and this is what you have to take from this, it is getting by leaps and bounds every few months. It is useful enough that I am going to set up my 81 year old father's house with a lot of conveniences to make his life a bit easier.

  37. ellisjr

    What paranoia - give it a break!

    What a load of paranoia in these comments!

    This IS early stuff in this sphere and the people who eagerly fork out their money will ensure that in years to come everyone will be able to benefit from this kind of technology, just as we (I) did with CDs, computers, laptops, mobile phones, electric cars etc.

    So what if its capabilities are small at the moment? I love the fact that I can turn lights on and off anywhere in either of my two houses without resorting to (or spending money on) switches, or spending a minute getting up the right app on my phone. And if you want a weak joke, it's second to none!

    I have to admit though, I haven't paid for mine as it runs on my Raspberry Pi, but how nice of Google to share it with us geeky nurds?

  38. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I've got two of these and wish the mic was way more sensitive tbh, i asked it once 'how long is left on the alarm' and it showed up in the assistant app as 'how long is ramadan' (it also didn't bother to answer the question!), handy to be able to reset my alarm, turn some music and my lights on in the morning without having to look at my phone though

  39. seschu01

    Huh what?!?!?

    Maybe you are using it incorrectly....

    When I said "Ok Google, call my wife", it responded, "Who is your wife?". When I said her name it said ok I now know Tamara as your wife and called her...

    Using IFTTT I have EventGhost on my PC and have set up multiple actions such as:

    "Hey Google, start my PC", "He Google, shutdown my PC", etc etc. The nice thing is I can also use my phone and when I am on the way back from the office can say "Hey Google, open up my work items" so that when I get to my home office all my relevant applications are ready for me.

    The one drawback that I have to agree with is the constant "Hey Google". It would also be nice to change the activation word sequence to something of my own choosing like "Snape, do my bidding". I get alot of false activations if I forget to turn off the mic when watching videos on developing for Google Mini.

  40. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    “Hey, Google” also wakes it. Other short intro words with “Google” work, too.

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