The Google Home smart speaker has been around for almost one year in the US, and about 6 months in UK. It’s being rolled out to other countries as well, but is not yet available globally, at least not officially. So if you were to get one, how well would it work outside the supported regions? I of course had to find out.
I never liked the looks of the Amazon Echo to be honest, but I liked the idea of a smart speaker. Unfortunately in my location (Norway) there isn’t much use for an Amazon smart speaker, as the services available are modest. But when I saw Google Home coming close to a UK release, my interest for a smart speaker peaked. It was a much nicer design in my opinion, blending in with the furniture in the living room, and while it might not have been much of a difference, it was a “EU” release, so if it should be released in Norway at a later point, I would reckon it to be the same model.
Acquiring a Google Home speaker
So how do I get a Google Home speaker sent to Norway? After some googling I found “Forward2Me” which I found to have a lot of positive reviews, so I figured I’d just try it. I created an account and got an address I could use while ordering from the official Google store. I ordered on the launch date, and the package was sent almost immediately to Forward2Me’s storage facilities. I think they remove the original shipping label, but I’m not sure if they open the package or not. In any case, I got a “list” over what was being stored for me at Forward2Me, and a “warning” that I had to do some actions to my items. I ordered the speaker and an additional base cover, these were listed as “Google Speaker” and “Google Base Cover” or something similar in my inventory. I was able to change these to a more general description, “Audio Speaker” and “Cloth Speaker Grill”, just to make it simpler on the documentation. Also you are able to change the declaration value of the products, but keep in mind that this could be illegal, and it would also lower your insurance value if the package is lost. I left it as it was, which was exactly what I paid at Google store.
I chose DHL for shipping, which was really fast, which again made me very happy, but a couple of weeks later I got my bill for the VAT + “toll fee”, which did not make me very happy… The VAT is fine, I have no problem paying for that, but paying an additional $60 for a declaration fee, NO way that is fair. It’s typically less than $20 using postal service, and the same with UPS. So for any future use of Forward2Me, I’ll try UPS instead. DHL charge you the same as they charge businesses, adding cost for every line in the declaration, and increase the fee for higher valued items etc. Well, the point was getting the Google Home speaker, even though I’ve now come up to more than twice the retail cost after paying Forward2Me and DHL.
How well does it work outside UK
Keep in mind this blog post is being written after 6 months ownership. This post has been in the works since I bought it, but I couldn’t be sure of how well it would work over time, and surely this did in fact change, making the speaker less and less usable, more about this later.
The speaker was very easy to install, only using the included information to set it up. I could use all of the commands suggested, no issues. I linked it to my Netflix account, Spotify and created a Google Play Music account. It recognized my Chromecast on the network, and as I only have one I can refer to it as “TV” although it is named “Living Room TV”. So f.ex. saying “Play Friends from Netflix on TV” started an episode immediately. Next time Google will understand that I want to play Friends from Netflix, so I can just say “Play Friends on TV”. To test it further, I created a shortcut (from the Google Home app) where I set “Play Friends” to mean “Play Friends from Netflix on TV”, so now I can just say “Play Friends” and it will stream directly to my TV.
I did not purchase Google Home so I could make it start Friends, but this was a good test to see how much I could customize to my preference. I also have Logitech Harmony and Neato Robotics D5 Connected communicating with Google Home. I will do a later post on what I’ve done with my Google Home, as this post is mostly focusing on what actually works and not in the different regions.
The first month I could use commands like “What time is it?” or “What’s the temperature?”, but after US got the multi-user update, it stopped working(!!). I would get replies like “According to blabla” in other words it would define “Time” rather than telling me what the time was. Later I also lost the possibility to configure my Video/Music/Photos services, so while Netflix, Spotify etc was still working, I could f.ex. not change my default Music service from Spotify to Google Play Music. The only workaround I found was changing my iPhone’s language setting to US English, then start the Google Home app, and the services would be selectable. The next thing I lost was “Shortcuts”, maybe the feature I liked the most.
These are the reasons why I “never” published this post earlier, I was so happy with my Google Home, but I kept loosing features. I was warned of this by Google, and their support won’t help me because I’m outside the currently supported regions, and will always be met by a often condescending answer that I should know better to take this risk when purchasing a product. My point when contacting support was that it has worked before, and recent changes has made features disappear. Google support responded that this should be expected when purchasing outside supported regions.
So in conclusion, Google Home is a fantastic product, it’s great for my purpose as I 95% of the time use it for playing music. Google Play Music’s radio feature (continuing playing similar music to what you requested) is excellent, and I love it just as a speaker alone. I will do more in-depth posts later on this.
While the services and shortcuts configuration is still gone, last week I could suddenly use the Time/Weather questions again, so as of now this is working again! I have hopes for that it will stay like this, and that more functionality will be available in the future.
Let me know if there are any features you’d like to be tested before purchasing Google Home yourself, and I’ll see what I can do 🙂