In a country where our fixed wifi connection runs as well as the government that installed it, ‘smart’ products that rely on its infrastructure are bound to face issues. Unfortunately, my first two weeks using the new Google Home Max was full of ups and downs, through no fault of its own, which is a shame considering how well it performs as a speaker.
Out of the box, the Google Home Max is an absolute breeze to position and set up, a weighty shell resting on a soft magnetised base and buzzing to life within minutes of powering it on. Using the Google Home App, and logged into your preferred Google account, training your voice takes 30 seconds and once you’ve linked your default music player, you’re ready to rock and roll.
One up and running, the speaker uses its smarts to establish where in the room it’s sitting, and how the sound is reverberating to make adjustments and deliver optimised sound relative to its position, and there’s no denying it sounds absolutely epic.
The set up was so simple that I thought, this Google Home Max is surely too good to be true, so I spent the next hour barking requests at it. While it handled questions like, ‘Where can I get Ramen tonight?’ and ‘How long will it take me to walk to Herbert St in St Leonards?’ roughly 80% of the time, when it came to my musical wish list, it continued shut me down, asking for more information through the app.
For a first timer using Google Assistant technology, I found it incredibly frustrating, especially after watching it work flawlessly in the demonstration at Google HQ in Sydney the day before. The presentation had, however, been asking Google Home Max to play music on Youtube so I assumed it must have been the product’s relationship with my preferred music player, Spotify, that was hindering it from working. After working out that the device was intermittently capable of reading me recipes, giving me weather forecasts and telling me how many Oscar nominations Daniel Day-Lewis had received, I reverted to casting music via the Spotify app, sufficiently defeated.
I knew I had to get to the bottom of it before I could write a review, so I contacted Google and days later had it set up in our office on a phone call from the US with one of the Google Home Max engineers. And just like that, it was working, handling Spotify commands like an eager intern and Googling things without fail. Perhaps it was an issue with the router or the fact that Crows Nest, a suburb 1km from Sydney’s CBD receives internet speeds Congolese communities would find amusing.
Finally, I was able to enjoy my Google Home Max, not as an assistant but as a speaker, via wifi or Bluetooth – the least fidgety Bluetooth connection I’ve ever used I should add. And this my friends is why you should buy it. Not only can it suggest steak restaurants for lunch, or tell you how old Donald Trump is, it plays music with a level of quality even the most fastidious audiophile would appreciate. The sound is rich, layered and powerful and despite the volume can always hear your voice, “Hey Google, turn it down”, or when everyone’s sitting peacefully in the office, “Hey Google, turn it up to the max”. And if voice commands aren’t your thing, you can slide your finger across the invisible touch controls atop the undeniably handsome and unobtrusive unit.
As an owner of a pair of Focal’s finest floor standing speakers, I’m beyond impressed by the performance of Google Home Max as a speaker, with custom tweeters perched above dual 4.5-inch woofers providing enough bass and clarity to satisfy cinema and House music fanatics alike. When it’s linked to a powered turntable and a second Google Home Max speaker, which it can obviously do, the soundscape intensifies again, delivering an off the shelf Hifi package that is hard to go past at the price.
Forget for a minute that this smart speaker is called Google Home Max, and imagine it just as a speaker called the ‘Home Max’ manufactured by b&O, Audiopro or Sonos, because, at the end of the day, that’s what we’re dealing with – a top-shelf audio product with a handy assistant built in. At $549, I can’t imagine why you’d look elsewhere for a total home speaker solution.
Google provided a device for review.