Google Home Max review

Google Home Max review
From TechCrunch - December 21, 2017

The days of buying devices or smart assistants will be over soon enough. Amazon and Google have both made clear their intention to make their respective AI device agnostic, so the days of the standalone Google Home or Amazon Echo might well be numbered.

Assistant and Alexa are already being built into everything from thermostats to lamps. In order for smart speakers to continue to have a spot in the home, theyre going to have to be speakers first, smart second. Proprietary products are already competing with offerings from big-name audio brands like Sonos, Sony and JBL. Its no surprise, then, that weve seen Amazon, Apple and Google all head in that direction in recent months.

The new Echo kind of, sort of, edges in that direction with improved audio, but the Google Home Max and Apple HomePod offer up similar visions for a future in which smart assistants are a nice bonus on a device focused on delivering high-quality, floor-rumbling, room-filling audio. And with prices approaching $400 a piece, it had better be.

Maxed out

The Google Home Max isnt effing around here. Its big and its heavy. The thing weighs 12 pounds. I am painfully aware of this fact because I stupidly had Google deliver it to our office, and I then threw it in a backpack to take home to test. I am currently investigating our companys workers comp policies for the strained muscle in my back.

Im a weird outlier, of course (in many ways, but lets focus on this one for now). The Home Max is very much not a portable speaker. In fact, if aesthetics dictate purpose in this case, its practically a piece of furniture, with a fabric-covered front inline with the rest of the Google Home offerings.

The Home Max isnt a flashy speaker from a design perspective. Like the rest of the Home line, the Max is designed to blend in with its surroundings. Its a boxy design that comes in black or white (charcoal or chalk, if you will). The Max is a minimalist, exchanging buttons for a simple touch panel on top, and interacting with a quartet of LED dots that shine beneath the fabric front. Its a nice-looking device; understated, really.

The touch panel on top controls volume and turns the system on an offthough on occasion I had trouble getting it to work just right. Also of note is a switch on the back of the device that disables the microphonea key privacy feature, though it would have been nice if the company had made it a bit more prominent the way Amazon does with the Echo line.

Back to the wall

Whats perhaps most interesting from the design perspective is that Google shied away from 360-degree audio here. Pretty much every standalone smart home speaker is built that way, ditto for the HomePod. The idea here, however, is that most people dont actually plop their speakers in the middle of the room. Thats certainly the case with me. I brought the Max home and found a wall to place it up against.

Like the HomePod, the Max promises a customized audio footprint based on its surroundings. But instead of attempting to create some full audio picture of its surroundings, the system bases its audio fingerprint on the back wall, because much of what youre hearing is that sound reflected back at you.

Google has deemed the feature Smart Sound, adjusting audio equalization based on the wall. The system utilizes on-board microphones to listen to the bass as it bounces against the wall, adjusting the sound settings accordingly. According to Google, the whole process only takes a few seconds, but the system draws this out to 30 seconds in order to gradually ease into a new sound.

The adjustment is subtle and fairly hard to detect. And, honestly, you probably wont be running up against this too often, given what a pain in the ass (and lower back) the system is to move.

Maximum rock and roll

A helping hand

Maxed out


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