Hands-on: The new Google Home app mostly sticks to the landing [Gallery]

Hands-on: The new Google Home app mostly sticks to the landing [Gallery]

The Google Home app started out as a solid way to manage your smart home devices, but as it’s been inundated with new hardware and inherited from Nest, it hasn’t felt like it’s kept up. Now Google is moving toward a new Google Home app that makes some big promises, and we’ve spent a couple of days gathering some first impressions.

New episodes break the muscle memory for the better

The first major change you will find in the new Google Home app is the main page ie drastically different from the previous design. If you have the muscle memory to perform tasks in the existing app, you’ll need to relearn everything for the new one.

It’s worth it.

The original Home app was designed around the idea of ​​using only two pages for each thing. One page for all your devices, the other for an activity feed.

The redesign expands dramatically on these pages.

First, there is the “Favorites” page. This is a customizable page, but it has a couple of static elements. At the top of the page is a dedicated shortcut to all your cameras, lighting products, Nest/Google Wifi devices and settings, as well as a button to access thermostats.

All of these dedicated pages are redesigned from their previous appearance, with the camera page showing a similar, but slightly revamped design. The lighting page organizes your lights by room with a prominent on/off toggle at the top of the page. A drop-down menu for each room that lets you quickly control individual lights with a tap. For me, this is a huge improvement!

The Wi-Fi side is simplified, which is definitely for the best as I always found the old design clunky and slow. You’ll see network status and the number of connected devices with an overview at the top, with options to share your password, manage family Wi-Fi or run a speed test directly below, and additional settings and history below that.

The climate page remains unchanged from the previous design of the Home app.

The rest of the favorites page is really up to you.

By default, it’s empty, with an “edit view” that lets you choose which devices to display on the page. You can have shortcuts for lights, locks and more, as well as live camera views here. You can also have shortcuts for broadcasting, calling your home devices or Google Assistant. It’s a useful site!

But there are some complaints, of course.

My biggest issue with the Favorites page is that you can’t add a group of devices to the page. Each device appears as its own gear. So if you want one-click access to say, turn off all the lights in a room, you can’t. While it doesn’t take much to get to the quick access toggle, it’s really frustrating that you can’t add a single room as a single button.

You also cannot rearrange the layout. It’s just based on alphabetical order and where the devices are in your home. Realistically, I want my Nest Cam with Floodlight as the first thing I see when I open the Home app, but that’s not an option unless I rename it or create a fake room.

Another thing I have issues with is how this site in particular will work for users without a large number of devices. My home is packed with different lights and smart home equipment, so many of these changes make it much easier to control everything. But with fewer devices, I’d imagine that many of the changes Google has made won’t feel as meaningful and may actually feel like a downgrade from previous experiences. Where the original Home app had your entire smart home with clear organization, the new version puts some of that information under another layer. It’s great if you have lots of devices, but much less so if you only have a few.

Moving on to other pages, there’s a dedicated page to show everything in your home, and this is virtually identical to the original Home app. Your units are divided by room in a scrolling list. As a secondary means of access, this design works really well, and Google also makes the process of adding a new device a bit more obvious with a floating button at the bottom of this screen.

The Automations tab replaces the “Routines” shortcut in the original Home app, and it’s a great way to signal Google’s intent for what the future will look like. Functionality is mostly unchanged from what we’re all used to, with just a few slight design tweaks. The Activity tab is similarly almost identical to the old Home app.

A dedicated settings tab works wonders

Perhaps the biggest improvement coming with these pages is a revamped settings page.

The top of the page easily displays your home members and below that, provides quick shortcuts to settings for your units, rooms and groups. It can get a bit messy if you have a lot of stuff, but it works. Below that is a similar row of settings for integrating devices from other accounts, as well as video/music services and similar options.

There’s also an “add” button that shows all the actions you might expect to fit that description.

And then below that you’ll find two more sections of settings. “Home Features” and “Nest Services and Support.” Both of these are concise and easy to navigate, and I really can’t express how much of an improvement this is. Individual device menus, especially for newer Nest Cam products, are still easy to get lost in, but this is a huge step in the right direction for the Home app as a whole.

A side-by-side look really shows how much has changed.

Now Google just needs to find a way not to have three settings menus in the same app.

The nest cam view is still a bit clunky, but miles better

One of my biggest gripes with Google’s smart home efforts over the past year has been how drastically behind the company’s newer Nest cameras have been compared to the older models. The Nest app was just so much better.

The new Google Home app fixes this in a big way.

The big way is basically porting the Nest app’s camera feed page to the Home app. By default, you see a live feed at the top of the screen with a list of events below. Tapping an event will show the recording, provided you have recording enabled. Above that are buttons to view the feed in full screen or to toggle history to display a vertically scrolling timeline of your recordings. If you have 24/7 recording, that is wonderful.

You will also notice two extra buttons. An “info” button that shows familiar faces in an event and other details, and an overflow menu that lets you turn off a camera, set “Quiet Time,” save a clip, or access “Familiar faces” or the larger history view. That’s a big improvement!

I still find the Home app to be a bit slower and a bit less reliable on this side compared to the Nest app – part of that may be that I’m doing this test while traveling – but it’s still a giant improvement.

The next big step here will be integrating the rest of Google’s Nest range into this new view. Google says this will happen “over the next year.” Currently, they stick to the same view that includes no history.

We’re almost there folks. The nightmare is almost over.

There will be more

However, there is still much to come. The public preview of the Google Home app feels very much like it’s in an early state. Animations are a bit choppy in some areas (like scrolling on the device page) and there are clearly some features that need improvement. Additionally, many of the underlying settings and pages still use legacy designs, just with a new front-facing look or access method.

That said, the general verdict I’ve come to over the past few days has been largely very positive. The app has a cleaner, more useful interface and many improvements that I’ve been asking for over the past few years. If all Google had done was deliver a new Nest experience, I would have been happy. But this new design feels like it will be able to handle a smart home for years to come.

I’m glad I gave Google a second chance. The company really nailed it here, at least from my experience so far.

How do I get the new Google Home app?

The new version of the Google Home app isn’t generally available yet, currently it’s a limited invite-only public preview.

You can sign up for Google Home’s public preview through the Home app under Settings (main page button) > General > Public Preview. Just press “request invite”.

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