The Google Home app started off as a solid way to manage your smart home devices, but as it has been flooded with new hardware and taken on the legacy of Nest, it hasn’t felt as though it was keeping 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 a few first impressions.
New sections break muscle memory for the better
The first major change you’ll find in the new Google Home app is the main page, which is drastically different from the previous design. If you have muscle memory for performing tasks in the existing app, you’ll have to relearn everything for the new one.
It’s worth it.
The original Home app was designed around the idea of using just two pages for every single thing. One page for all of your devices, the other for an activity feed.
The redesign expands on these pages dramatically.
Firstly, there’s the “Favorites” page. This is a customizable page, but it has a couple of static elements. At the top of the page there are dedicated shortcut to all of your cameras, all of your lighting products, Nest/Google Wifi devices and settings, and a button to access thermostats.
All of those dedicated pages are redesigned from their prior looks, with the cameras 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 for each room that lets you quickly control individual lights with a tap. For me, this is a huge improvement!
The Wi-Fi page is simplified, something that’s 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 at a glance across the top, with options to share your password, manage family wifi, or run a speed test directly below, and further settings and history below that.
The climate page remains unchanged from the previous Home app design.
The rest of the Favorites page is really up to you.
By default, it’s blank, with an “edit” view allowing you to choose which devices appear on the page. You can have shortcuts for lights, locks, and more, as well as live views of cameras here. You can also have shortcuts for broadcasts, calling your home devices, or Google Assistant. It’s a useful page!
But, there are some complaints, of course.
My biggest problem on the Favorites page is that you can’t add a group of devices to the page. Each device shows as its own toggle. So, if you want one-click access to say, turn off all of the lights in a room, you can’t. While it doesn’t take much to get to that quick access toggle, it’s really frustrating that you can’t add a single room as a single button.
You also can’t reorganize the layout. It’s just based on alphabetical order and where 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 take some issue with is how this page in particular will work for users without a huge number of devices. My home is packed with various lights and smart home gear, so many of these changes make it much easier to control everything. But with fewer devices, I’d imagine a lot of the changes Google has made won’t feel as meaningful and actually might feel like a downgrade from the prior experience. Where the original Home app had your entire smart home front and center with clear organization, the new version puts some of that information under another layer. That’s great if you have a ton 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 devices are split up by room in a scrolling list. As a secondary means of access, this design works really well, and Google is also making the process of adding a new device a little 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 good way to signal Google’s intention for what the future will look like. Functionality is mostly unchanged from what we’re all used to, just with some light design tweaks. The Activity tab is similarly almost identical to the old Home app.
A dedicated settings tab does wonders
Perhaps the biggest improvement that comes with these pages is a revamped Settings page.
The top of the page easily shows your home members and below that, provides quick shortcuts to settings for your devices, rooms, and groups. It can get a little cluttered if you have a lot of stuff, but it works. Under that is a similar row with settings for integrating devices from other accounts, as well as video/music services and similar options.
There’s also an “add” button that shows every action that you might expect to fit that description.
And then underneath that, you’ll find two more sections of settings. “Home features” and “Nest services & support.” Both of these are concise and easy to navigate, and I genuinely can’t express how big 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 to not have three settings menus in the same app.
Nest cam view is still a little clunky, but miles better
One of my biggest gripes with Google’s smart home effort over the past year has been with how drastically far 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.
That big way is basically to port the Nest app’s camera feed page into the Home app. You’ll see a live feed at the top of the screen by default with a list of events below it. Tapping an event shows the recording, assuming you have recording enabled. Above that there are buttons to view the feed in fullscreen or to switch the history to show a vertically scrolling timeline of your recordings. If you have 24/7 recording, it’s wonderful.
You’ll also notice two extra buttons. One “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. It’s a major improvement!
I still feel the Home app is a bit slower and a little less reliable on this page compared to the Nest app – part of that could be that I’m doing this testing while traveling – but it’s still a gigantic improvement.
The next big step here will be integrating the rest of Google’s Nest lineup into this new view. Google says this is happening “over the next year.” For now, they stick with the same view that doesn’t include any history.
We’re almost there folks. The nightmare is almost over.
There’s more to come
However, there’s still plenty left to come. The public preview of the Google Home app very much feels like it’s in an early state. Animations are a little choppy in some areas (like scrolling the devices page) and there are clearly some features that need to be improved. Plus, a lot of the underlying settings and pages are still using older designs, just with a new front-facing look or method of access.
That said, the general verdict I’ve come to over the past couple of days has been largely very positive. The app has a cleaner, more useful interface and a lot of improvements I’ve been begging for over the past couple of years. If all Google had done was deliver on a new Nest experience, I’d 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 thus far.
How do I get the new Google Home app?
The new version of the Google Home app isn’t widely available just yet, Currently it’s a limited, invite-only public preview.
You can sign up for the Google Home public preview through the Home app under Settings (the button on the main page) > General > Public preview. Just tap “request invite.”
More on Google Home:
- How to setup Google Home’s new device-triggered routines
- Check the Google Home app for a possible 30% Nest Wifi Pro discount
- Hands-on: Google Home’s web app for Nest cameras is super simple [Gallery]
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