It’s been a while since I wrote anything specifically about Google.
There is a very good reason for that: I’ve been too busy experimenting with my daughters Android phone and the Google Home Mini!
We are based in the Netherlands, in Amsterdam, so officially you cannot buy the Google Home Mini here. The Google Assistant does work on my daughter’s phone, but so far in English only. (This is fine, it’s a good exercise and most of the crap teenagers watch and listen comes in English anyway). I’ve managed to acquire a Google Home Mini anyway. Because we’re not based in the US, UK, Canada or Australia/New Zealand some of its functionality is limited. In the USA you can order a pizza at Dominos by simply telling the Google Home Mini you want one. We have a Dominos Pizza within walking distance, but we cannot order using the Home Mini (it’ll come, I am sure of it).
Let me explain my “process” here. I began with setting up a “fake” Google account for my daughter. I don’t want her regular account – which bears her real name – to be hanging out online. We then acquired the phone, a Samsung J5 2017, which runs Android 7. We set up the phone using the fake account and set the phone to English. The little one is not allowed to use any chat programs or social media, just Google Hangouts and just with people we approve (so far it’s been me and her mom and some friends from school). She is not allowed to send any personal info or images. She can play and communicate with the phone under the fake account. I control (and regularly check) the fake account, giving us a modicum of control. One also has to check the phone from time to time.
We then acquired the Google Home Mini and set that up, using the phone and the same fake account.
Again, this gives you a modicum of control. You can listen to radio, ask dumb questions, directions and cast things to your television or speakers. You’re doing it under an assumed name, so you can keep your personal and professional stuff separate. Please note: you don’t have to set it up this way; this is just what I find pleasant. Teenagers tend to lose and/or break their phones, so you don’t want a bunch of personal information in there.
You can control what the Home Mini has access to. We’ve allowed it access to personal information. Please note: this is the “fake” personal information. So the email and calendar that is attached to the fake Google account. I keep our regular schedule and calendar under my own, real account, which bears my real name. If I make an appointment which involves the little one, say a trip to the Zoo? I will send her an invite to that calendar appointment as well. I send that invite to the fake account, she clicks [ accept ]. It is then added to the Assistant and Home Mini, so you can ask it what’s my schedule. The little one can plug in her own appointments – if she gets invited to a children’s party, or if she has a big test – and then send me an invite. That way we share the important stuff and we can ask the Home Mini for upcoming events and directions on how to get there. At the same time I get to keep personal and work related appointments separate. Nobody needs to know about your prostate exam, yes?
The little ones likes her phone a lot more than the Google Home Mini, so we moved the Mini from her bedroom to the living room. We’ve mostly been using it for listening to music. We have a smallish living room and the Google Home Mini packs quite a punch, it’s more than enough for listening to news, music and podcasts. We also ask it lots of dumb questions. I particularly like doing my workout, while telling the Home Mini what music to play.
This week I’ve added two smart lights made by Wiz. These are regular light bulbs that you can just screw/click into your regular light fixtures. The bulbs themselves come with WiFi. Screw in your lamp, install the Wiz app on the Android phone. Flick the light on and off for a couple of times until it pulsates, hold the phone close to the light or to the router and done. You can name rooms and add lights to those rooms. I’ve opted for two smart bulbs one for each bedroom. You then open the Home App on the phone and add the rooms (and the lights) to your devices. From that moment on, you can tell the Google Home Mini to turn lights on or off, dim or brighten rooms and change the colors of rooms. It’s been working so well that I am ordering another light bulb for the living room.
The Home Mini will cost you about 70-80 euro’s (since it needs to be imported from the USA). The Wiz lights will cost you about 40-50 euro’s per light bulb.
I am particularly fond of the lights because they require no hub, or bridge to function. Simply screw or click them into your existing lamps.
Please note: you may not need an Android phone. If your Chromebook is equipped to handle Android apps, you can run it all from your Chromebook. My Chromebook (a Dell 13) is, but I am not using those features. My daughter’s Chromebook (an Acer 15) is also equipped to handle Android apps. The fake Google account she uses for her phone has been added as a secondary account to her Chromebook so I can keep track of syncs, settings and usage. I can “monitor” the phone from her Chromebook, or by logging into the fake account from my own Chromebook. You need to decide for yourself how far you want to go with this. My child is a sensible young lady who requires little supervision. If you’re a real helicopter parent, you can go all ape with additional monitoring apps.
The Wiz app comes with a neat scheduler. You can program when lights need to turn on or off. We’ve added one such “alarm” thus far. The light in my bedroom now comes on at 04:30 AM, in a soft orangy color that’s called “cozy”. The alarm is called: Wake Up Dumbass! I normally don’t need an alarm, I am usually awake around 4AM, but decided to “sleep in” and see what would happen. It’s a nice way to wake up and it really does work. If you find waking up difficult you can always combine turning on the lights with a regular alarm, either from your phone, an alarm clock, or the Google Home Mini.
We now have several devices using the same wireless hub: two Chromebooks, one Android phone, a Chromecast, the Google Home Mini and 2 (soon to be 3) light bulbs.
The wireless can handle all of that fine, since those devices are not all being used at the same time, all the time. When I am not in the bedroom? No lights needed. When my daughter is off to school? No Chromebook, no phone, no lights.
The Google Home Mini can take down your shopping list. So you can tell the Home Mini, remember to buy milk, for instance. That shopping list is saved and accessible by the Assistant inside my daughter’s phone. (I’ve also used Google Keep, jot down the groceries and share the note with her on her phone). I do all my shopping online. I get my groceries once a week, straight from the supermarket, but for smaller shopping, stuff that is missing, snacks, candy? This system works perfectly. You can tell the Home Mini what you want and the little one goes to the supermarket with some money – as a chore – to get those items. If I had an Android phone of my own, that’s the system I would use all the time.
Our next (Google) Family Expansion will be a smart thermostat. I will begin to explore options today. I am going to get my utility company to pay for it, or acquire it via their servicedesk. My guess is that Nest will be the most used one here in the Netherlands (several other utility companies are already offering them). During April to October, I rarely have the heat on. But from October to March I do run the heat and change the temperature from time to time. I want to be able to do that with voice commands as well.
More and more smart devices are being added to the Google Home Mini every day, but the above it where I stop. I like the idea of controlling sound (music, podcasts, news), the lights and the heat via voice commands. Doing the laundry, locking the doors and windows, turning on the coffee machine will always be manual tasks for me.
What I would like is for the Google Assistant to be able to perform a countdown. Hey Google, count down from 100. With that lovely assistant’s voice? It would be a great tool to help me fall asleep.
As to the title of this article? We named my daughter’s room “garage” and my room “basement”. You can then give those rooms “nicknames” using the Google Home app. She’s now “The Girl In the Garage” who lives in a “Girl Cave” whereas I am “The Beast In The Basement” who lives in “The Void”.
Once the 3rd lamp has been set up, I am going to be playing with IFTTT to make all the devices “talk” to each other.
Watch this space for more.