MEGATech Reviews: Google Home Max Smart Speaker
If you like the Google Home Mini, you'll love the Google Home Max... that is, if you're willing to pay the price.
  • Excellent Google Assistant
  • Remarkably hard-hitting sound
  • Modern, minimalist design
  • Decidedly more expensive
  • Swiping volume control is imprecise
  • Mute switch awkward to access
8.5Overall Score

I suppose you could name any number of trends as the one to define our current technological landscape. Maybe it’s about privacy concerns. Maybe it’s the notch. But one trend that has really changed the way we interact with tech is the smart speaker. Why flip a light switch when you can tell Google Assistant to do it from afar? That’s the promise of the massive Google Home Max, the smart speaker that deliver some serious boom.

The Biggest Google Assistant

When I reviewed the Google Home Mini last year, I commented on how much I liked the small, minimalist design. I also liked just how robust Google Assistant could be, especially when Google practically owns my life at this point. The two biggest drawbacks were the relatively “small” sound output and the lack of an audio jack.

The decidedly larger (at about 13 pounds) Google Home Max addresses both of those concerns in spades. It’s big, it’s loud, and it’s got just as much Google Assistant goodness going on. That part hasn’t changed. To access Google Assistant, you now have access to six far-field microphones that really can hear you from afar, even when you’ve got music blasting through the two 4.5-inch subs, two 0.7-inch tweets, and six Class-D amps.

The good news is that there is a physical mute switch on this, in case you don’t want Google listening to everything happening in your home or office. The bad news, arguably, is that this switch is on the back of the speaker, making it decidedly less accessible if you place it on a bookshelf or anywhere else where you might not reach the back easily.

In the lower corner of the Google Home Max, you’ll also find a USB-C port for connecting an optional Ethernet adapter (if you don’t want to rely on Wi-Fi), plus a 3.5mm jack for audio input. That second part is similar to what you’d find on the Sonos PLAY:5, a smart speaker that is right around the same size and price point as the Google Home Max, but without voice commands or a voice assistant.

The overall design scheme of the Google Home Max follows that of the Google Home Mini and the regular Google Home. It’s minimalist with the fabric speaker cover and hidden LED indicator lights. I’d say it blends into almost home decor, except it is quite large and will very clearly be seen. Strangely, the power cord is that odd dark gray, almost pale green color… kind of like what an aged SNES looks like. Why Google went with this color is beyond me, but I do like the actual plug is much smaller than the one that came with the Mini.

A Familiar Setup Process

If you’ve ever set up the Google Home or the Google Home Mini, or even a Chromecast for that matter, the process of setting up the Google Home Max will feel familiar. You’ll need to install the Google Home app on your phone (or tablet). The app does a tremendous job of walking you through the simple setup. It’ll detect the new device, you’ll listen for a sound, train your voice (if you haven’t already), establish details like location, and that’s about it.

This is also where you’ll connect your smart speaker to your Google Play Music or Spotify account, for instance, selecting which one you’d like to use as your default music service. What’s nice is that you can utilize the Google Cast protocol too, so in addition to requesting songs with your voice, you can cast from your phone within the Google Play Music app, for instance.

Hey Google!

Consumers have more options now when it comes to smart speakers with smart assistants. The Apple Homepod with Siri is probably the newest and biggest competitor, strictly speaking, since that speaker also focuses heavily on audio quality. This one is much larger, though, and it comes with a much more robust smart assistant.

But at $500, it may be hard to justify buying a Google Home Max when the same money can get you two Sonos One speakers to set up as a stereo pair. The Sonos One currently supports Alexa, but they have indicated that they’re working on Google Assistant support too. When that happens is anyone’s guess.

Of course, you could also opt for something from the Amazon Echo family for some Alexa action too, but the sound quality won’t be anywhere near as loud or as impressive as what you get here. For my part, I generally prefer the seamless approach of Google Assistant too, as you need to enable particular Alexa Skills to maximize the utility of an Echo. Some people might disagree.

Two very important things I noticed in my time with the Google Home Max have to do with interacting with Google Assistant. One, the six far-field microphones are tremendous at picking up my voice, even when I’ve got the music booming (and it really does boom). Two, the speech recognition just seems to be better. This is likely thanks to Google’s tremendous machine learning, as it “understood” more and had fewer transcription errors compared to Alexa and the Echo.

In the picture above, I kept the original sticker for the volume controls and play/pause. You’re supposed to take that off, revealing just a single slim indicator strip in the center. The volume controls are a little strange is that you “swipe” to increase or decrease, but only on either side of the play/pause “button.”

You don’t slide all the way across (it’s not “0” at the far left and “10” at the far right). Each gentle swipe lifts or reduces the volume just a little. I prefer the “tap” touch controls atop the Sonos PLAY:5 and Sonos One, as they just feel faster and more intuitive.

Boom! Shake the Room!

If you’re only interested in the Google Assistant part of the equation, you can save a lot of money by getting a Google Home Mini or a Google Home instead. It’ll be perfectly capable of reading out your appointments, telling you the weather, looking up the capital city of Kazakhstan, and playing with your smart home settings. The reason why you’d upgrade to a Google Home Max is because you want amazing audio.

And you do. For the most part. This speaker gets really loud and the bass thumps down really hard. That’s perfect for house parties or when you want to drown out the sound of your vacuum cleaner. It’ll also dynamically and automatically optimize and tune its audio to best suit its current location. This all happens in the background, leveraging those microphones to hear how the audio sounds.

You’ll also notice that the Google Home Max can be oriented vertically or horizontally. With the latter, you get stereo sound. With the former, it switches to mono. In both cases, there’s this magnetic rubber pad that you use to separate the speaker from the surface beneath it. That reduces rattle and ensures you don’t have to deal with unsightly stains.

While the sound output on the Google Home Max is truly impressive, I found the actual sound to be cleaner with the Sonos PLAY:5. The Max can get a little shrill or too sharp at higher volumes when you play music that approaches those notes a little more. It does best with bass-heavy and mid-range type tracks.

MEGATechie Google Home Max Power or MEGATechie Max Profit?

There’s a lot to like about this beast of a smart speaker. Of the current smart voice assistants out there, Google Assistant is probably the smartest. Some people might prefer Alexa for various reasons, but I found Google’s take to be both simpler and more robust, while simultaneously doing a better job of understanding more of what I say.

The Google Home Max isn’t exactly small and it’s not designed to be used on any sort of stand, so you will need to find some suitable shelf or counter space to place it. That could be a challenge depending on your home design and decor, though I like how you can use it horizontally or vertically. The automatic sound optimization is a definite plus too.

Realistically, the biggest sticking point is the price. At $399 US or $499 Canadian, it ain’t cheap. You could argue that you might be better off with a Google Home Mini, plus a Chromecast Audio connected to a “better” speaker. Or maybe you’d set up a stereo pair with two Sonos One speakers instead and use Alexa. This is a big investment, but the smart sound really will blow you away.

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