Factor Reviews: Google Home

Once in a while I get the chance to try out a product that really makes me feel like I’m living in the future. Not because it feels outrageous or space-agey, but because it simply and effortlessly provides something that not all that long ago would have seemed like magic. Google Home, the smart home speaker and rival to Amazon’s Alexa, is one of those products.

Combining beautiful hardware design with a delightfully simple user interface, it’s an absolute pleasure to set up and use. Connecting to the supporting Android or iOS Google Home app – which if like me you are an Android user, you probably already have – the setup is very straightforward, with clear, easy to follow steps, and lovely little animations while you wait. And you don’t have to wait long: for me, the time from opening the box to starting to use it was less than 3 minutes.

Once set up, it is extremely easy to get going with Google Home. The initial setup includes suggested interactions to get you started, and it very quickly becomes second nature to ask the device questions, add notes or get it to start timers.

Which is good, because combined with the extremely long response distance – I found it worked fine from the other side of my flat – Google Home is an invaluable tool for cooking and other activities where you have your hands full.

Ok Google: a rapidly expanding knowledge base

When it comes to asking questions, Google Assistant is a very knowledgeable source, with the ability to answer accurately on subjects ranging from obscure celebrities’ heights to the distance between various planetary bodies. Sometimes I did find it unable to answer my query, but usually only when it required the cross-referencing of multiple knowledge sources. And when I broke a question down into several sub-queries, I didn’t struggle to find the answers I’d asked for.

There are also, if you are so inclined, rather fun interactive quizzes, which made for a bizarre but entertaining session with family members.

One of the best features, however, is the response to “Tell me about my day”, which includes weather, a roundup of any appointments (automatically synced from your Gmail account, of course) and a rundown of today’s headlines. It is not only futuristic but also genuinely helpful, and a feature I am increasingly using while having my morning coffee.

In addition, one of the real appeals of Google Home is how quickly the search engine giant is adding features. It has already improved – without any input from me – in the time I’ve been testing it, and it’s clear it will continue to do so in the future, seemingly far quicker than with rivals such as Amazon Echo.

Smooth sounds: Google Home’s voice

The UK edition of the Google Assistant should also be praised for its voice – I personally found the UK female Siri voice to be intensely irritating, sounding condescending and rather too much like presenter Holly Willoughby. By contrast Google’s chosen voice is helpful and supportive, and someone I could happily hear on a very regular basis.

This is a feature that cannot be under-estimated in a voice-based assistant.

It also, notably, was very good at responding to a host of different accents, although unfortunately I was not able to test it with some of the more extreme regional accents of the UK, unless you count some fairly rubbish attempts at Scottish, which to the device’s credit, it did respond to.

The speaker itself could be better, however, but not without adding significantly to the price: there are less bassy speakers out there, but none of them have a built-in assistant, and Google Home’s is certainly decent, just not amazing.

Killer connectivity: Chromecast, Spotify and more

One ability that makes the Google Home invaluable is its integration with services such as Spotify, and with hardware such as Google’s Chromecast.

The result is a device that will play almost any music you care to name, or will allow you to cast a TV show via Netflix simply using your voice. Which feels shiny and amazing.

However, the results can be less than perfect if there are multiple similar-named programmes from which it has to choose. Asking for Gilmore Girls, for example, seems to default to it playing 2016’s Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life rather than the original, while if you want anything other than the Star Trek original series to play, you will need to specify.

The device also has some widely supported integration with home automation products such as smart bulbs, although I was not able to test these.

Insanely intuitive: Google Home’s ease of use

Despite all of these exciting features, the moment that really convinced me of Google Home’s specialness was when I introduced my boyfriend’s mum to it. For context, she is not a tech-savvy person: I have known her to need assistance to click ‘continue’ in an app on more than one occasion, and she is one of the most prolific adders of superfluous toolbars I have ever encountered.

So when I introduced her to this device, I expected the usual confusion and issues. Instead, she took to it better than any gadget I have ever seen her with. Within five minutes she was happily asking it questions and getting it to play music, and she now uses it without prompting or help whenever she visits.

Google, you have performed a miracle: I’m not sure this device could be more intuitive if it tried.

Google Home versus Amazon Echo

Of course, if you’re thinking about buying a Google Home, you’re probably wondering if it’s a better option than its main rival, Amazon Echo. And the honest answer to this is that it depends on what tech you have already, and what you want it for.

If you want to effortlessly buy things just by speaking, the Echo is a better shout. But if, like me, you’re all about finding out things and getting updates on what you need to do next, and do not want to make spending money any easier, then the Google Home is for you.

Similarly, if you already have Google products such as the Chromecast and Gmail, you’re in a better place to fully use this smart speaker, which, when fully utilised, is an absolute gem.

Factor’s verdict:

Factor reviews: FitnessGenes fitness DNA analysis

FitnessGenes is a genetic testing service that analyses your DNA and tells you how to optimise your training and nutrition based on your genetic blueprint to help reach weight loss and fitness goals.

The process is pretty straightforward: You order your test kit, get it delivered, spit into a tube, seal it and send it back. Meanwhile you enter your lifestyle data and training goals into the company’s online portal, and within two to three weeks you receive the results of your DNA analysis (which is done by a certified lab in the UK) along with personalised training and nutrition recommendations.

FitnessGenes analyses 41 genetic variations, looking at various genes that impact your training, metabolism and nutritional needs. This includes genes relating to muscle strength, adrenaline signalling, blood pressure regulation, energy production, metabolism, fatigue and recovery, fat and carb processing, to name a just a few.

In isolation, the results of the DNA test read a bit like a science textbook, and if you haven’t done any biology since school you may get lost in the jargon pretty quickly. However, FitnessGenes interprets the results and turns them into recommended actions, so you don’t have to study sports science or nutrition to make sense of it all.

DNA-assisted training and nutrition strategies

The analysis package comes with a ‘personal action blueprint’ of training and nutrition strategies that suit your genetic profile. If you know your basics, you can build a workout programme based on that – or you can pay FitnessGenes to do it for you. Upgrade options for ‘premium genetic training programmes’ come in a range of packages – get fit, get lean, lose weight, build muscle and celebrity coaches – with a price range of £29 to £229 and a duration of four to 24 weeks.

Premium plans were not included in our review package, so let’s take a look at what you get if you buy only the DNA test kit, which is priced at £129 individually.

Training strategies are broken down into beginner, intermediate and advanced level. Each includes recommendations for workout types and frequency – at beginner level this is as basic as “do a full body workout three times a week”, while the intermediate and advanced levels come with a more detailed plan for hitting different muscle groups on different days, and a range of exercise suggestions.

As part of this, you also get personalised recommendations for workout types and volumes that work well for your genetic make-up, including the number of sets and reps and recovery time that is deemed best for your personal muscle-building or weight loss goals.

FitnessGenes also provides some pointers on how to optimise your strength and cardio training. Based on my results, for example, I’m told that strength training periodisation will help me make continual gains, and that I should to two to three HIIT sessions a week to overcome fat-loss plateaus. However, that’s the kind of advice I’ve been reading on every fitness website ever, so it probably applies to most people regardless of their genetic make-up.

Also in the ‘personal action blueprint’ you’ll find a nutrition calculator with a recommended calorie intake and macronutrient breakdown. Based on your genetic results, the nutrition blueprint will also tell you which meal sizes and snacking regimes work best for you, how to optimise your macros, whether you’re at risk of overeating and how to control appetite. There’s also a ton of general information on nutrition, macros, eating for fat loss and muscle gain, and using supplements.

Finally, you get some information about physiological strategies, including post-workout recovery, blood flow and vasodilation, susceptibility to oxidative damage and testosterone levels (if you’re male).

An example of FitnessGenes’ nutrition calculator results

DNA fitness analysis: how useful is it all?

Overall it looks like FitnessGenes has a pretty good set-up. The DNA test was easy to do – even though I had to do it twice as my first saliva sample didn’t contain enough DNA for a successful analysis.

The results were delivered as promised and the online interface is well-structured and easy to navigate. All content is colour-coded so it’s easy to tell the general info from the personalised recommendations, and a little DNA symbol used in menus helps to quickly identify sections containing personalised content.

The analysis turned out to be a lot more detailed than I expected. For each of the 41 genetic variations, there’s a quick overview as well as a full page explaining the gene and its function in detail. This part comes across a bit science-heavy and intimidating, but the key results are picked up in the action blueprint and explained in context of training and nutrition, where it all makes a lot more sense.

Based on my experience, I’d say FitnessGenes looks like a very useful system, especially if you like to take a structured approach to training and have a specific goal such as muscle gain or fat loss. You have to invest a fair bit of time into reading the results to really get something out of it, as well as being willing to adjust your training and eating habits accordingly. But then, if you’re spending £129 on a fitness DNA test, you’re probably a bit nerdy about your training and nutrition anyway, and will get exactly what you’re looking for.

Factor’s verdict: