Google Home and Echo Dot — my new best friends in the RV

Ok, if you know me at all, you know that TECHNOLOGY is one of my vices. My generation saw the debate between VHS and Beta, many were sad that VHS won that contest as they said Beta was by far the better format. We also had the DVD vs laser disk war. And, I was just beginning my “career” when Windows rolled out it’s first usable product so I’ve built my career on using technology.

As you can imagine, moving into my RV I was forced to give up some luxuries I was accustom to: 27″ touch screen for my desktop PC running 16 xeon processors, whole house automation system that ran lights, music, pool, thermostats, sprinkler system and alarm system. BUT….thank’s to Amazon and Google I now have a couple of options.

It’s not clear yet which one of these little guys is going to win. So far I’ve done some testing with Echo Dot for a few months now and there are things I LOVE about it. We just purchased a Google Home last night and I’ve begun playing with it as well. The battle is now on!

If you are fulltime RVing then one of these little guys might be useful in your life and I hope and pray that the developers realize how GREAT this thing could be with a few tweaks and every RV should have one if they do it right.

Ok..WHY would you want a home controller type thing in your RV? The possibilites are really endless!

So…I’m a single parent traveling with my children. With my oldest two off on their own adventures right now my oldest child is a 17 year old female and she gets extremely frustrated with me if I cannot take the route she plans, if I miss a turn, or if I need more information. She can’t handle the pressure. So that leaves me with a 14 year old female as my co-pilot/navigator. Now she’s pretty good, but she CAN’T EVEN DRIVE YET! So there are things she really doesn’t understand and at times despite her good skills with technology she can’t get answers fast enough when I need them.

Enter…Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa. I’ve tried using apps on my phone…but my top of the line Galaxy never really works for me with voice. Most of the time it will not pick up and do anything. Despite me having it set to activate when locked 90% of the time it requires me to swipe something or click to get it’s attention. This is NOT helpful when driving a 13 ton bus down the road especially if there’s wind, rain or heavy traffic requiring me to be fully attentive to my driving.

So…I’ve had an Echo Dot sitting on my dash for a few months now and I love her. I ask her about the temperature as we pull into a truck stop so I know if I need a jacket or not. (Cause my RV doesn’t have an outside thermometer! Fleetwood…even my 2001 Sportscoach had that feature!) I can ask her about distances from point A to point B but she only knows “as the crow flies”. One of my favorite things is asking her to play music for me giving me totally handsfree music control. For music control on our RV stereo it’s a pain in the butt. The stereo is mounted such that I must lean down to touch it. It’s very difficult to see and for the passenger its so far away anyone in the passenger seat has to unbuckle, get out of their seat and sit in the floor to actually use it. So it is a danger we often don’t like to do. We circumvented that by plugging an ipod into it with a long cable and although that allowed for more control…Ipod blanks out and gives all control to the stereo. Still no good.

So with Amazon Echo Dot she can play music and I can control her. What I’ve found most useful with Dot is having her remind me of things. When I’m driving and I remember something we need on the grocery list I simply say, “Computer (my wake word for Alexa) add cat food to my grocery list.” And viola…Alexa has put cat food onto my Wunderlist grocery list. I haven’t yet figured out if she can read texts or emails or anything. If that functionality isn’t there it might be in the future as it is continually exapanding. It does now have the ability to CALL and send MESSAGES but right now only to other Alexa users. Kinda stupid if you ask me. I have no idea who owns an Alexa! I think the ability to call and text from Alexa is coming in the future but we’ll see.

Ok..so Alexa has been kinda fun and useful. But she’s not quite there yet. When we change locations I have to manually input a new location into her app on my phone so that when I say, “Computer what’s the weather” she will give me the weather where I am. Instead I have to know what city I’m in and say, “Computer what’s the weather in St Clair, Michigan”. I don’t always known when driving where I am and you would think Alexa being connected to my phone could get that information. She can’t. She also can’t let me change her settings with voice. Another issue I hope is resolved soon.

She can, however, work with IFTTT. So there are tons of possibilities for what I could make her do. I just haven’t yet.

I did purchase a Phillips HUE. I’ve been having sleep issues I think because of all the stupid little blue leds all over our RV that glow at night. I’m working on resetting my natural rhythm so all our LEDs have duct tape over them to make it dark at night. I then set up Hue so that it comes on in the evening as the sun is going down outside in a sunset mode, a nice, soft glow to alert me I should start thinking about sleeping. Then at bedtime she goes out. I also have Hue set up to turn on in the mornings, 5 minute fade in to a bright cheery light that is supposed to wake me more gently and naturally without sound. So far that’s working great. I set up Alexa so that I can tell Alexa to turn the light on, off or change the scene. So far that’s working great. We have another HUE bulb that we will be setting up in the front of the coach to do a similar thing to help the kids get up in the mornings. With our blackout shades that we LOVE, it is so dark inside when the sun comes up no one realizes it and we can easily sleep till noon! Trying to work on that problem in our lives so we can do more exploring.

Alexa is working well at controlling the lights. Another plus. She also tells jokes…usually bad ones, but the kids love doing that all day!

Ok…so my new Google Home. Only had it for a few hours but I’ve already decided…Dot is moving to the bedroom and Google will be sitting on the dash. I’ve already named it DASH! Why? Well here’s why.

Google Home seems to know where I am. We purchased it in one city last night and I plugged it into power in my car (Thank you Chevrolet for putting that a/c plug in the Tahoe. We LOVE it!) I set her up as my daughter drove us “home”. I began playing with her/him? I asked about the weather. Without me setting up anything it gave me the weather for my location! BONUS! Beats Echo! As we drove I kept asking for weather and she kept giving me new cities as we went through them. PERFECT.

I asked her this morning where the nearest Flying J was. She gave me an address! WOOHOO. This can be really useful. I’ve tried various ways of asking her if there is a restaurant in the Flying J and she hasn’t given me a good answer yet. BUT…maybe Google will realize how great this thing could be for truckers and make some additions to her knowledge.

Google Home also interfaces well with the Google Music app which Amazon won’t allow. We choose to subscribe to Google Music on the family plan after AT&T allowed us to purchase unlimited data again. Having six children, well the familiy plan is a pretty cheap option and my older two children who have moved out get to ride along for free and everyone seems to be enjoying it. We choose Google Music over Amazon music for several reason. Google allows me to upload my ENTIRE music collection so it can play everything I already own and I can upload all the playlists I created on Windows Media player that I’m used to listening to on my PC or on my Ipod. Since we had a Logitech squeezebox at home we all know what’s in our playlists and are used to using them for various things. For instance, in the mornings at home we had a wakeup play list. It was christian music to wake the children and played in the hallway loud enough to wake them all. Then after 30 minutes allowing them to wake up it switched to some more fun music, oldies like Elvis, Buddy Holly, Chubby Checker, etc. This was designed to make sure they got up because who can sleep through “Let’s do the Twist!” When it was time for breakfast a play list played with Bear in the Big Blue House singing about breakfast! In the afternoons when it was time for all the kids to do their chores around the house another playlist started with housecleaning music. Songs from Annie, more Bear in the Big Blue House singing “clean up the house”, etc. Songs that alerted the kids to what they needed to be doing and kept me from having to say the same things every day and six times or more! It got quite monotonous. But the music was fun! So with Google Music we get to keep all the playlists we made. I do not recall if Amazon mmusic allowed me to keep my playslists or not. It did allow for uploading music but not nearly the limit that Google allows. I would have had to choose which music to upload and which not too. So Google Music won.

Since Google Music won that makes Google Home a much better dash mate. In addition to that I can ask Google Home how far it is to a place and she tells me “by car” how far a place is. Much more helpful. The one complaint I have about Google Home currently is that it cannot stream music to my bluetooth radio in the RV. It doesn’t do bluetooth. They say that’s coming. For now we will be limited to listening over Googles built in speaker. Not a bad thing considering the fact it’s totally voice controlled and I now can control my own music rather than asking my daughter to “find something”. Now I just say, “Ok Google play country music”. BAM. And she picked some decent stuff. Then I wondered…can I “thumbs up” what I’m hearing. SO I tried. “Hey Google thumbs Up”. BAM. Google said, “Ok I noted that you like this.” Wow. So now I’m really liking her for music control.

Of course Google Home works with IFTTT. I’ve been testing that. Trying to get Google Home to add items to my Wunderlist shopping list. One thing I don’t like with Google Home, you cannot pick your list app. It has it’s own built in list function. I hope this changes in the future to allow for choosing your list app. Right now I’ve set up a IFTTT to send items to my grocery list but I can’t seem to get it to work. Might be because I’m using the same phrase Google uses. I’ll have to be more creative with what I say to see if I can get around that.

Right now I’m thinking Google Home could become my favorite after it has time to catch up with what Amazon Echo already knows how to do. They did have a 2 year headstart so I expected it wasn’t quite as skilled.

I did set up Google Home to work with my Phillips lights. That’s working well. I LOVE the little shortcuts you can set up. All I have to say is “Ok Google, goodnight” and all the lights go out! SWEET. I’m going to love this. Now to begin creating custom phrases to do different things! I can say, “Ok Google wake the kids” and have it start playing music to wake them!” We’ll have to see what all I can do to make this thing my new RV best friend!

I love teh shortcuts that Google has built into it. For example I say, “Ok Google, good night” and she shuts off all the lights. The possibilities are endless on what I can get her to do with her shortcuts and IFTTT. I’ll have to spend some time testing her out more in this area.

I believe Google is going to be my dash companion and I’m hoping that Google and Amazon see the benefits to the RV and trucking industry that they both could provide. How great would it be to say, “OK Google, where is the nearest truck stop” followed up with “how many parking spaces does it have?” or “what restaurant is in the truck stop?” One of these two could be the clear winner for RVers and truckers, helping us get more useful information while driving without risking our safety by taking our hands off the wheel or our eyes off the road.

We’ll have to see what develops over the next year with both of these. I will definitely be writting some emails to corporate on both units as well as to truck stop HQs to see if they see the benefit and can work with the developers on creating a skill for both devices. Until then, I cat at least enjoy the fun features they already provide.

Either unit can be a good dash companion. They both have their pros and cons. The biggest choice I see right now is who do you prefer to stream music with and is it important that it bluetooth to your indash stereo. I believe Echo Dot can stream to any bluetooth device. Google, not yet unless you have a Chrome Cast device. They say bluetooth is coming but the articles I’ve read talk about it playing bluetooth being streamed FROM another device. I want bluetooth streaming TO another device without a chrome cast. If you use something like Spotify, Pandora, etc. they both offer several of those options.