Google Assistant and the company's associated Home-branded devices are undoubtedly the best smart home hubs on the market and learning how to use them is fairly straightforward. By comparison to Apple's Siri or Amazon's Alexa, it's barely a contest. But the capabilities of those Assistant-enabled devices are also far-reaching. So there's quite a lot to learn for new owners, almost as soon as the Home app has been downloaded and the devices connected via the on-screen instructions.
Learning what your Google or Nest smart home device is all about
Getting started with Google Assistant and either Google Home or Nest-branded smart home devices is a fairly easy affair. But there are a few tips and tricks that more generally come with trial and error. Some experimentation will still be needed to get the most out of Google or Nest Home smart devices.
Fortunately, some of the guesswork can be taken out of the process with just a short read. At Android Headlines, we spend a lot of time examining and experimenting with Google Assistant. A significant amount of that is spent with both Google and Nest Home devices.
Placement will change how you use these devices
One of the big first decisions to make when getting acquainted with Google Assistant as it pertains to smart home hubs is where to put the device. Whether that's a Google or Nest Home Mini, Home, Home Max, or a screen-equipped Hub or Hub Max, there's a lot to consider.
These devices are, unequivocally, versatile. They'll serve widely different purposes depending on what room they're in. In a bedroom, for instance, the best use would arguably be for media playback, controlling an in-room television, acting as an alarm clock, or getting you ready for the day.
A similar purpose, without the alarm clock functionality, could be served by placing Google's Home or Nest devices in a bathroom. There, they might also serve well with timers, morning briefings, and other similar tools, helping to smooth over the morning routine.
In that situation, there are also plenty of bathroom-based smart home devices that can be integrated. That includes appliances like smart showers and lighting.
In the living room, entertainment functionality would be more of a focus. Meanwhile, in the kitchen, recipe-based features, timers, and more. In fact, for some, it may be better to buy more than one device for use throughout the home.
Fortunately, Google's array of smart home gadgets is easy to move and set up. So some experimentation can be accomplished before settling on a more permanent placement. As a general rule of thumb, it's usually best to avoid placing the devices too near to or far away from the router.
Placing the devices where they'll be easily heard and easily recognize commands is equally important. Finally, it's a good idea to place the device where touch interactions are easy to accomplish if the device being installed is "Hub" branded or otherwise has a screen.
The process of getting set up after any of the given devices is plugged in is well-explained in-app once the Google Home app is downloaded, as per in-app instructions. But there's a lot more to getting this device ready than just setting it and forgetting it.
That's especially true where more than one smart home device has been placed in a single home or business. and it goes well beyond the basic walkthrough within the app for creating a "home" or device groupings.
For example, Google sets the default language based on region. So, in the US, that will be English. But that follows the language setting for Assistant, with each instance connected across displays and devices. So not only can the language be changed to any of dozens of languages. It can also be set to respond to two different languages.
That's accomplished by opening up the Assistant, tapping the compass-shaped explore icon, and then finding the three-dot menu icon. Within that menu, under the Settings option, choosing to "Add a language" allows more than one language to be chosen.
There are several different variations on the voice that's used too, so that can be made more comfortable. That's accomplished in the settings for the app. If Google Assistant says things too quickly, that can be solved by asking it repeat things more slowly.
By opening the Google Home app, moving to settings and clicking "More settings" it's also possible to provide Google with a Nickname and a phonetic spelling of any given name. That way, it addresses individual users, alongside voice match and recognition, in a bit more of a personalized manner.
Finally, opening the Google Home application, tapping the devices tab and then the Settings menu on a given device card will allow Night Mode to be turned on. Enabling Night Mode turns on settings for lowered volume and dimming lights within a given schedule. That way the devices aren't too disruptive at night. It also dims screen brightness on display-enabled devices.
Conversational and getting better all the time
Chances are that anybody using a new Google Home or Nest Home device is already going to be familiar with Google Assistant. But it may not be the case that they're familiar with every setting or nuance of the application and associated smart home devices.
One area that's most apparent is how conversational Assistant has become on Google devices. The best example of that is what happens when communicating with a smart home speaker or display. As long as the "Okay Google" or "Hey Google" keyphrase has already been spoken, it doesn't need to be spoken again while the conversation is ongoing.
After the initial question or command, Home and Nest devices simply wait and listen following the command. For example, saying "turn on the TV" will be followed by Google Assistant turning on the appropriate smart device and then listening. So there's no need to immediately say "Okay Google" again. Instead, users can immediately ask it to do something else — such as "play Elvis on the TV on Google Play Music."
Google's Assistant can also respond to up to three commands all at once. So users can get their morning started much more easily. They might start, for example, by saying something like "turn on the bathroom lights and play Downtown by Macklemore on bathroom speaker and find my phone."
Controlling via touch
Google Assistant-enabled smart speakers and hubs are also interactive via touch. For display-enhanced smart home gadgets, interactions are more intuitive, comparable to an Android tablet. But it's still possible to interact with these devices with touch even if there's no display involved — albeit to a lesser extent.
Tap on the center of a Google Home or Nest Home speaker to stop or start playback, for example. For Google Home, swiping in a clockwise circle will adjust volume upward and counterclockwise takes volume down. Tapping right or left on a Google or Nest Home Mini accomplishes the same task. Both brands of the devices also have a mute button or slider, respectively.
Similar touch controls to Google or Nest Home Mini also exist for Nest Home Max. Meanwhile, display-enabled devices have a full interface for accomplishing the same tasks.
Explore Your Google Assistant's Capabilities
Of course, what is a guide about Google's AI assistant or associated smart home speakers and hubs without some explanation of basic commands and capabilities?
Now, most of these commands and actions will work interchangeably between Google Home or Nest Home devices and Google Assistant. Most are also relatively intuitive and discoverable just by messing around and asking Assistant basic questions. But at least a few of these commands, actions, and activities are less intuitive or easy to find. That's true despite the fact that Google Assistant is by far the best AI on the market.
Basic tasks that you'll use a lot
The basic tasks that will undoubtedly be used the most with any iteration of Google Assistant are relatively straightforward. That all starts with learning how to talk to Google Home or Nest Home devices.
Among the most common commands that users are likely going access are those used to play music. Especially where smart speakers and hubs are concerned.
Fortunately, doing that is easy, only requiring that an appropriate music app is linked first in the Google Home app. Apps that are signed in with the user account in use will automatically work, such as Google Play Music and YouTube. The rest of the addable services can be put in place by opening the Assistant or Home app, clicking the profile image, and then tapping the Services tab.
Podcasts can be played as well but audiobooks purchased on Google Play can be played as well. So can white noise, if the device has been placed in a bedroom, to aid with getting to sleep.
There are services that can be added for Calendar, reminders, Stocks, assigned reminders, photos and videos, radio, music, shopping lists, notes, and voice or video calls.
Once added, services can be accessed by voice. For instance, music can be played by saying "okay Google, Play A Perfect Circle" either as a playlist or a radio station, in this case, "on Google Play Music."
Movies can be played similarly if an appropriate display-enabled device or TV is synced up.
Other basic tasks that might be used include list creation, making phone calls, sending messages, or setting timers and reminders.
Two types of lists can be made, including a to-do list and shopping lists, setting aside reminders and timers. Each of those is intuitive to create and access. To-do lists and shopping lists are created simply by asking Google to create them, the same goes for reminders and timers. Timers, lists, and other notes can be given individual names and then interacted with using those given names.
Similarly, the voice assistant can be used to add, remove, or change an event on Google calendar.
Google Duo can be used to make phone calls as well and messages can be sent simply by asking Google to "call" or "message" a contact.
Quirky answers serve up a novel experience on demand
Moving beyond the mundane, Saying things like "Hey Google, I love you" and more will result in some interesting responses. Those responses aren't always the same either. Instead, they'll vary from user to user.
Now, these aren't questions you're likely to ask on a regular basis but are useful when needed to break the ice or just for a bit of fun. They also serve as a great way to show off the versatility of Google or Nest Home and Assistant.
For example, users can make donations to their favorite good cause using Assitant, so long as Google Pay is connected to their account. That serves as an easy way to feel good and to show off Assistant to similarly philanthropic friends and family.
Of course, Google Assistant on Nest or Google devices also serves up great responses as a general search engine. So if users want to know what a dolphin sounds like or how long to bake their pizza, that's going to be easily accomplished. But more quirky responses and interactions are definitely possible. Tell Google you want to have fun and Google will play games with you.
Users can access things like Mad Libs or a Magic 8-ball among dozens of other interactions. Both those and other interactions are easy to use and do exactly what they sound like they'd do. Mad Libs, for instance, will ask about various pieces of a sentence — such as a noun, verb, adverb, or something more specific. Then it will use those to fill in blanks in a story. Magic 8-ball randomizes responses to basic yes or no questions, just as the classic toy does.
Ask Assitant to tell a joke to hear the best dad-level jokes around, beat-box or tell a story, record stories for the kids to access later, or go on a choose-your-own Micky Mouse Adventure and the AI will comply. There are thousands of off-the-wall interactions to choose from.
One of the most powerful things Google's Home devices are capable of is a feature called Routines. Those work by joining multiple commands under a single command.
For example, users can turn on their bathroom lights, turn on their smart shower, play some music on their bathroom speaker, and kill the alarm all with one command. They might set that to be "Okay Google" followed by "Good Morning," "Wake Up," or just about any other command they like to start their morning routine.
They might perform a similar command to set the alarm, turn on security, and start up a favorite TV show on the bedroom display at night.
The possibilities are just about limitless but the process for setting up is the same across the board. Within the smart home, users simply need to navigate to the Google Home app and tap the Routines button and select a device within their network that will perform the routine. Then, the Manage Routines option needs to be pressed.
Google presents users with ready-made commands or they can select "Add a routine" to create their own. From there, choosing a command and/or a time of day to perform the command, followed by actions, is fairly straightforward. Users can select from "popular" actions or choose to enter custom commands, allowing secondary non-Google devices to be used.
For instance, users can write in commands that access their security system, which sometimes requires a separate command, and then the command to arm the system. Then users can continue the routine by adding in other activities and actions.
What else is Google's AI and Home capable of?
Using a single Google or Nest Home Speaker is great. Keeping a few throughout the home or business is better and nobody's limiting this to Google-made products either. Google products integrate well not just with other Google devices but with third-party devices too.
Conversely, Assistant works just as well with no secondary devices needed. And, for at least some smartphone and tablets, for now, can replicate those above-mentioned display-enabled Google products.
That all leaves users with a world full of options when it comes to setting up their smart home around Google's ecosystem.
Among the most prominent features of Google Home, Assitant, and associated devices, is the fact that they easily integrate. Within the framework of Google or Nest-branded hardware, it's already possible to link up multiple devices around the home and use those to broadcast messages system-wide. It's also possible to link up two identical devices for stereo sound.
More important to a joint smart home environment, devices can be linked into groups. That means that audio can be played throughout the home for a future-forward listening experience. That's easy enough to manage in exactly the same way new devices can be added.
Namely, users can start by scrolling to the top of the page and clicking the plus icon. Then, looking past the other available options, there is an option to "Create speaker group."
Once a group has been created and named, audio can be cast to each of those devices.
Google's Home and Assistant support a growing number of devices too. That's an easy process too. For non-Google gadgets, users simply need to navigate to the above-mentioned menu and tap "Set up device" followed by the "Works with Google" button. Fortunately, there's a search icon on the following page because there are hundreds upon hundreds of devices that will work.
That includes everything from smart locks and full security systems to speakers, mart air monitors, and more. All of which is then controllable via smart home speakers and hubs or phones via Google Assistant.
Using Assistant elsewhere
Google Assistant can accomplish nearly all of the same tasks on a smartphone as well — or even on Chromebooks. That means that all of the functionality, including the overwhelming majority of smart home interactions, can be accomplished remotely.
As with Assistant on smart home hub devices from Google or Nest, that also provides access to a number of key features that are just as useful outside of the home as in it. For instance, a user can utilize their voice to perform a Google-based search. Or to order Starbucks or shop in advance at any number of other locations.
Conversely, they might use an Assistant add-on called Smart Dog Owners to look up whether or not a particular food is good for their pet or harmful. Other add-on services like Wonder can help quickly store information such as passwords or date-based reminders hands-free while the TD Ameritrade Google Action can help users check their stocks on the go.
And that's already advantageous but things get better when certain devices are used and the latest version is used. Namely, that's newer Android devices and tablets thanks to Ambient Mode.
Ambient Mode essentially turns a phone or tablet into a smart home hub when its plugged in. That means a smartphone or a tablet can be used to replicate what the Google-built Nest Hub can do. That comes complete with an ambient smart home hub UI featuring the weather, time, and user controls.
In Ambient Mode, Google Assistant works without the need to open up the app, just as it does when voice detection features are turned on normally. The key difference is that they don't have to be turned on to work. So users are able to keep the feature turned off in day-to-day use, only kicking on in Ambient Mode.
Home & Nest learn as you do, so have fun with it and explore
Google Assistant and its associated dedicated hardware are some of the best in the business. With over a million actions available and the most responsive AI on the market, there is an almost endless number of possibilities to try out. That's made more prominent by the fact that the AI is being improved all the time. New actions are added at a high frequency.
As a result, the best way to learn Google Assistant is, at its most basic, to explore the app and experiment with commands.