While the Amazon Echo has become a household name in the smart home sphere, the Google Home (our review) isn’t far off. The Echo, powered by Alexa, has had more time to mature as a platform. But if you’re more invested in Google’s ecosystem, you’ve got an extremely fun and capable device in the Home to put to work. It even features some advantages over the Echo, like support for multiple users based solely on their voices.
Let us walk you through the basics of the Google Home, how to work with its out-of-the-box commands, and show you how to add new skills. Even without separate smart home technology, you’ll get more out of your Google Home with these tips.
What Is Google Home?
Google Home is Google’s smart speaker. It’s powered by Google Assistant, just like Android phones. Using only your voice, you can ask it questions and give it commands. You can ask it anything: how far away the moon is from the earth, how to say Hello in French, or even command it to set a timer for 10 minutes.
The Home can do a lot on its own, but it becomes a hundred times more powerful when connected to other services. Link it up with your Spotify account and it can start your playlists on demand. If you have Philips Hue smart lights, you can dim the lights when it gets late. You can even cast a show from Netflix to your Chromecast without ever touching a remote. And with IFTTT integration, you can set up your own triggers for thousands of automated actions.
Google Home is easy to set up. Plug it into a power outlet using the included cable, then download the Google Home app for Android or for iOS. Follow the initial steps, then the app will automatically detect your new Home and walk you through the procedure for getting your device online and connected to your account.
That’s all it takes! Once that’s done, welcome to the world of Google Home.
Got everything set up? Let’s discuss some of the basic commands you can give to your Google Home. You don’t need to connect any accounts (aside from your Google account) or use services for phrases like these. Remember that every command must start with “OK Google” or “Hey Google“:
- Volume level 5 — Adjust the volume by providing a value.
- Play ambient noise — Play some calming background noise, like river or forest sounds.
- Play rock music / play music by Elvis Presley — Use the free Google Play Music radio service to play a mix of music centered around a genre, artist, or album.
- Wake me up at 8 AM/PM tomorrow — Set an alarm for a certain time.
- Set a timer for five minutes — Convenient and hands-free when you can’t use your microwave to set a timer.
- What’s the weather today? — Get the daily forecast for your area.
- Tell me about my day — Receive a quick briefing of the weather and upcoming appointments on your Google Calendar.
- How many ounces are in a gallon? — For instant unit conversions.
- Did the Pirates win their last game? — Stay updated on sports teams.
- What’s 7 times 18? — Let Google do the math.
- What is the nearest pizza place? — Get local info. You could follow up this question with When do they close? or What is their phone number? Google Assistant understands that you mean the business you just asked about when you say “they.”
- Tell me a fun fact — Get a random anecdote when you just want to hear something interesting.
- What does recursion mean? — Hear definitions and explanations of any word.
- How old is Anna Kendrick? — Get data on famous figures.
- Stop — Cancel whatever Google Home is telling you.
- What can you do? — Get more help straight from the source.
How to Add Skills (With Examples)
All of the above commands work as soon as your Google Home has gone through setup. But you can go even further by adding some services for extra functionality. Interestingly, you don’t actually have to explicitly add these integrations like you do with the Echo. Google Home supports them natively, but the Assistant doesn’t actually handle them.
Instead, when you ask for a service, your Google Home will get you talking with the bot for that particular app. You’ll hear a different voice and it works with a whole new set of commands. This lets developers focus on their own services, while Google Home simply connects you to the right skill. It’s a bit confusing at first, but as long as you know which service you’re talking to, you’ll be fine.
Google Home supports a few smart home services on its own. To connect them, open the Home app on your phone, then tap the left menu button. Choose Home control, then add devices and accounts as you desire.
Say “Play videos about Overwatch on the bedroom TV” to fire up YouTube on your Chromecast and find videos on that subject. Try dim the lights to lower your Philips Hue bulbs. Ask your Nest what’s the temperature set at? or make it warmer in here to adjust the thermostat.
To browse other third-party services, connect them by opening the Home app, sliding open the left menu, and choosing More settings > Services. For example, if you link your Todoist account, you can then ask questions like “Ask Todoist what do I have due today?” or “Tell Todoist to add a task to pick up the dry cleaning today at 3 PM.”
If there’s some functionality you think is missing, take a trip to the Google Assistant IFTTT page. Here you’ll find hundreds of applets ready to expand what your Home can do, or you can make your own. Try a few of these to start:
- Send a text message
- Post to Twitter and Facebook with your voice
- Block out the next hour on Google Calendar
- Add a new Google Contact
- Create a note in Evernote by voice
- Add a new entry to your iPhone Reminders app
A Privacy Note of Caution
We’ve laid out the basics of using the Google Home for beginners, but there are a few risks you should consider if you’re thinking of buying one or just got one. All the privacy concerns present with smart speakers apply to the Google Home. Because the Home is always listening for “OK, Google,” some of the background noise is almost certainly kept by Google. Paying the world’s largest advertising company to put an always-on microphone in your house is certainly disconcerting for some.
While you can delete your past Google Home commands, they provide a privacy risk too. If someone hacked into your device — or a family member opened up your phone and looked into this data — you could leak sensitive information. Perhaps you’ve been searching for some information you’d rather keep private, or accidentally casted some embarrassing content to your Chromecast for all to see.
It’s up to you whether the benefits of using a Google Home outweigh the privacy risks. If you’re using a Google account already, the company knows a lot about you anyway. But adding a microphone into the mix could be a step too far. Those who aren’t comfortable with this should avoid the Google Home.
What Will Your Google Home Do for You?
The Google Home is a neat device that brings voice control to the masses. Even your grandparents or someone who struggles with using a smartphone or PC can get instant information with it. Whether you just want to hear the weather and play some music, or connect with every smart device imaginable, there’s something great for you to enjoy with the Google Home. And it’s always improving.
Don’t let your Google Home experience stop now. Check out how to use it as a futuristic entertainment system, or how to use the shopping voice controls.
And before you share private details with your digital assistant, protect your privacy and secure your Google Home device.