Updated by Riley J. Dennis on November 18th, 2016.
“Computer, find me the best route to Mars”. Sounds familiar? If you grew up in the 80s, 90s, or even the 00s, this was the symbol of the future. We saw our sci-fi heroes do it on screen, and we dreamed of being able to talk to our devices ourselves. Tell them what to do, ask them questions, and have them answer immediately. Well, it’s not science fiction anymore.
Slowly, without us noticing, the future has arrived. Voice recognition is something we take for granted, and Siri, and all the awesome things it can do, is a household name. Google’s live-in phone intelligence goes by the less catchy moniker of Google Now, but many of us know it simply as “OK Google”. It can conduct Google searches for you and call people for you, but did you know it can do much more?
Here are the best things you can say to your Android phone. Try them. If you don’t, you’re not really living in the future!
Before We Start
Google voice commands work via the Google Now app, which is available for Android and iOS, though it does come pre-preinstalled on most Android devices. If your Android device already has it, you can probably access it by holding down the Home button or finding the Google app in your app drawer. In both the Android and iOS versions, you can set up the voice-activated “OK Google” to use the service without even touching your phone.
Download for Android: Google (Free) in the Google Play Store
Download for iPhone and iPad: Google (Free) in the Apple App Store
There are many Google voice commands out there. Not all of them work right, and not all of them work everywhere. For this post, I tried every command I could find. If it didn’t work, I didn’t include it. If it works only in some countries, you’ll find it at the end of this post. Most of the commands below work worldwide, but many are not without their quirks, as you shall soon see.
Phone Calls & Texts
This is an easy one, so if you’re not using it yet, you may want to start. Google can call anyone on your contact list or businesses around you. Tell it to “call contact” or “call business” to initiate a call. If the name appears once in your contact list, the app will simply initiate the call. If that person or has more than one number, or if there are several businesses that answer to the same name, you’ll be prompted to choose the one you want to call.
On a similar note, you can also use the command “text contact” to initiate a text message. Not only that, you can dictate the text message itself while you’re at it. For example, try saying “text <contact> I’ll be right there”. All you’ll have to do then is choose the app you want to use to send it. You can edit the text, too, if you want.
The only real downside with both these features is that Google doesn’t do a very good job understanding names if they’re not regular English names.
You probably already know you can ask Google for directions to anywhere. After all, Google Maps is the navigation method of choice for many users, even if they’re not on Android. But did you know you can ask for more than mere directions?
To start, you can use the commands “directions to“, “navigate to“, and even “how to get to“. Then either say an exact address or a landmark name, and most chances Google will recognize it. If there are several place with a similar name, it will let you choose between them before it switches over to Google Maps for the actual directions.
Want to walk somewhere? Bike somewhere? Use public transport? No problem. A simple command like “walking directions to” or “transit directions to” will get you on the right track.
As a bonus, you can also use the command “map of” with an address, a name, a city, etc., to open Google Maps on that spot, or ask Google “where am I” to get a map of your current location.
Events & Reminders
You can use voice commands to create anything from actual calendar events (in Google Calendar), to reminders, to alarms, to notes. All using simple commands. When creating a reminder, all you have to say is “remind me to” and then state what you want it to remind you and when. For example, “remind me to wash the car on Saturday”. Google will know to set a reminder to “wash the car”, and set it for the right day. You can also add a time, if you want. After setting the reminder, you can find it again in Settings -> My Stuff.
Reminders can get even more sophisticated if you use geo-location. Try saying things like “remind me to feed the cat when I get home”. If Google doesn’t know where “home” is, you can set a location for it to remember. This can work with businesses too. For example, “remind me to buy eggs when I get to the store”. Sometimes, though, Google won’t recognize places and will just attempt to set regular reminders. This feature is improved in Android KitKat.
If you want to write a short note for yourself, you can use the command “note to self” and dictate the note. You can then save it in Google Keep, or any other app you use for such purposes.
Setting events is very similar, although I couldn’t manage to get Google to understand me as well as it did for reminders. To create an event, say “create an event” or “create a calendar event“, and state the event, the day or date and the time. You can also use the command “schedule a meeting” as in “schedule a meeting for tomorrow with Tom”. For some reason, though, Google kept scheduling things like “Birthday on Saturday” for today, instead of scheduling “Birthday” for Saturday.
Last thing you can do is set alarms. This is as simple as saying “set alarm” and specifying the time, or the time from now. For example, “set alarm to 3 hours from now”. You will be able to use any alarm app you want for this.
How lazy can we get in the future? The answer is “very”. Use Google to open Web pages you want to browse and even to open apps on your phone. Is it easier than tapping an app icon? Maybe, maybe not. But one thing’s for sure: it’s more fun.
To open an app, simple say “open” and the name of the app you want to launch. To go to a Web page, say “go to” and give Google the URL. For example, if you say “go to makeuseof.com”, your browser will open on MakeUseOf!
Writing Emails & Posting To Google+
It can remind you to do things, it can add short notes for you, but did you know Google can also write whole email for you? And without ever launching your email app? Granted, I wouldn’t recommend using this for long emails, but if you’re only sending a line or two, you can easily do this from Google Now.
If you want to keep things simple, just say “email” or “send email” and specify a contact. This will initiate the email, letting you type it in yourself. If you want to go all out, say something like “email mom subject hello message I’m coming to visit you soon”.
In much the same way, you can initiate Google+ posts by saying “post to Google plus“.
Ask Questions (Of Course)
Everyone knows Google knows everything. You probably also know you can ask Google Now questions, and most of the time, get answers. The sky is truly the limit here. Try asking things like “Is it raining?”, “How many GB pounds in 1 dollar?”, “How much is 54 times 23?”, “What is the status of Delta flight 997?” and even things like “When is my next meeting?”. You can pretty much ask it anything. Try saying “<name of movie> tickets” to find where a movie is showing.
You can even tell it to “show me pictures of cute cats” or “show me Maple Leafs hockey scores” and it will gladly do so. In short, try anything. Chances are, Google will surprise you.
Music & TV Fun (Doesn’t Work Worldwide)
Even though none of the following options work for me, I thought I’d mention them in case they do for you. My guess is these work in the US, Canada, and several countries in Europe, but I couldn’t find an official list anywhere.
While watching TV, try telling Google “listen to TV“. Google should recognize the show you’re watching and display relevant cards with interesting information.
While listening to a song, ask Google “what’s this song?” and it should recognize it for you (if it doesn’t, there are some other great music-recognition apps you can try).
And finally, you can tell Google to play songs and movies for you. Tell it “I want to listen to” or “play me songs from“, or simply “play me some“, and specify names of artists or albums. You can also say “watch” and a movie name.
Do You Know Any More?
As far as I can tell, I tried every Google voice command out there. Do you know any that I missed? I’d be more than happy to hear about them!