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Google Assistant is a fairly intelligent piece of software that was the unique selling point of the Pixel phones until it was made available to many Android 6.0+ smartphones early this year.
Now that a good chunk of Android users can use Google Assistant, it’s time to remind everyone of the awesome things you can do with it.
Of course, we’re assuming you already know that Assistant can make phone calls, send texts, set alarms, and all of those other useful but basic OK Google functions. You truly won’t expect some of these!
1. Make It Read the News to You
This is a great feature that you probably aren’t aware of — Google Assistant actually reads out news related to topics of your liking, from sources of your preference. And these are actual people reading the news, not some speech-to-text conversion.
To enable this, you first need to open the Google App, swipe open the left menu, then go to Settings. Under Google Assistant, click Settings > News. Here, you can add news sources (currently only available in English) like CNN, BBC, Reuters, WSJ, Bloomberg, TIME, etc. There are also a bunch of publications with spoken coverage of tech news, business, sports, health, science, politics, etc.
Once you’ve set this up, just say “Play the news” to Google Assistant (which you can invoke by a press and hold of the home button). Now, all those sources you chose will start playing one by one. You can also control playback by saying “Next” to jump to the next publication, or “Pause” or “Stop” to perform those actions.
You can also play news from a single source by saying the name of the new source directly. For instance, try saying “BBC Minute” or “CNN News Briefing” to Google Assistant.
2. Reminders and the Shopping List
You probably know you can ask digital assistants to “remind you of something” at a particular time. But did you know that you can use location reminders to be reminded of things as you arrive at a particular place? Just try saying, “Remind me to spend quality time with my family when I reach home,” to Google Assistant, and provided you’ve set your home location, it’ll push the reminder whenever you’re there. You can set your home and work locations by going to Settings in the Google app, then Settings under Google Assistant, and then Personal Info at the bottom.
Beyond this, you can also make Google Assistant remember things that have no time or location triggers. For example, say, “Remember that the house keys are with my wife” or “Remember that the gas turns off if you turn the knob to the right”. Now, you can just ask, “What did I say about the gas?” or “Where are my keys?” and Assistant will show you the relevant answers.
Lastly, for the times you need to add things to your shopping list, just say “Add X to my shopping list”.
Saying this will either add that item to the Shopping List in the Google Keep app, or in more recent updates, store it in the Google Home app. To quickly bring up your shopping list, say, “What’s on my shopping list”. Unfortunately, you can’t delete items off the list just yet.
3. Check Flight Schedules and Other Things
If you’ve used Google at all, you’ve probably come across Knowledge Graph at some point — those little cards that contain the answer to your search query.
For example, you’ll see a card that says “1st June 1937” when you ask, “When was Morgan Freeman born?” Assistant is also conversational, meaning if you ask, “What was his first movie?”, it knows you’re talking about Morgan Freeman.
And Google Assistant, just like Google Now before it, reads those cards out to you for a hands-free experience. So you can ask things like, “Where is UA 48 right now?” to know the flight status of that United Airlines plane. Of course, you can ask about anything you’d generally ask Google and have relevant information read out to you.
4. Perform All Kinds of Conversions
Just like Google’s web search, you can also use Assistant to convert one unit to another. Ask, “How many kilometers is 10 meters?” or, “How many US Dollars is 6,000 Indian Rupees?” and you’ll get the converted values said out aloud to you. You can even ask things like, “What time will it be in Los Angeles if it’s 2 AM in India?” and it’ll do time conversions too.
5. Translate Sentences
With the help of Google Translate, Assistant can speak entire sentences you ask it to translate from one language to another. For example, say, “How do I say thank you in Hindi?” or, “How do I say hello in Spanish?” to have translated sentences to appear on the screen as well as heard through your phone speaker.
6. Get Traffic Information
Google Assistant can get you out of a jam, literally. Other than navigating you somewhere by voice, you can also check traffic information from your location. To do that, ask, “Time to madison square?” or whichever relevant place you want to check before starting the drive.
7. Play Music and Video
You can play music via streaming services like Google’s own Play Music and even YouTube videos. It’s a bit weird that you can’t configure third-party apps like Spotify and Pandora (as you can on the Google Home). There just doesn’t seem to be a way to change the defaults on Android phones for now.
Nonetheless, saying, “Play Daft Punk,” will start playing the music, whereas saying, “Play Daft Punk on YouTube,” will start playing the video. Assistant will also control music playback for you: “Turn the volume up” or “Play the previous track”. You get the idea.
8. Toggle Settings
Apart from controlling music, there are other toggles that you can control by asking Assistant. Say, “Turn the flashlight on,” or, “Turn the Bluetooth off,” and see it happen. The What Can I Do section in the settings also suggests things like taking a selfie, but when I told Assistant to “take a selfie” on my Galaxy S6, it just opened the camera app — so your mileage may vary.
9. Control Smart Bulbs and Other IoT Devices
The Google Assistant works with all kinds of Internet of Things (IoT) devices — from Philips Hue or LIFX smart bulbs, to Nest thermostats, to Belkin WeMo smart plugs, to Honeywell and Samsung SmartThings products, and more. If you happen to own one of these (or are now excited at the prospect of owning one), you can configure Google Assistant to work with them.
Saying, “Turn off the bedroom lights,” will turn those off. To pair these smart devices with your Google Assistant, go to Settings in the Google app, hit Settings under Google Assistant, and click Home Control.
And you can be organized about it too — other than adding these devices, you can create “rooms” in settings that contains these devices. That way, you can just say, “Turn off all the lights in the bedroom,” to turn off every smart bulb in there in one go.
10. Find Things in Apps
Last, but definitely not the least, if you’re using other Google services like Google Photos, Assistant can help you find just what you’re looking for. But you have to be careful with what you’re asking!
For example, saying, “Show me pictures of my dogs,” shows me pictures of dogs stored in my Google Photos. I could even fine tune the query by saying, “Show me my pictures of my dogs from 2014.” Saying, “Show me my pictures of cars,” showed me my pictures that had cars in them.
But I had to explicitly say, “Show me my pictures of…” or “Show me pictures of my…” because if you drop the word my from either of those sentences, and you’ll end up seeing Google Image search results than the ones from your library.
Finally, you can search within your messages too by asking, “Show me emails from so-and-so,” or by asking, “Do I have any text messages from Prashant?” for text messages. When driving, Assistant will also read out your SMS messages for you if you say, “Read out my messages”. It’s a shame, though, that it can’t read out chats from instant messaging apps like WhatsApp or Telegram… yet.
How Do You Use Google Assistant?
If you’ve read up until here, you’re probably as excited to use your Android phone via voice as I am. You should remember that with time, Google should add more functionality to its Assistant software, especially now that a lot more people have access to it.