It can be a challenge to stay on top of all your smart home devices. With hundreds of competing brands, industry standards, and manufacturer apps, managing everything is akin to a full-time job.
However, if you’re invested in the Google ecosystem of products, there’s some good news: you can use one app to control all of your products and settings. Better yet? It’ll even work with plenty of non-Google products.
The app is Google Home. Not to be confused with the speaker of the same name and Google Assistant, the Google Home app used to be called Google Cast.
But what exactly does the Google Home app integrate with? What features does it offer? And is it really the one-size-fits-all solution you’ve been waiting for? Keep reading to find out.
Which Devices and Services Are Supported?
The Google Home app works with any device, app, or service that also integrates with the Google Home smart speaker.
It’s a long list, but the services and products can broadly be divided into three sections: audio, video, and smart home.
- Audio — YouTube Music, Google Play Music, Spotify, TuneIn Radio, Pandora, Deezer.
- Video — YouTube, Netflix, Hulu, Google Play Movies, Google Chromecast.
- Smart Home Devices — Google Home speaker, Nest, Phillips Hue, Samsung SmartThings, Honeywell, Belkin Wemo, TP-Link, IFTTT. (More on these later.)
You can use the app on both Android and iOS. Let’s take a detailed look at how to use the app.
When you load the Google Home app, you will see three tabs along the top of the screen. They are Watch, Listen, and Discover. The tabs are primarily used for casting content around your home.
The Watch tab allows you to find any video content on apps you already have installed on your device.
Along the top of the window, you’ll see links for the compatible apps. Scroll down, and you’ll see popular TV shows and movies you can stream straight to your Chromecast, Android TV, or Chromecast-enabled smart TV. Just tap the show/movie you want, and it’ll start playing automatically. You don’t need to navigate to the individual service’s app.
At the bottom of the page, you’ll see a Browse link. Click it, and you’ll be able to find other video services that Google Home supports.
The Listen tab functions in the same way as the Watch tab. You’ll see links for apps you’ve already installed, suggested content, and a way to find more compatible apps.
Both Listen and Watch have a search icon in the bottom right-hand corner. This is a universal search feature, letting you instantly browse all your connected services without hopping between apps. It works extremely well on mainstream apps like Netflix, but it’s less reliable for network-specific apps.
The Discover tab is really only useful if you have a Google Home smart speaker as part of your set up. If you do, it acts like Google Now: you’ll see a list of pertinent cards (like traffic information or latest news).
It’s also where you’ll find offers and other deals relating to your products. For example, perhaps you’ll be offered discounts on a movie rental through Google Play Movies or your see special promotions for some of Google’s physical hardware.
Note: You might not see all the tabs. It depends on which devices are on your network. See the image below for confirmation of which tabs you can expect.
The app really starts to shine if you connect it to a Google Home smart speaker (and by extension, Google Assistant). It serves as a suggestion screen and dashboard for everything related to the speaker.
The speaker itself introduces a host of features:
- Get reminders.
- Get traffic alerts and commute information.
- Receive weather forecasts.
- Get local business information.
- See (and hear) your calendar events.
- Plan trips and manage flights.
- Create shopping lists.
To set up these features and manage, head to Menu > More settings > My Day. You’ll see a list of checkboxes for each available feature. Tick the ones you’d like to synchronize with your app and speaker.
Connecting Third-Party Devices
Google Home app is also a useful hub for other smart devices in your home.
Supported third-party devices can be broken down into three sub-categories: smart lights, smart thermostats, and smart plugs.
Here are the supported manufacturers for each category:
- Lights — Philips Hue, SmartThings, Wink, TP-Link, LIFX, Osram, Lowes Iris, Lutron Caseta, Emberlight, iDevices, Universal Devices, MobiLinc.
- Thermostats — Nest, SmartThings, Honeywell, Wink.
- Plugs — SmartThings, Wink, Belkin Wemo, TP-Link, Best Buy Insignia, Lowes Iris, Lutron Caseta, iHome, Leviton, Artik Cloud, iDevices, NuBryte, Universal Devices, MobiLinc.
For all the devices, you need to do the initial set-up using the manufacturer-supplied apps and portals. You can only link them to the Google Home app once you’ve verified they are all working correctly.
To link devices to the app, go to Menu > Home control > Devices and tap the + icon. Choose the name of the manufacturer whose products you want to connect, then follow the on-screen instructions.
You can assign each device to a specific room, place it in a new room, or give it a nickname. Once you’ve got everything connected, you can issue voice commands using your smart speaker or with the Google Assistant on your mobile device.
If your preferred action doesn’t have a pre-existing voice command, you can create your own using IFTTT. The commands aren’t part of the Google Home app, but they’re part of the same process and are worth mentioning briefly.
Next, tap your username and go to New Applet > This and search for Google Assistant. Choose your Trigger and enter up to three ways to say your phrase. Finally, go to New Applet > This and choose your Action service. You will find your new applet in the My Applets menu at the top of the IFTTT home screen.
It’s Early Days
The Google Home app is undeniably extremely powerful. It’s a vital app to have if you’re running lots of the supported devices around you home.
But it’s also unwieldy to use. It feels like Google is trying to cram too much into it, resulting in confusing and complicated in-app navigation. The issue is symptomatic of the app’s roots in Google Cast. It doesn’t feel logical to have the casting content and smart home management content under the same umbrella.
Alas, it’s early days. The rebranding from Google Cast to Google Home only happened in late-2016 and it seems Google is still wrestling with the best way to move forward. It’s certain to improve as time passes.
Do you use the Google Home app? What are its strong points? Where does it fall flat? Let us know your thoughts and opinions in the comments below.