In May 2016, we got our very first taste of the Google Assistant with the debut of Allo. The Assistant was a big draw to Allo at the time, with Google marketing it as a helpful bot that could make restaurant reservations, search the web, and more within your conversations.
Since then, the Assistant has gained heaps of new features and expanded to smartphones, tablets, speakers, and more. Google's shown no interest in slowing down development for the Assistant, meaning that it's likely here for the long haul.
Whether this is your first encounter with it or you just need a quick refresher, here's everything you need to know about the Google Assistant.
- You can use the Assistant in a few different ways
- Smart speakers/displays are really cool gadgets...
- ...as long as you don't mind giving up some privacy
- These are the best Assistant gadgets you can buy
- Driving Mode is coming this summer
- You can make the Assistant call restauraunts for you
- The Assistant is really powerful on Wear OS watches
- Here's how to set up the Google Assistant
- It supports a bunch of languages and countries
- Make it better with smart home tech
- IFTTT can supercharge your experience
- Your experience is similar across all devices
The Assistant can be accessed in a few different ways
The Google Assistant is a virtual assistant (hence the name) that aims to help you get stuff done in more ways than one. At least in regards to phones, the Assistant works through both voice commands and a visual page to give you a snapshot of the day ahead.
When talking to the Assistant, you can get its attention by saying "Hey Google" or "OK Google" followed by the command or question you have. You can also press and hold on your phone's home button and get its attention that way, too.
Once you prompt the Assistant, you can swipe up on its pop-up box to see a page that shows all sorts of information that's relevant for your day. You'll find quick actions at the top for things the Assistant thinks you might want to do, the current weather, any upcoming appointments, recent orders, stocks you're following, and more.
The whole idea with the Google Assistant is that it can help you get things done faster than doing it yourself, and coming later this year, Google's vastly improving the speed of the Assistant on phones so that it can perform tasks almost instantaneously with virtually no lag or delay of any kind.
As we'll dive into a little bit below, the Assistant goes far beyond phones. From speakers, watches, TVs, and more, it really is available on just about anything you can think of.
Smart speakers and displays are the best ways to add the Assistant to your home
While your phone is great for using the Assistant while on the go, the best way to interact with it while at your home is with smart speakers and smart displays.
Smart speakers are perhaps the most popular and take the form of devices such as the Google Home and Home Mini. These are speakers you put anywhere in your house and are always-listening for that "Hey Google" or "OK Google" hot word to help you however they can.
Going a step further, smart displays such as the Google Nest Hub do the same general thing albeit with a display attached to it. With that display, you can use the Assistant to follow step-by-step recipes, watch YouTube videos, make Google Dup video calls, and much, much more.
For a deeper dive into some of our favorite smart gadgets on the market right now, be sure to look at some of our hands-on coverage that's linked below.
- Google Nest Hub Max hands-on: A great all-in-one for your smart home
- Google Home Hub Review: Little, fierce, and nearly perfect
- Soundcore Model Zero+ review: The most striking Google Assistant speaker yet
- JBL Link View review: The best-sounding Smart Display yet
Then again, is an always-listening speaker the right fit for your home?
However, the convenience of a Google Home (or any smart speaker for that matter) does come at the cost of privacy. Speakers like the Google Home are "always listening", meaning they're constantly on the lookout for a hot word to know when you're talking to it (such as "Ok, Google" and "Hey, Google").
This means the microphone on a Google Home is always active, but it's not necessarily storing all the audio it hears when it doesn't detect its hot word.
Most speakers allow you to restore some privacy by being able to mute the microphone, but if you want to start asking the Assistant questions, you'll need to unmute it first.
The Best of Google Assistant
Once you start looking to buy products that work with the Google Assistant, you'll quickly learn that there are a lot to choose from. To make your shopping just a little bit easier, we wanted to highlight some of our favorite picks that we think you'll like, too.
When it comes to smart displays, our top choice is the Google Nest Hub. It's easily one of the best-designed displays you can buy, featuring a fabric back that gives the screen a sort of floating effect. The quality of the screen is also really good and it changes its brightness and temperature according to the light of the room it's in. Plus, that price is really hard to beat.
The one to get
Our favorite smart display.
With a fantastic design, great-looking screen, and snappy performance, the Google Nest Hub is a pure joy to use. Its speakers aren't the most powerful, but they get the job done for watching videos and casual music listening.
If all you want is a speaker that uses the Google Assistant, our next recommendation would be the Google Home Mini. The Home Mini is one of the most affordable ways to get the Assistant in your home and is a great fit whether it's your first Assistant speaker or you just want to add another to your collection.
The speaker quality is surprisingly good for its size, the touch controls for volume work well, and we absolutely adore its design.
Tiny, fabricy, and oh so cheap.
Whether you pay the full $49 asking price or find it on sale, the Google Home Mini is a fantastic Assistant speaker. It sounds pretty good, fits right into any home, and performs all of the same Assistant actions as more expensive options.
Moving over to smart home products that work with the Assistant, the first gadget we want to highlight is the Nest Thermostat E. This replaces the existing thermostat in your home and learns your usage habits over time to help you save money. Plus, it looks really great while doing it.
The Thermostat E can be controlled via the Nest or Google Home app on your phone, in addition to Google Assistant voice commands. Getting a little chilly? Just say, "Hey Google, set the thermostat to 70 degrees", and you're all set.
Saves you money
Pay now, save later.
Thermostats aren't very exciting by design, but the Nest Thermostat E breaks that mold entirely. It has a modern design, learns your usage as time goes on to help save money on your monthly energy bill, and works beautifully with the Google Assistant. Even better, setup is a breeze.
Smart lights are perhaps some of the most popular smart home devices out there, and if you ask us, the best choice comes from Philips.
Philips Hue smart bulbs to tend to be on the expensive side of things, but you do get what you pay for. Hue bulbs are built really well, integrate nicely with the Assistant and Google Home app, and can be used with a myriad of other Hue accessories.
Light it up
A great starter pack for Philips Hue.
Just getting started with Philips Hue lights? This starter pack includes four A19 light bulbs that are capable of 16 million color options and the Hue Hub which is required to use the bulbs' smart functionality. And, of course, Hue works great with the Assistant.
Going from smart bulbs to smart switches, we also recommend checking out the Wemo Mini Smart Plug.
The Wemo Mini gets plugged into any existing outlet in your home, and from here, you plug in pretty much whatever you'd like. In my apartment, I have a wax burner and a lamp plugged into them. Now, you can turn that plug on/off at any time using the Wemo app or the Google Assistant. You can also go a step further and put the Wemo on a schedule to have things automatically turn on or off at a specific time of day.
Buy a couple
A necessity for any smart home.
Every smart home needs smart plugs, and for that, we recommend the Wemo Mini. It's easy to set up, works well with the Google Assistant, and is so compact that you can have two stacked up on top of each other in one outlet.
Driving Mode optimizes Assistant for your car
Rolling out later this summer, the Google Assistant is picking up a Driving Mode on Android phones. As the name suggests, it's designed to help you stay connected in the car without sacrificing your safety.
After saying "Let's drive" to the Assistant, you'll be booted into a new UI with permanent shortcuts for navigation, making a phone call, or playing music/podcasts. Below these are personalized cards that'll show recommended destinations, missed calls, what media is currently playing, etc.
If you keep on scrolling down, Google has more easy shortcuts for things like your favorite contacts and recommended music/podcasts to listen to.
We don't have a firm launch date as to when Driving Mode will launch this summer, but we'll let you know as soon as that changes.
You can have it make restaurant reservations for you
You read that right. Through a feature called "Google Duplex", you can ask the Assistant to make reservations at restaurants on your behalf. If you ask us, this is easily one of the coolest tricks under its belt.
To get started, just say "Make me a restaurant reservation" or something along those lines. From there, you'll be asked to choose which restaurant, for how many people, what time, etc. Once your details are all confirmed, the Assistant will actually call that restaurant to make the reservation.
After the Assistant makes the call and gets everything handled, it'll automatically add it to your Google Calendar on your behalf.
It's something straight out of a science fiction movie, but whether you're using the Assistant on an Android phone or iPhone, you can use it right now.
The Assistant is now better than ever on Wear OS
Wear OS 2.0 is now available for almost all smartwatches, and with it comes a completely revamped way to experience the Google Assistant.
You can still perform your usual assortment of voice commands just like before, but in Wear OS 2.0, there's now an Assistant feed you can access at any time by swiping to the right. Here you'll see info about the weather, upcoming calendar appointments, traffic conditions, and more.
There are a lot of important updates in Google's latest wearable revamp, but the renewed focus on the Assistant is definitely one of the best.
Setting up the Google Assistant is as easy or complex as you want
When you set up a device for the first time that has the Assistant, getting started is pretty simple. Accessing it is just a voice command or tap away depending on what gadget you're using, but if you want to really fine-tune your experience, Google's got you covered.
Take a quick dive into your Assistant settings and you'll find options for just about everything – including your weather preferences, changing the Assistant's voice, retraining your voice model, picking out preferred news sources, and much more.
You can get the Assistant setup in just a couple of short minutes and go on with your day, or spend some extra time to really fine-tune your experience and make it as personalized as possible.
Google Assistant is available in multiple regions and languages
Of course, a smart voice assistant isn't any good if you can't actually use it. Fortunately, Google Assistant is widely available in 30 different languages and 80 countries.
Whether you speak English, Spanish, Dutch, French, Vietnamese, or something in between, chances are Google's got you covered.
Furthermore, if you have a Google Home, Home Mini, Home Max, or Nest Hub, you can talk to the Assistant in multiple languages at once.
There are a bunch of smart home devices that work with the Assistant
One of our favorite ways to use the Assistant is to have it control other smart home gadgets, such as light bulbs, thermostats, etc.
Most smart home products these days support the Assistant, and if you want to ensure you're buying the best of the best, we've put together a couple of lists below to highlight our top smart home picks that are fully compatible with the Assistant.
- Best Smart LED Light Bulbs that Work with Google Home
- Best Smart Locks That Support Google Assistant
IFTTT supercharges the Assistant's usefulness
IFTTT (If This Then That) is a powerful online tool that allows you to trigger something (that) if a certain event (this) happens. You can connect IFTTT to the Google Assistant to create your own recipes using this formula, and it can allow for some incredibly helpful combinations.
Some of our favorite uses for IFTTT and the Assistant include adding contacts to your Google account, setting your Google Calendar status to Busy for a certain period of time, and much, much more.
Getting started with IFTTT can take some time and patience if you're new to it, but once you're all set up and ready to go, it can prove to be a lifesaver.
You'll get the same experience no matter what devices you use
With so many devices capable of running the Assistant, it'd be easy to think that the experience you get on one gadget would be different from another. This is something that Google struggled with for a while at first, but we're finally in a position where the Assistant experience you get on a smart speaker, for example, is the same you'll get on your phone.
There are a handful of features here and there that still create for some discrepancy, but for the most part, the Assistant you use on your Pixel 3 is the same one found on Google Home.
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