Google Assistant: News, Tips, and Everything you need to know

Google Home range
Google Home range (Image credit: Phil Nickinson / Android Central)

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, speakers, smart displays, and more. Now an integral part of your Android and Google Home experience, Google Assistant is here to stay.

Whether you're totally unfamiliar with Google Assistant and how it compares to other smart assistants, or want to know the latest updates and improvements to it, here's everything you need to know about the Google Assistant.

Google Assistant How to set up Assistant

A phone showing a Google Assistant menu, with options for some commands you can make

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Source: Android Central)

When it comes to the newest and best Android phones, access to Google Assistant is built into your phones. The only difference between them is the ease of access. Pixel phones make Assistant part of the setup process, while other phones will make you go into the settings to turn it on. In particular, Samsung phones make you go into your settings and change the default assistant from Bixby to Assistant.

You can also set up Google Assistant Voice Match in your Android settings, ensuring your device will only respond to your voice. This feature is especially important if you plan on making purchases via Assistant because you can now use Voice Match for payment authentication.

For basic Assistant access on your phones, that's about it! You can download the Google Assistant app (opens in new tab) to get more specific control with Routines, which we'll discuss below. Otherwise, you can either set your phone to always listen for that "Hey Google" catchphrase or set it to only trigger manually.

The other most common way to use Google Assistant is by using a smart speaker like Nest Audio. We wrote up a thorough guide on how to set up Google Assistant speakers that should cover everything you need to know.

For other Google Assistant devices, you'll need to add them to the Google Home app. Tap "+," set up device, and Works with Google. You'll see a list of manufacturers, then compatible devices. Anything on the list can be controlled via Google Assistant once you've added it to your smart home.

Google Assistant How to use Assistant

A phone screen showing Google Assistant options

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Source: Android Central)

This is simple on the surface: just say "Hey Google", then ask it to give you the information you need or do something on a connected device. In practice, you'll want to make sure you use the proper phrasing, or else you'll waste time finding the right words to make Google Assistant understand.

Google has a comprehensive list of voice queries that you can use for virtually any task so we recommend starting there.

Your next step is to learn how to set up and manage Google Assistant routines. That linked guide gives you a detailed description of how to trigger complex smart home routines simply by saying a simple phrase or to schedule automatic routines for a certain time of day.

Then, once you've figured out the process, check out the best Google Assistant routines that we've come up with for our own daily lives. The newest tool is workday routines, meant to give you automated nudges throughout the day that'll help you maintain a work-life balance while stuck working at home.

Google Assistant Best Google Assistant speakers, displays, and headphones

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 more popular and generally more affordable, though also more limited. With any one of the best Google Assistant speakers, you can plop it in the middle of the living room, ready to answer any questions you have or start playing music without having to pick up your phone.

Start your Google Assistant speaker search by checking our Nest Audio review or Google Nest Mini review. The new Nest Audio has great audio quality, three far-field microphones to easily pick up your voice commands, and a fast processor for quick answers to your questions. By comparison, the Nest Mini is quieter and slower. It will also save you money if you want to set up Google Assistant in multiple rooms or already have another better speaker for your music.

On the other hand, if you care just as much about audio quality, you'll need to step outside of Google's store and look at Bose's speakers instead. The Sonos One is our best smart speaker overall, working with both Google Assistant and Alexa and providing some of the best-sounding audio you'll find in its weight class.

Nest Hub Max Hero Jj

Source: Jeramy Johnson / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Jeramy Johnson / Android Central)

Going a step further, smart displays such as the Google Nest Hub give you more than verbal answers: you can use the Assistant to follow step-by-step recipes, watch YouTube videos, make video calls, and much, much more.

Undoubtedly the best Google Assistant smart display is the Nest Hub Max. It has a 10" HD display that makes any content you pull up look great, enables Face Match to give each household member-specific results to their questions, and gives you more powerful speakers.

Speakers and displays are great for asking questions at home, but you may also want to take advantage of Assistant on the go. For that, you'll want to invest in one of these Google Assistant-compatible headphones.

Google Assistant Best Google Home accessories

Nest Thermostat E

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Source: Android Central)

Google Assistant is only as powerful as the devices connected to it. You can settle for asking about the weather or playing your Spotify playlists, but Google Assistant really shines when you can do things like turn off the lights, turn up the thermostat, or turning on your coffee maker with just your voice.

Check out our best Google Home compatible devices for a long list of some of the smart home tech that'll make your home almost fully voice-controlled.

Many people like to use Google Assistant and home automations to create a DIY home security system. Start with one of the best Google Home smart locks, which can be armed with just your voice, then unlocked with your phone or a thumbprint. You can also invest in the best lights that support Google Assistant. Not only can you turn these smart lights on and off by voice command, but you can automate them to turn on or off at certain times of day thanks to the new Scheduled Actions tool, or trigger on if a security camera or video thermostat picks up motion.

Most of the best smart thermostats also are Google Assistant-compatible, meaning you can tell Google to change the temperature manually or set Routines that turn up the heat or air around the time you're due to get home.

You can even find some home appliances like sprinklers, robotic vacuums, dishwashers, and garage door openers that you can control via Google Assistant. Or, if you can't find or afford a fancy smart appliance, you can always invest in one of the best Google Assistant smart plugs. You can activate the plug or switch itself using a Routine so that the normal appliance gets smartened up.

Google Assistant Privacy and data storage

Google Privacy Policy

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Something that tech companies don't typically make clear to consumers is, what does it mean that your smart speaker is "always listening"? If it's listening for your "Hey Google," what else is it hearing, and what is being recorded and passed along to Google?

Your Google Assistant microphone may always be "listening" to the words around it, but only fully triggers and processes information if you grab its attention with "Hey Google" or "OK Google." It doesn't "listen" closely to everything you say and shouldn't send anything sensitive to Google's servers.

The issue is that your smart speaker will sometimes misinterpret something as an activation phrase and then start recording your private conversations. Worse, we learned in 2019 that Google employees regularly eavesdropped on your Google Assistant conversations in order to transcribe them and improve Assistant's voice recognition software. Belgian broadcaster VRT NWS reviewed 1000 recordings and found that 153 were recorded accidentally and often contained sensitive information.

Google updated its privacy policy a few months later to ensure that its devices no longer store recordings of your Google Assistant commands by default. Then, in early 2020, they added even more privacy tools, such as the ability to say "Hey Google, that wasn't for you" if you notice it turn on inappropriately, or to ask "Hey Google, are you saving my audio data?"

After pausing human review of recordings for a year, Google restarted the program in mid-2020, but only if you opted in. Today, Google recommends that you enable it to save your recordings "to make Google speech products more helpful to you and better for everyone"; the idea is that with your recordings, the AI can get better at understanding your voice and what you want. But this isn't necessary for Google Assistant to work.

If you do decide to let Assistant store your recordings and data but end up changing your mind, you can go to "Your data in the Assistant" and delete the information.

Google Assistant Latest tips and tricks

Google Assistant is a huge topic for us at Android Central, and we couldn't begin to summarize all of the updates that Google has made to its Assistant over the years, or even in the past year. So we'll focus on the most exciting updates to Assistant we've spotted in recent months and any new tools you should acquaint yourself with.

The biggest recent change is that you can now use Google Assistant to perform tasks inside of partnered apps. Before, you could only tell it to open certain apps, but now you can tell Twitter to start a new tweet, search for Italian food on Postmates, or hail a ride on Uber. Any partnered apps can create custom "intents" based on users' most common actions and create specialized voice commands to match them.

You know that you can create voice-activated routines, but you probably don't know that you'll soon be able to create home screen shortcuts for Google Assistant routines on your phone. You'll just be able to tap your "welcome home" routine on your Pixel, for example, and have Google Home activate your devices without having to actually say anything.

Google Assistant has always been tied to a single email account; you could switch between accounts with Face Match or Voice Match, but only for multiple people. That changed recently, with a new Google Assistant beta feature that lets the Assistant access data from multiple accounts, so you can get information on upcoming Calendar or Meet appointments from both your work and personal accounts.

Google has added new games and educational experiences to its Google Assistant smart displays to educate and entertain kids and teens stuck at home. You can now say, "Hey Google, teach me something new" or "Hey Google, tell me a story," and you'll be taken to a Learning Hub where you can browse different guided experiences. Or, you can just play games like Jeopardy or Who Wants to Be a Millionaire on the display, starting with the phrase "Hey Google, let's play a game." The new Google Assistant Games Lobby is full of games that are all played via voice commands, so you can enjoy them without being stuck standing in front of the tablet.

Google Assistant Reviews and editorials

Google Maps on Android Auto

Source: Ara Wagoner / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Ara Wagoner / Android Central)

We've been testing out various Google Assistant features for years and will flatter ourselves by saying we have some good expertise with the system, along with some strong opinions and unique experiences. We never traditionally "reviewed" Assistant: it has steadily evolved over the years, and any write-up we did would become irrelevant later. But you can see how Android Central's editors have used and responded to the tech over the years.

Just recently, one of our editors drove 1,000 miles with only Android Auto and Google Assistant for company. That same editor likes to use Google Assistant as her own personal digital nanny, but also argued that Google is giving up too much ground to Amazon in terms of recent smart home tech.

For a different AC writer, Google Assistant "powers his life", and he specifically chose Google Assistant over Alexa. Another writer went the opposite direction and ruled in favor of Amazon in his Google Assistant vs. Alexa breakdown — but a lot has changed in the two years since he made that judgment.

In our Decade in Review series, we discussed how Google Assistant fundamentally changed how we interact with Google services. Whether you use Google Assistant regularly or not, Android users will certainly agree that it is here to stay and will have a major impact on how Google's devices (and compatible devices) are designed in the future.

Joe Maring was a Senior Editor for Android Central between 2017 and 2021. You can reach him on Twitter at @JoeMaring1.