The best Google Home tips and tricks

OK, Google, what can you do? Tips and tricks for the Google Home

Google Home, the Home Mini, and the Home Max have been out for awhile now, which is long enough for its owners to really tinker with it and get a feel for its capabilities. Programmers now have the ability to create third-party skills, increasing the voice assistant’s uses. We thought that it was high time we lay out some of the best tips for the Home devices, just in case you want customize your morning report, name your device, make it speak another language, or seek out some of the better Easter eggs baked directly into Google’s smart speakers. Whether you just bought a Google Home, or if you’re looking for new features to try out, these tips will help you get more out of your IoT buddy.

“Hey, Google”

It’s interesting that the A.I. personality that powers the Home doesn’t have a name, which seems to undermine the organic relationship between user and device that Google is working so carefully to curate. Apple has Siri and the Amazon Echo has Alexa, but the engineers behind the Home and other Android-driven devices have stuck steadfastly to the generic “Google Assistant.” You can change the name of your device in the Google Home app under device –> settings –> name, but the name you choose will not become the new wake word. Despite vocal feedback from users, Google still only allows users to wake up the device by saying “OK, Google,” “Hey, Google,” or, oddly enough, “OK, Boo Boo.”

Google Home Max Review
Juliana Chokkattu/Digital Trends
Juliana Chokkattu/Digital Trends

However, there is a way to get your assistant to call you by a different name when it responds to you. Just say “OK Google, change my name.” You might not get to address your Google Home as “Princess Fluffycakes” or “Hey, Claptrap,” but you can get it to call you by your preferred nickname; we recommend “Your Highness” or “By Your Command,” for starters.

Use your mad skills to automate… everything

There will come a day when devices like the Home will be delivered via drone, automatically crawl out of their own boxes, and thrust out a mechanical paw to introduce themselves before plugging themselves in and personalizing their functions to your home. In the meantime, it’s vital for Home power users to learn more about IFTTT.

IFTTT is what’s called an “applet creation service.” The acronym stands for its creator’s basic idea: “If This, Then That.” Basically, it’s a simple way to make your Home do cool stuff for you automatically. After downloading the app, you can create command modules that can integrate with Google Assistant apps such as Tasker and Autovoice to automate certain functions. For example, you could wake up in the morning, say “Hey, Google,” and the Home can change the color of your Hue lamps, fire up NPR, and start a pot of coffee on your behalf. You can also set it to respond to notifications, which will prompt it to alert you when that special someone emails you, track your hours in Google Calendar, and back up texts to a worksheet so you don’t lose any valuable work or personal interactions.

Or, just stick to the basics

If you’re just not an applet kind of person, it’s still important to use the Home’s basic applications to make your life easier. It’s worth running down a list of the basic commands available to you upon the Home’s arrival, meaning you should ask Google Assistant questions, set alarms, connect your calendar, and carry out a host of other basic commands to better familiarize yourself with your new virtual companion.

You can also set up multiple users on your Home device. Google Assistant can even speak and understand two different languages if you want to make your Google Home bilingual. You can also use the Voice Match feature in the app and program your Home device to recognize your voice and give you tailored responses. For example, you can ask for information about your commute, and Google Assistant will recognize your voice and give you your commute information — not your partner’s.

Shop ’til you drop with Google Express

Google is sparing no expense in helping the Home and Google Assistant products mature, and that means new features are coming online all the time. One of the bigger complaints from Home owners upon the device’s launch was that, unlike its competitor Alexa, it wouldn’t allow users to shop hands-free. That changed when Google announced that the Home will now integrate with Google Express, the company’s shopping platform. The service allows users to order from dozens of stores, including Walgreens, Whole Foods, Costco, and Toys R Us. Users can order products costing between $4 and $100 just by asking, and your Home device will give users a total that includes tax and shipping before confirming the order.

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Read and reply to messages

It’s easy to make a call with Google Home. You just have to say: “OK Google, call (the phone number)” or “OK Google, call (company name).” One of the newer features of Google Assistant is its ability to manage your SMS messages when you text. Tell Google Assistant to “Show me my messages,” and you’ll see any unread texts. But if you ask it, “Do I have any messages?” Google Assistant will actually read your unread messages to you. The Home device can also read SMS-enabled messages from Facebook Messenger and Hangouts if you have a compatible device.

Customize your morning report

One of the functions that Home owners were quickest to embrace is the universal command “Tell me about my day,” which triggers an audio report. What some basic users haven’t realized is that the “Tell me about my day” command can be customized to offer different information. In the menu, it’s possible to select different categories, including the weather, traffic conditions, Google Calendar reminders, and even your flight status. It’s also possible to not cut off the report at the end, but instead, have the Home default to a custom news feed.

Embrace the ecosystem

If you’re interested in a Home device, there’s a good chance that you already use several of Google’s other products. The Home devices were designed to work within Google’s ecosystem, and as such, the products are most useful for people who frequently utilize services such as Google Calendar and Google Keep. With these services, the Home can truly be your own personal assistant. You can have it check your schedule, set reminders, or add items to your shopping lists with a simple voice command. Google Home also works with several smart home products, including Google Cast, Nest, Philips Hue lights, Smart Things, and so much more. Other products have announced compatibility in the last several months, and the list continues to grow.

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Get connected

While the Home can’t match Alexa in terms of connected apps — at least not yet — the personal assistant does play well with the most common streaming services. For music, you can connect your speaker to Pandora, TuneIn, Google Music, and Spotify, and use Netflix or YouTube for movies and video. If you use any of those services, it’s a good idea to link your accounts. You can also choose your preferred music service, so when you tell Google to “play music,” it will automatically start playing from your favorite music provider. Your Google Home device will also act as a Chromecast receiver, so any app that works on Chromecast can also be controlled by addressing Google Assistant.

While some of Google’s connected services deal with products inside your home, you can also connect this speaker to your Uber account and other third-party services. Kayak, Domino’s, Food Network, and WebMD all have “services” you can use. Unlike with Alexa, you don’t need to enable them, but you may need to create or link an account. To access them, try saying, “OK, Google, ask Food Network…” To see a list of all the services in your app, tap menu, more settings, then services.

Name your devices

Google Home devices are meant to be the center of your smart home life. If you have a Google Chromecast connected to your TV, for example, you’ll be able to use the Home to play a YouTube video or a song from Pandora on your television. This isn’t too complicated if you only have one connected device, but if you have multiple gadgets connected to your Home, you’ll want to personalize their names. You can change the name of your Chromecast to “TV,” for instance, or “Living Room.” You’ll want to pick a name that’s easier to say than “Chromecast,” and one that helps you remember the location of your device.

Mute the mic and get some privacy

One of the reasons why gizmos like the Home are such useful devices is that they’re always listening, as evidenced by all those stories of A.I. devices ordering doll houses without permission or the Super Bowl commercial that made Home devices go crazy around the globe. But for most people, being able to ask the Home a question or issue a command hands-free is its most useful feature.

Google Home Mini
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

However, this feature might be a little unnerving for some people. Do you really want Google, or any other company, to listen to everything you say? It’s also possible for the Home to butt into your conversations, even if you haven’t directly addressed it. Google’s four-syllable wake phrase, “OK Google,” will probably prevent this from happening too often, but we’ve had it perk up at strange times. Thankfully, you merely need to press the mute button on the back of the device to disable the “always listening” feature.

Delete those “special questions”

On the bright side, Google Assistant is based around a semi-intelligent A.I. created by harvesting quadrillions of bytes of data from billions of Google customers. On the not-so-bright side, Google Assistant remembers everything. If you want to delete a delicate query from your industry, you can so in the app by accessing My Activity in the settings tab. Here, you can either play back or remove your search history. In the app, tap the menu button, more services, and scroll down to My Activity. You can delete one by one or in larger chunks by date. For the latter, hit the three vertical dots in the Search Assistant bar. Choose “Delete activity by” and set the date range.

Have a little fun with Easter eggs

Much like Alexa, Google Assistant has a sense of humor. Just ask it for “Things you can do,” and the device will offer a variety of fun activities, including poetry, (bad) beatboxing, and a host of trivia games. With a quick search, you can also turn up a bunch of funny queries, such as “Hey Google, are you Skynet?” and “OK Google, Hodor.” Having a birthday party? You can even say, “OK Google, sing ‘Happy Birthday.'”

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