What is Google Assistant? Here’s the guide you need to get started

Google Assistant is Google’s artificial intelligence-powered voice assistant, which grew out of Google Now. It is available on most recent Android devices and now the iPhone, as well as Google Home. You can use Google Assistant to trigger apps and devices, ask all kinds of questions, make plans, and carry out a variety of useful tasks — not to mention playing games.  With support for 30 languages, you can choose from six different voices including celebrities like musician John Legend.

If you’ve never used a voice assistant before (like Apple’s Siri or Samsung’s voice assistant, Bixby), it may be difficult to figure out just how it works. Lucky for you, we can help! If you’re currently wondering, “What is Google Assistant and how do I use it?” then read on to get started.

How to launch Google Assistant

Begin by activating and setting up your Google Assistant on your Android device. It’s a good idea to do this in a quiet place when you have a few minutes of extra time.

Start by unlocking your screen and giving the Home button a lengthy, several-second press (if your device is listening, you can also just say “OK Google”). This should bring up a new window that says, “Meet your personal Google Assistant,” or something similar. If you’ve already set up your Assistant, the window will take you to the Assistant menu instead.

First-time users will need to press Continue and give Google Assistant access to their email and apps. Afterward, you will be taken through a short voice configuration process that has you say, “OK, Google” a few times. Once done, Assistant should be ready to go!

You can also download the Google Assistant app for Android or iOS.

Keep in mind that Google Assistant is unique to each Google account. If your phone is shared among more than one Google Account, make sure you’re using your account before continuing. You can change accounts at any time by pressing the Home button until the Assistant menu appears, choosing Settings, and heading to Accounts.

Learn how to ask questions

With “OK, Google” as your activation phrase, it’s time to try out some basic voice commands. Google Assistant uses a message screen for text answers and links, and voice features for answering questions out loud — you can type questions too, if you prefer. Google gives you a few ideas about what to try out, and if you have experience with voice assistants, then you know the sort of questions that it can answer. This includes basic questions like:

  • What is the weather like today?
  • How far is it to Seattle?
  • What’s the latest business news?
  • What are the latest sports scores today?
  • How old are you?

As well as more fun questions like:

  • Is the cake a lie?
  • Who was your first crush?
  • Do you like Star Trek or Star Wars?
  • Are you Skynet?
  • Do you know the way to San Jose?

You get the idea. Google Assistant is particularly good at follow-up questions and picking up context. You can ask, “Who sang Born in the USA?” and then follow it up with, “What year did he release it?” and Google will know you are still talking about Bruce Springsteen. Wording doesn’t usually have to be precise, so don’t worry about talking casually. For more details on what the virtual assistant can do, check out our roundup of some of the best Google Assistant commands and funny things to ask Google Assistant.

See how Google Assistant connects to your apps

Asking Google Assistant questions is fun, but Assistant really becomes useful when you explore the ways that it connects to the apps and services on your Android device. Assistant integrates well with a variety of services, allowing you to accomplish many tasks with voice commands, such as:

  • Ask the Assistant to “Set a reminder” for a specific day and time.
  • “Show photos” of specific geo-tagged places or people.
  • “Show emails” about specific topics, trips, meetings, social posts, or anything else that may be stored in your Gmail.
  • Ask “What is planned for tomorrow?” or “What’s going on today?” to bring up your calendar events.
  • Connect a variety of smart home devices.
  • Play music from services like Spotify or storage.
  • Ask a variety of map/direction-based questions.
  • Open a specific app.
  • Create shortcuts for more complex tasks.
  • Start, stop, or search for voice recordings.

Customize routines

Google Assistant offers you a range of ready-made routines that allow you to say a single phrase to trigger specific actions. You can — and probably should — customize these routines to suit your needs. The “Good Morning” routine, which basically amounts to a verbal news, weather, and events report for your day, is a good place to start.

Good morning routine

To set it up, press the Home button until the Assistant window opens, and select the compass icon. Or, if your phone doesn’t have a Home button, swipe diagonally from one of the bottom corners of your device.

Then click on your profile icon in the upper-right corner. From here, go to Settings and select the Assistant tab. Scroll down to Routines and select the Good morning routine from the list. You can choose to toggle on or off silent mode, as well as ask Google to tell you about the weather, events, reminders, your commute, and so on. You can also customize the phrase you use to trigger the routine by tapping at the top where it says When I say “Good morning” or “Tell me about my day.”

Anything that is checked will be included in your report, so only check the things you really want to hear about at the start of the day. When you wake up, you can trigger this routine by saying the phrase you set.

In total there are six customizable ready-made routines to set up, including the “Good night” routine, “Leaving home,” “I’m home,” “Commuting to work,” and “Commuting back home.”

Personalize your Assistant in Settings

The Settings menu allows you to personalize a number of other Assistant features. A couple things you can do include:

Change how the voice behaves

In the Voice menu that you can access from Assistant Settings, you can turn speech off, allow speech to work offline, allow the Assistant to recognize “offensive” words, switch to Bluetooth headset compatibility, and more.

Change the news sources Google uses

From the Settings menu, choose the Services tab, then scroll to News. This gives you a list of popular news sites that Google will report from when you ask to “Listen to news.” Keep in mind that Assistant will provide news from all the sources you select, so you don’t want to choose repeats. Choose your favorite news and sports sources from the list, change the order, and add in specialized reports (technology, stocks, etc.) as needed by clicking on Add news sources at the bottom of the list.

Change what Assistant calls you

In Settings, go to Basic Info. You can change your Nickname here to whatever you prefer Assistant to call you. You can even customize the pronunciation.

Explore Google Assistant’s newest features

Google Assistant is constantly evolving, with new A.I.-powered life assistant features being added on a regular basis. Here are some of the features we’re most excited about — why not check them out?

Duplex

Duplex is your new best friend — a completely automated, human-sounding call assistant that can take care of those time-zapping phone calls for you. Make restaurant reservations, book an appointment at the salon, or get opening hours for the vet with Duplex, which speaks to the person on the other end of the phone (great if you’re driving or multitasking). Duplex is currently available in most of the U.S. — 48 states, to be precise — and being rolled out in the U.K. too. Unfortunately, although Duplex has been in testing since 2018, it still doesn’t work with all phones, and it can be hit-or-miss whether there are businesses near you it can call.

To book a restaurant reservation, just say “OK, Google” or open the Google Assistant app on your device, then tell Google “Make a dinner reservationor “Make a lunch reservation.Assistant will show you a list of several restaurants nearby — but here’s the catch; not all will be available to accept reservations through Duplex. When you find one that does, Assistant will ask how many people the reservation is for, what day it’s for, and what time. It will also ask you for a backup time, in case your first choice is booked. Then just give Google the go-ahead to book using your first name and phone number, and Duplex will call the restaurant for you. It’s worth noting some calls are made by human operators and some by A.I. — and Google will always tell the person on the other end that it’s Google calling, although you’d be hard-pressed to know you were speaking to A.I.

You’ll receive an update within 15 minutes via email.

Call Screen

Call Screen is, as its name suggests, a handy way to screen and answer calls — great for that telemarketer who won’t leave you alone or those persistent robocalls. Google Assistant can answer calls for you and even give you a real-time transcript of the convo — and you can choose to answer or decline the call at any time. Call Screen is currently only available on Pixel phones in the U.S. but should be rolled out to more Android phones in the future.

Set up automatic call screening by opening your Pixel phone app. Tap More > Settings > Spam and Call screen then check to ensure See caller and spam ID is turned on. Tap Call screen, then set the types of calls to screen in Unknown call settings. For automatic screening, select Automatically Screen, Decline Robocalls. Otherwise choose between Ring phone or Silently decline.

When somebody calls, you’ll get a silent notification and the option to answer or decline. If you do nothing, Google Assistant answers and says “Hi, the person you’re calling is using a screening service from Google, and will get a copy of this conversation. Go ahead and say your name, and why you’re calling.” If it identifies a robocall/spam call, it hangs up. If it’s neither of these, your phone will ring and Assistant will show you how the caller responded.

You can also screen calls manually or set up Call Screen to save transcripts of screened calls.

Book a ride

Picture of man at night on his cell phone
Lyft

Need to get somewhere, fast? Assistant can book you a ride on various ride-sharing apps like Uber, Grab, Lyft, and Ola. It compares prices too, so you can get to your destination with enough cash left for a beer. To book a ride with Google Assistant, just launch Assistant by saying “OK, Google.” Then say “Book me a ride to [your destination].” Google will show you which ride-share operators are available and the cost and estimated wait time for each. If you only want options from one provider, just add their name to your request — for example, “Book me an Uber ride to [your destination].” Tap on the provider you want, and the app will open to let you confirm your booking.

Recorder and Google Assistant

The Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL Recorder app (which uses real-time speech-to-text transcription) now integrates with Google Assistant. So you can tell Recorder to start or stop recording — “OK, Google, start recording my meeting” — or ask it to search through previous voice recordings. It can even export transcripts to Google Drive.

Watch for new partners

Voice assistant compatibility is a fast-evolving market. Google has recently added compatibility with speakers, appliances, and a variety of smart home devices — with a lot more partnerships on the way (not to mention the Alexa-like Google Home). It’s worth noting any new partnerships to see if Assistant’s compatibility expands into new areas that interest you.

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