The Ultimate Beginner's Guide to Getting Started with Google Home and Assistant

Step by step guide | Tips and tricks | Compatible devices | Comparisons with other smart speakers | and more...
Google Home and a Child, Kid, Baby
Updated: 7th Sep 2019
Published: 15th May 2019
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By SHN Team

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When it comes to virtual assistants for the smart home, Alexa and Amazon Echo seem to be hogging all the limelight. But since 2018, Google has made substantial headway and now accounts for nearly 30% of the market (Amazon over 50%), burning the midnight oil to create a worthy rival in the form of Google Home.

Most of us already have some level of interest in Google’s extensive ecosystem. Let us see how you can make it work even better for you by bringing the capability and fun features of Google Home and Assistant to your smart home.

 

 

What is Google Assistant?

If you have ever used an android device, you might already be familiar with Google Assistant. It’s a virtual assistant voice platform powered by artificial intelligence, primarily accessible on mobile devices and smart home equipment. Google Assistant was first launched with messaging app Allo as a chatbot which facilitated smart replies and one-on-one conversations. But in December, Google announced that it would discontinue the messaging app by March 2019. Assistant, however, is expanding its functionality. Also, its popularity is steadily rising. 

Google Home is the most popular smart speaker powered by Google Assistant. Just like Amazon’s Echo, the Home has lots of functional value on its own. But you get to see its real potential and Google Assistant’s too once you connect it with other devices and services.

 

What Does Google Assistant Do?

Google Assistant came on the scene in May 2​​016 with the debut of Google’s messenger, Allo. Google marketed it as a useful bot that could search the web on your behalf, make reservations at restaurants and handle other tasks conveniently. Since then, its list of capabilities has grown remarkably. Here are a few of its top functionalities:

 

  1. Taking Voice Commands

Using the prompt “Hey Google” or “OK Google”, you can issue a wide range of voice commands to Google Assistant. It can help you carry out voice searches, control devices in your smart home, check appointments and send messages.

What makes it superior to most other voice assistants is its conversational manner. Once you initiate a conversation, you don’t have to keep repeating the trigger phrase. Additionally, it can tell apart voices, recognizing the person talking and tailoring the response accordingly. Another highlight is that it can handle multiple requests simultaneously.

Read also: How to Change Google Home's Name (Wake Word) and Voice - Everything You Need to Know 

 

  1. Interpretation Features

At the beginning of 2019, Assistant incorporate​​​​​​d what it refers to as Interpreter Mode. Using this feature, it can help you converse in dozens of different languages. The feature works with both audio and smart display devices.

To start Interpreter Mode, say “Hey Google, be​​ my French interpreter.” With that command, you get real-time written translation on your display as well as a spoken version on audio.

 

Assistant also works with Google Maps on both Android and iOlink2_sublink1S devices to streamline your travel experience. Using only your voice, it can allow you to add new stops, search for specific places along the route, play music, reply to text messages and share your ETA with family and friends. Text messaging works both on SMS and multiple messaging apps like Whatsapp, Viber and Telegram, among others. To start Google Maps on your device, say “Hey Google, take me home.”

Other cool features that you can enjoy with Assistant include:

  • Controlling musicHow to Set Up Google Assistant
  • Accessing information from the calendar on your device
  • Running timers and reminders
  • Reading your notifications to you
  • Controlling your smart home and devices in the ecosystem

 

How Does Google Assistant Work

Google Assistant essentially interacts with compatible devices and holds conversations with you to carry out a wide array of tasks. It taps into the vast resources available in Google’s online search results that span the entire web, a clear advantage over most of its competitors. Every time you search, it extends its scale of comprehension and gets smarter with more frequent use.

 

Devices that Work with Google Assistant

Below is our short guide for devices you can get started with, or read our full guide to compatible devices


As mentioned earlier, getting the most from your Assistant involves
creating an ecosystem of compatible devices. These range from smart speakers and thermostats to lighting systems and so much more. They fall into three broad categories:

 

  1. Devices that Natively Host Google Assistant

Google Home

Google Home is the original smart speaker that first introduced Assistant to the smart home. It comes in a stylish design, bearing a close semblance to an air freshener. The sound quality is above average, and it is super easy to set up. This and all other speakers on the Home range have a touch interface on the top. To adjust volume, you move your fingers in a circular motion while tapping the interface will play or pause.

​​

Google Home Mini

For a homeowner looking to dip their toe into the smart home hype, Home Mini is a great choice. With a budget-friendly price, it is small and stylish, and will easily blend into any home décor.

Google Home Mini
Photo by John Tekeridis from Pexels

 

Google Home Max

If you are into premium sound quality, Home Max would be perfect. It is the costliest of the three Google Home speakers but has the most superior audio output quality. According to Google, it has 20 times the power of Google Home.

Google Home Max

 

Google Nest Hub and Nest Hub Max

As the latest addition to the Home range of devices, Google Nest Hub (previously Google Home Hub) was the first to introduce a display. Combining a touch interface and Assistant, it allows you to tap and swipe your way around the ecosystem. It also has a feature known as Home View which provides access to all devices in the network for easy control. While some users think that its lack of a camera is a weakness, the whole point is to make it privacy-centric.

 

  1. Third-Party Compatible Devices:

Smart Displays

Google took a while to launch the Home Hub, but it allowed third parties free rein to make compatible displays work with Assistant. Lenovo and JBL are among the most popular ones in the range with more on the way from LG and Sony.

 

Lenovo Smart DisplaySporting modern styling and an optional bamboo finish, this display has got it right in the looks department. Comparable to Google Home with a screen, the device can give you weather updates, turn the lights on and set reminders. But it can also show movies and TV shows, place Google Duo calls and offer screen-based recipes.

 

JBL Link View – In terms of functionality, this display can handle virtually the same tasks as the Lenovo. However, it sets itself apart in terms of design and sound quality. Two ten-   watt speakers grace the front, working together with a passive radiator in the back to enhance its bass.

 

 Android and iOS Smartphones

Google Assistant is available on a majority of smartphones in the market today. It facilitates a seamless hands-free experience, allowing you to find photos, play songs, text people on your contact list, ask for contact information and navigate using Maps. Notably, you can use Assistant in a wide variety of languages.

 

Wear OS Devices

Formerly known as Android Wear, Wear OS is Google’s operating system for smartwatches and all wearable devices. On the Wear OS smartwatch, Assistant provides details that are relevant to your context. It also includes all the things Google can see happening on your email and calendar. The main highlight is that it provides this information without you asking and keeps learning about you with time.

 

Lenovo Smart Clock

The Lenovo Smart Clock is an all-inclusive gadget that brings Google Assistant functionality to your bedside. In spite of its small build, it doubles up as an alarm clock and smart speaker. Use it to charge devices, set a sleeping routine that puts all devices in silent mode and plays music.

Lenovo Smart Clock in bedroomThough this might pay off in the long term, at present, Cortana is significantly limited in home automation capabilities due to low device compatibility. Google Assistant

 

Sonos Speakers

Use Sonos One or Sonos Beam to enjoy Google Assistant functionality in your smart home. It does all of the tasks you expect from a smart speaker. Additionally, you can request it to play music without specifying a room.

Sonos Beam sound Bar under TV

 

Nest Hello Doorbell

Anytime someone rings the bell; Nest Hello lets you view the person and decide whether or not to let them in. Access this feature from the Smart Display, smartphone or even the TV.

 

Philips Hue

Get voice control over your home lighting system using Google Assistant on Philips Hue bulbs. Not only do you get to switch lights on and off, but you can also dim them, change colors for ambient lighting and use preset scenes to match the mood.

Philips Hue used for gaming

 

Android TV

Android TVs naturally integrate Assistant, and in the recent past, top manufacturers like LG and Samsung have also announced their intention to offer support. If your TV has it built-in, the remote control will have a microphone button. To speak to the TV, press the mic button – you don’t even need the wake word.

Assistant automates movie and TV show searches, volume and power control and internet search queries on weather and traffic conditions. Linking the TV to the Google Home app will add to its versatility, letting you control other smart gadgets conveniently.

Android TV User Interface

 

How to Set Up Google Assistant

The very first step to getting started with Google Assistant is setting up your Google Home speaker. Download the app from Playstore and install it on your device. After the installation process, it would be great to familiarise yourself with the menu. Slide your finger from the left side to the right side of the screen to access the menu.

When that is done, you can now set up Google Home in a few simple steps. Connect the speaker to a power source, and the app should detect the new gadget. Follow on-screen instructions to get the device on the internet and connect it to your Google account.

One of the first things you need to do once everything is up and running is to teach Assistant your voice. This is an important step as it enables the virtual assistant to recognise you and tailor its responses to your preferences. Getting Voice Match right is a crucial step if you don’t live alone. But even if you do, the provision will protect you from having guests pry on personal information. You can add as many members as necessary to Voice Match to extend the benefits of the feature to other residents.

The features on your app basically fall into two categories: smart home controls and AI butler. Under the AI butler, you can ask Assistant any question you think of and seek help to complete tasks.

 

  1. Adding Skills

As soon as you complete the setup process, your Assistant is ready to handle all basic, pre-programmed commands. However, you have the opportunity to extend its functionality by adding skills.

Assistant does not natively support these extra services, but Google Home does. Therefore, when you ask for a new service, don’t get startled if you hear a different voice. Home will automatically connect you to the bot that handles that particular task.

 

  1. Wake Words

At the present time, Google Assistant only responds to two wake words, “Hey Google” and “OK Google.” Even though you can change your device name under settings, the new name will not replace these wake words. Interestingly though, you can get your Assistant to call you any name you want. If you have always felt like royalty, you might want to get started with “Your Royal Highness.”

Read also: How to Change Google Home's Name (Wake Word) and Voice - Everything You Need to Know


Tips and Tricks for Controlling Your Smart Home with Assistant

In addition to the functions highlighted above, Google Assistant has tons of other tricks up its sleeve. It is always evolving with new integrations and features being constantly added. So once you are done asking about the weather, asking it to play your favourite songs and setting timers, here are a few more tips to help you make the most of it:

 

  1. Google Duplex

In what might be one of the most exciting developments in the Google ecosystem, Duplex might soon start making natural sounding calls on your behalf. First announced at Google I/O 2018, the project uses an AI-driven voice to make appointments over the phone without requiring your intervention. It is currently available in 43 US states and gradually expanding to cover other regions. At present, though, it is only available to Google Pixel smartphone users but will soon be available on more Android and iOS devices as well.

 

  1. Automating Everything in Your Smart Home with Google Home

One way to fully leverage Assistant’s potential is through what is known as “applet creation service”, commonly identified with the acronym IFTTT (If This, Then That). Once you have downloaded the app, you can create simple commands using this service to automate almost any process.

For example, you could set it up to respond to your first “Hey Google” in the morning by initiating a series of routine actions. It could, for instance, start up your morning coffee, adjust the thermostat and readout a traffic update for your journey to work.  

 

  1. Hands-Free Shopping with Google Home and Assistant

Assistant works together with Google’s shopping platform, Google Express, to automate shopping. The service allows you to choose from dozens of stores, calculating your total expenses (including tax and shipping) and then confirming your order.

Read also: Voice Shopping with Google Home & Assistant - All Your Questions Answered

 

  1. Custom Morning Report

Get the complete itinerary for any given day using the universal command “Tell me about my day.” The best part about this command is that you can customise it to offer the precise kind of information you require. You can thus get traffic updates, weather conditions, reminders on Google calendar and flight statuses, among other details.

 

  1. Voice Control for Chromecast

For Chromecast users, you might want to rename it and make it less of a mouthful. Ensure that both the Chromecast and Google Home are on the same network and control them from your app. Note that you might need to link the services available on the app for ease of use.

 

  1. Pairing Google Home with Bluetooth Speakers

This feature lets you connect smart speakers and Bluetooth speakers to create multi-room audio. Once everything is connected, you can either control individual speakers in the group or all of them at once using voice control.

 

  1. Changing Assistant’s Voice

If you don’t particularly like the default voice of Google Assistant, you can switch things up. Presently, there are eight voice options to pick from. Keep things interesting by changing accents too, from default settings to British or Australian.

Read also: How to Change Google Home's Name (Wake Word) and Voice - Everything You Need to Know  

 

  1. Privacy Matters

Smart speakers elicit privacy concerns for the contemporary homeowner. Keep in mind that Google Home is always listening, waiting for the wake word to respond to. Thus, when using it, it is important to weigh the privacy risks and determine whether to always have it on. Anytime you need some privacy, all you need to do is press the mute button at the back of the speaker.

Additionally, Assistant remembers everything you have ever said. This means that if a malicious attacker were to hack into your device, they might leak sensitive data. Some users, therefore, choose to delete select information from the system to avert such risks.

Read also: The Ultimate Guide to Using Your Google Home and Assistant – All the Cool Tips and Tricks We Could Think Of

 

Google Assistant Competitors:

 

Google Assistant vs. Amazon’s Alexa

Amazon’s virtual assistant, Alexa, is now a household name, by virtue of early arrival on the scene. While the two have lots in common, Alexa supports a broader range of devices, offering more extensive smart home integration.

However, Google assistant is giving her a run for her money in more ways than one. Assistant is more natural than Alexa in her ability to understand context. Moreover, Google has far superior search abilities.

When all is said and done, Alexa is still in the lead when it comes to numbers, being connected to the top retailer globally. But the battle is far from over as both are constantly churning out new features and improving their offering. Only time will tell who will emerge victoriously.

Read also: The Ultimate Beginner's Guide to Getting Started with Amazon Echo and Alexa    

Read also: The Ultimate Guide to Amazon Echo and Alexa Compatible Devices 


Google Assistant vs. Apple HomeKit (Siri)

Apple HomeKit, powered by virtual assistant Siri, is accessible on Apple devices as well as on HomePod. HomeKit offers one key advantage over Google Assistant. It’s the ability to control your smart home over the Home App as well as via Siri. Furthermore, it offers smart home ecosystem automation via iPhone GPS. This means that when you leave your house, it can automatically switch off lights and turn on the alarm.

However, given the walled gardens within which Apple devices and ecosystems operate, the range of compatible devices for HomeKit is limited. On this count, Google Assistant prevails as it has a comprehensive selection of devices to complete your smart home ecosystem.

Read also: The Ultimate Beginner's Guide to Getting Started with Apple HomePod and Siri 

 

Google Assistant vs. Microsoft’s Cortana

Another contender in the AI assistant race is Microsoft virtual assistant Cortana. Cortana is a standard feature on Windows 8 and 10 PCs. You can also download it on Android and iOS devices. Just like Google Assistant, Cortana can take control of your smart home using the Harman Kardon Invoke smart speaker system. With this third-party speaker, you can access some of the functions available on Google Home. Cortana also has the advantage of being able to control work-related functions on PCs with Microsoft operating systems.

The main distinguishing aspect between Cortana and Google Assistant is that the former focuses more on enterprise application rather than home use. Though this might pay off in the long term, at present, Cortana is significantly limited in home automation capabilities due to low device compatibility. Google Assistant, on the other hand, has a vast array of compatible devices for the smart home. For now, Google Assistant is miles ahead of Cortana.

Read also: The Ultimate Beginner's Guide to Getting Started with Cortana and Harmon Kardon Invoke

 

If you would like more reading on this subject see the following guides from around the web:

From Google: Set up your Google Home speaker or Google Nest display

From Google: Set up Google Home

From makeuseof: The Total Beginner’s Guide to Using Google Home Like a Pro

From digitaltrends: Google Home setup: How to get your Google Home, Home Mini, or Hub up and running

Buy book on Amazon: The Google Home Guide: Easy Instructions to Master Your Google Assistant from Beginner to Expert! The Unofficial Manual.

 

Comments

user
Fonzie
I'm still in two minds as to whether I should get Google Home or Echo... in the long term I think Google Home will be a better bet because of it's searchability.
user
bono
Yeh, I agree! Google will always have better searchability, access to location based data for things like directions, and will eventually catchup with Amazon for shopping as it will work with retailers like Tesco, Walmart, etc to deliver their goods. Also, I have a 10-year-old and I don’t think Alexa has a feature to block explicit content. But Google Home can’t do things like sent text messages or ring an emergency line.