Google Assistant was announced at Google’s I/O developer conference back in 2016, and made its official debut on the Pixel phones in October of the same year. It’s available on all handsets running Android 5.0+ with at least 1GB of RAM, or Android 6.0+ and at least 1.5GB of RAM. Supported phones also have to have Google Play services installed and sport a minimum of a 720p display.
Assistant will only work if you have the device’s language set to a language it supports. These include English, Spanish, German, French, Italian, Portuguese, Japanese, Chinese, Dutch, Russian, and many others in smartphones and tablets. Although Google Assistant doesn’t support as many languages as the competition, the list is growing steadily. The only issue is not all Google Assistant devices support all languages. You can learn more about language support here.
The basics of Google Assistant are easy to understand, but there’s a lot more beneath the surface you may not be aware of. This post covers most of it — from explaining what is Assistant and how to use it to the devices it powers and commands it understands. So whether you’re brand new to Google Assistant or have some knowledge about it, you should learn a few things in this post. Let’s dive in.
Google Assistant guide:
Editor’s note: All instructions in this guide were made using a Pixel 4a running Android 11. Keep in mind that things may be a bit different, depending on your hardware and software.
What is Google Assistant?
Google Assistant is Google’s virtual helper. It allows you to get stuff done faster. You can use voice commands instead of performing tasks manually by tapping your finger on the screen a gazillion times.
Google Assistant is smart and very well integrated with Android. It can open apps, send messages, make calls, play a specific song, check the weather, control smart devices, set timers, grab general information, set alarms, and many other things.
How to set up and use Google Assistant
To use Google Assistant on your Android smartphone, you first have to enable it. Don’t worry — the process is so simple even your grandma can do it, and it won’t take more than a minute or two of your time.
Step-by-step instructions on how to enable Assistant:
- Launch the Google app.
- Tap on the account image button in the top-right corner of the screen.
- Select Settings.
- Head to Google Assistant.
- Tap on General.
- Enable the Google Assistant toggle.
Now that Assistant is turned on, it’s time to take it for a spin. You can do that by either saying “OK, Google” or “Hey, Google,” and then stating your command. An example of this would be, “OK, Google. Play a funny cat video on YouTube.”
Keep in mind some phones have to be unlocked for this to work. If the screen is turned off when you say a command, Google Assistant will hear it but may ask you to unlock the phone before it can perform the requested task. It’s an annoying feature that’s there for safety reasons.
There are a few alternative methods of summoning Google Assistant. The main one is to press and hold the home button on your device and wait for Assistant to pop up. If you’re using gestures on Android 10+ and/or don’t have a home button, you’ll have to swipe up and towards the middle from the bottom left or right corner. Some phones from brands like Nokia and LG also come with a dedicated Google Assistant button. Or you can access it from the dedicated button on the search bar.
Keep in mind you can also write to the Assistant instead of speaking to it. This comes in handy when you’re in public and don’t want people to think you’re crazy for giving your phone demands. To try this out, summon Assistant, tap the keyboard icon, and type in your request.
There are two types of Google Assistant devices you must know about. One has Google Assistant built-in, while the other only works with Assistant. That means they don’t have Assistant built-in but can be controlled with voice commands via smartphones, smart displays, and other devices. We’ll take a closer look at the two options below.
Devices with Google Assistant built-in
Smartphones and tablets: Google Assistant is on board all newer phones and tablets, as well as loads of older ones running at least Android 5.0. There are a few other requirements in this case, which you can check out in the intro of this post.
Smart speakers/displays: Getting either a smart speaker or a smart display is one of the first steps to take if you want to set up a smart home. A smart speaker can play the music you wish to, will answer any questions you may have, and can be used to control other smart devices in your home. A smart display basically does the same thing and allows you to watch videos on YouTube, make calls via Google Duo, and see who is at the front door when the device is connected to a smart doorbell or security camera. You can check out the best smart displays if you’re interested in getting one.
Chromebooks: Assistant is available on most Chromebooks — but you often have to turn it on first. You can get the job done by opening the Settings, selecting Google Assistant under Search and Assistant, Selecting Google Assistant, and toggling the feature on. Once that’s done, you can summon it with a hotword and then state your demands. If you’re in the market for a new Chromebook, we have a list of the best ones to spend your money on here.
TVs and streaming devices: Google Assistant runs natively on Google TV and Android TV boxes like the Nvidia Shield TV and Xiaomi Mi Box S. It’s also available from the Chromecast with Google TV. All you have to do is press the dedicated Assistant button on the remote and say a command.
Devices that work with Google Assistant
Smart security cameras: While some cameras have Google Assistant built-in — like the Nest Cam IQ — most of them work best paired with smartphones or smart display devices. That way, you can see what’s going on in your backyard, or the kitchen. Those interested can check out the best security cameras you can get.
Lamps and light bulbs: If you’re starting to set up your smart home, getting a lamp or a few light bulbs that work with Assistant is a smart and affordable move. You’ll be able to turn the lights on/off with voice commands, even when you’re on the road. You could also opt for a smart plug, which allows you to turn any dumb lamp into a halfway smart one.
Headphones: Several headphones work with Assistant, including the latest Google Pixel Buds A-Series and Sony’s popular WH-1000XM4. You can summon Assistant with a tap/press of a button and tell it to skip a song, turn up the volume, and more. Check out the best Google Assistant headphones.
Smartwatches: Smartwatches running Google’s Wear OS work with Google Assistant. It comes in handy for checking the weather, tracking a run, or setting a reminder, among many other things. Smartwatches aren’t as popular as some expected them to become, but they still have a loyal following — check out the best models here.
These are just some of the more popular devices that have Assistant built-in or work with it. There are many others, including smart plugs, thermostats, and garage door openers, to name a few. Check out our favorites in the link below.
The best commands by category
Now that you have your devices set up, it’s time to issue some helpful voice commands. Most commands apply regardless of the hardware you’re talking to, but there are some exceptions, such as attempting to watch a Netflix video on a speaker!
You can find a full breakdown of the ever-growing list of commands over at Google’s official directory, but we’ve covered some of the most useful ones below.
- “Good morning” — This command is a catch-all for your morning routine. Assistant can give you a weather report, details on your route to work, and recite the latest news bulletins.
- “Wake me up at …” — Assistant can fill in as your alarm clock.
- “Open …” — Open up any app on your phone just by saying its name.
- “Set a reminder for …” — Add reminders to your calendar, complete with time and place, so you’ll never miss a date again.
- “Set a timer for …” — Slow cooking a chicken or baking some muffins? The Assistant’s timer setting is beneficial for nailing those recipe timings.
- “Turn on Bluetooth” — Toggle Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, your phone’s flashlight, and pretty much every other hardware option without reaching for a settings menu.
- “Add … to my shopping list” — Google can store online shopping lists for you, and when paired up with Assistant, you can quickly add and remove items via voice.
- “Play classical music” — Instead of playing music by song, artist, or album, picking a genre can be a great way to discover new music.
- “Play … radio” — You don’t have to stream from a service like Spotify. Assistant can also play online radio stations.
- “Skip song” — As well as play, pause, and stop, you can skip along.
- “What’s playing?” — Assistant can give you artist and song info for anything currently streaming.
- “Turn it up” — Volume can be adjusted up and down at 10% increments, or set to a specific level.
Pictures and video
- “Show my pictures of …” — If you use Google Photos, Assistant can pick out pictures of people, places, and dates on request.
- “Play … on TV” — Link up your streaming accounts on your smart TV or Chromecast, and Assistant can play shows directly onto your TV.
- “Stream … from Youtube” — Catch up with your favorite YouTube shows.
- “Turn on subtitles” — Quickly toggle subtitles on or off and even pick your desired language without reaching for the remote — the same works for dubbing too.
Tips, tricks & fun
- “Find my phone” — We’ve all misplaced our phone, but if you’ve connected your smart speaker to your Google account, ask it to find your phone and, given your handset has a data connection, it will ring.
- Check movie times — Assistant is quite good at finding localized results, so asking “what time is [movie] showing” will display local cinema results. In fact, you can check the open times and details for many local businesses listed with Google.
- Asking further questions — This is a little more hit and miss, but Assistant can often understand follow-up questions. Sticking with the previous example, you might ask “what’s playing at [cinema]” followed by “what time are they showing [movie],” and Assistant will remember that you’re talking about the same cinema.
- “Beatbox!” — Does what it says. Enjoy.
- Tune an instrument — Ask for a specific note, and Assistant can provide. Handy for tuning guitars and other instruments.
- “Tell me a joke” — A library of groaners that are sure to lighten anyone’s mood.
- “Recite a poem” — Assistant has a selection of classic poems ready to help you unwind.
- “Do you like Star Trek, or Star Wars?” – Be prepared for a range of confusing crossover answers sure to delight and infuriate fans in equal measure.
We’ll let you discover the rest on your own:
- “Do a barrel roll.”
- “What’s the loneliest number?.”
- “Make me a sandwich.”
- “When am I?”
- “Beam me up, Scotty.”
- “How can entropy be reversed?”
- “Tell me a joke.”
- “Up up down down left right left right B A start.”
- “Who’s on first?”
- “I am your father.”
- “Set phasers to kill.”
- “Did you fart?”
- “It’s my birthday.”
- “It’s not my birthday.”
- “Who let the dogs out?”
- “Do you want to build a snowman?”
- “How many roads must a man walk down?”
- “Who is the real Slim Shady?”
- “Who ya gonna call?”
- “Where in the world is Carmen Sandiego?”
- “Where’s Waldo?”
- “Party on, Wayne.”
Google Assistant actions
Google Assistant is powered by actions, which are the little conversations you have with Assistant to get anything done. While Google provides many actions out of the box, additional commands for interacting with third-party hardware and software can be added to Assistant via Assistant apps.
Users can discover third-party apps for the Assistant via the Actions app directory on the web and mobile devices. The guide is designed to allow users to find new apps and learn how to use them. It includes products ranging from trivia applications to fitness and TV tools designed to work with external hardware.
Here are a few examples of third-party actions for Google Assistant:
- “Send an email to Ana” — Gmail
- “Send a WhatsApp message” — WhatsApp
- “Show me easy recipes” — Recipes by Course
- “Play Billie Eilish on Spotify” — Spotify
There’s a budding ecosystem of third-party tools and applications, with over one million actions available. Developers can build their Assistant Apps and actions using either Dialogflow or the Actions SDK. Dialogflow is a “conversational platform” that offers easy-to-use IDE, machine learning, and other tools while wrapping the functionality of the Actions SDK.
Google Assistant routines
Google Assistant routines allow you to trigger multiple actions with a single phrase. For example, you can get the weather report, turn on Bluetooth, and launch the Netflix app by saying “Netflix time” to Google Assistant.
In addition to making your own, there are six ready-made routines available, all of which you can customize to your liking. One of them is called the good morning routine. When you say, “Good morning,” or “Tell me about my day,” Assistant can:
- Turn off silent mode.
- Adjust lights, plugs, the thermostat, and other smart devices (if you have any).
- Tell you about the weather.
- Inform you about your commute.
- Tell you about your today’s calendar events.
- Give you today’s reminders.
- Adjust media volume.
- Play music, news, radio, a podcast, or an audiobook.
We have a dedicated post on this topic. Check it out to learn about the other five routines or how you can set your own.
Smart home tips
One of Google Assistant’s most powerful features is its ability to act as your connected smart home hub. Assistant can be used to control a wide range of devices, starting with your Chromecast or TV through to something as seemingly humdrum as a light bulb. All of these devices can be configured and controlled through the Google Home app.
Google Assistant is compatible with over 50,000 smart home products from over 5,500 brands. A directory listing all supported platforms is available here. Product categories include:
- Lighting, plugs, outlets, and other electrical gear.
- Washers, dryers, refrigerators, vacuums, air conditioners, and other home appliances.
- Cameras, locks, and security systems.
- Speakers, internet radios, and other audio equipment.
You’ll want to connect your devices first. Each device will guide you through the necessary setup; then you can simply link it to your Google Home app. To add new devices to your smart home, head into the Google Home app, tap the plus icon in the top left corner, followed by Set up device. Then follow the setup instructions.
If you didn’t do so during setup, you’d gain greater flexibility over your smart home by making use of Google Assistant’s Nickname and Room assignments. This will allow you to refer to specific devices or rooms when issuing voice commands to better direct your requests. To add, edit, and delete names and rooms, head into The Google Home app, select the device you want to edit, tap on the gear icon, select Device information, and tap on each section to make changes.
Assigning your lights to a room that you label the bedroom means that you can say, “Hey Google, turn off the bedroom lights.” Similarly, you can set your home up so that “OK Google, play music on my living room speaker” works, even if you’re talking to a different smart speaker or your phone in the kitchen.
If you plan on setting up a smart home, getting a smart speaker or a display is a must. The reason why is that controlling smart products via your phone is not that great. You often have to unlock your phone before Assistant performs the requested action. This kills the entire smart home charm. There’s no limitation like this with a smart speaker or display.
The smart speaker will act as your hub to control every smart device in your home, including light bulbs, blinds, and others. You can check out a few of the most popular Google Assistant smart home commands below so you’ll get an idea of how useful they may be to you.
- “Turn on [light name]” or “Turn off [light name]” — Turn a light on or off.
- “Dim the [light name]” or “Brighten the [light name]” — Dim or brighten a light.
- “Set [light name] to 50%” — Set a light brightness to a certain percentage.
- “Turn on all of the lights” or “Turn off all of the lights” — Turn on or off all lights.
- “Dim/brighten [light name] by 50%” — Dim or brighten lights by a certain percentage.
- “Turn [light name] green]” — Change the color of light.
- “Turn on lights in [room name]” or “Turn off lights in [room name]” — Turn on or off all lights in a room.
- “Make it warmer/cooler,” “Raise/lower the temperature,” “Raise/lower the temperature two degrees,” or “Set the temperature to 72 degrees” — Adjust the temperature.
- “Turn on heat/cooling,” “Set the thermostat to cooling/heating,” or “Turn the thermostat to heat-cool mode” — Switch to heating or cooling modes.
- “Set the heat to 68,” “Set the air conditioning to 70,” or “Set [room name] thermostat to 72” — Set the mode and temperature.
- “Turn off thermostat” — Turn the thermostat off.
- “What’s the temperature inside?” — Check the ambient temperature on the thermostat.
“Turn on cooling/heating,” “Turn on heat/cool,” “Set the heat to 68,” “Set the air conditioning to 70,” etc. — Turn the thermostat back on.
- “Hey Google, what’s the thermostat set to?” — Check the thermostat temperature.
Google Assistant vs. Alexa
At a glance, Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa are very similar. Both allow users to use simple voice commands. There’s plenty of crossover between the types of typical actions (or skills, as Amazon calls them) that can be issued, ranging from weather forecasts to streaming music.
In terms of design, the latest generation speakers are starting to look different. Amazon has chosen a spherical design for its newer Echo and Echo Dot devices. Meanwhile, Google’s Nest Audio is taller and narrower, while the Nest Mini is round and flat like a hockey puck.
Like Google, Amazon is also positioning Alexa as an option for third-party speakers and smart display manufacturers. Alexa already has a large hardware ecosystem encompassing speakers, TVs, vehicle infotainment systems, and even smart mirrors and bathtubs. Google is actually playing catch up in product portfolio size and partner support, but the company is closing the gap.
However, there are some significant differences between how the two ecosystems operate and the type of functionality they’re trying to offer. Most notably, Google can run on smartphones and the home, while Alexa is mainly tied to smart home products. Assistant is primarily designed to be used on a handset, keeping track of your calendar, route to work, and other little bits of information. You can download Alexa on your phone from the Play Store, but the experience isn’t all that great.
The best way to think about the differences is that Alexa is prominently a smart home hub and interacts with other services. On the other hand, Google Assistant is much closer to a PA, keeping track of the little details you might need throughout your day. Although the lines blur once you start using Assistant in smart home products, there are still more similarities than differences between what the two can do.
Oh! And if you care about price, Amazon wins in this department. While total MSRP prices are very similar, Amazon devices are often found at a discount, and for very low prices. For example, it’s common to find an Amazon Echo Dot for $25-$35, while a Google Nest Mini rarely goes on special, and when it does, it’s not discounted by much.