Looking to buy one of the new Google Home smart speakers or Chromecast? Or do you want to make the most of one you already own? Here’s a list of the best hidden Google Home features, along with some Google Home tips, for these little smart home products.
Google Home tips and tricks
Find your phone
Having previously relied on IFTTT add-ons, Google recently introduced native compatibility to find your phone with its latest Home software update. One of the Google Home tips can make your phone ring when you’ve left it under a cushion or in the other room, even when it’s on silent.
To make sure the feature works, you’ll need to be on the same Google account on both your phone and Home hub. Google should be able to call your phone if it’s connected to a mobile network or Wi-Fi. It’s not compulsory, but enabling your location setting supports the Lock & Erase feature as part of Google’s Find My Phone. You can also view all your visible devices under android.com/find.
Remember where you left things
As well as finding your phone, one of the Google Home features can also work as a handy reminder for those all important, yet easily forgotten items dotted around your home, like your passport or house keys. For example, say something along the lines of “Okay, Google, my passport is in the filing cabinet” and it will remember when you later ask, “Hey, Google, where’s my passport?”
Share your smart home
Exchanging Wi-Fi passwords with guests is a chore at the best of times, and setting up a friend on your smart home is even more laborious, especially if they just want to cast a new song for you to check out. One of the Google Home features makes this process simpler with its “Guest Mode.”
Enabling this Google Home feature in its settings allows other people with the Home app to quickly connect to your home’s devices by bursting an inaudible four-digit PIN to your guest’s smartphone. Simple.
Learn your family by voice
Many of Google Home’s most useful features, such as managing your calendar or getting traffic advice for your route to work, are tied to your unique Google account. Fortunately you can add multiple accounts to your Google Home, which allows your assistant to recognize commands from each individual family member by voice alone. This way it’s possible for each family member to add new items to their own calendar or receive tailored news reports in the morning.
Want to test if Google is paying attention? Ask “Who am I?” or “What’s my name?” and hopefully your home assistant will be able to tell everyone apart.
Get word definitions
Ever taken a pause to ponder a word or phrase while reading a book or article? One of the Google Home features can help with that too. Simply ask “What does ‘pontificate’ mean?” and you’ll see what I’m getting at.
If you’re looking to expand your vocabulary further, Google can help you out with a word of the day too.
Bored? One of the Google Home tips can give you something to do to whittle away a few minutes, thanks to a selection of games. 20 Questions is a classic guessing game and with third-party app integration you can have a go with “Okay, Google, let me talk to Akinator.” Think of a celebrity, answer Akinator’s questions with yes or no, and within just a few rounds it will guess who you were thinking of.
Google Home has a host of other voice-activated games and entertainment, from fast-paced trivia to a geography quiz, or even a selection of curated Dad jokes. To see them all, explore the Games & Fun section in the Google Home app.
Quick Phrases / Shortcuts
Some Google Home features include some handy shortcuts for some of your most commonly uttered phrases. If you’re fed up with asking for your favourite radio station or playlist when relaxing after work, you can simply setup an “Okay, Google, chill” shortcut to handle it for you. These fully customizable options are tucked away under Settings > More Settings > Shortcuts in the Home app.
Google has recently expanded this list of quick phrases to trigger multiple pieces of information with just a single phrase. So for example, saying “good morning” can give you weather, traffic to work, and news headlines. Integration with other devices, such as home lighting or thermostats, is expected in the near future too, so that users can set up more complex routines.
Oh, did you know you don’t have to say “Okay, Google”? A casual “Hey, Google” does the trick too. Another of the Google Home tips you can try.
Control your Chromecast
Expanding your smart home beyond a single Google Home hub opens up a world of possibilities. The first add-on you should consider is a Chromecast, freeing your TV to stream pretty much anything from the internet.
Using nothing but voice commands, it’s possible to start up a video of your choice from YouTube or Netflix streaming services. The same applies to Spotify, Google Play Music, TuneIn, and other music sites. You can also search for something less specific, such as a recipe video guide, and Google will send a video result straight to your Chromecast. Google Home also supports pause, skip, and volume controls via voice, so you won’t need to reach for your phone or remote.
Chromecast tips and tricks
Stream local content, too
Google’s Chromecast is all about internet streaming, so beaming local content to your TV has been left as a bit of an afterthought. Using Chrome to stream your PC desktop or your phone’s Cast screen / audio option is a less than ideal workaround, but fortunately Android apps like Plex, AllCast, and LocalCast can help organize your home media collection for beaming straight to your TV.
If you’re a Plex user, install the Plex Media Server on your PC or wherever you keep the bulk of your video library, and you’ll be able cast your library using your phone. AllCast and LocalCast open up similar functionality for media on your phone, DLNA/UPnP media servers, and even files saved on cloud storage platforms DropBox and Drive. You don’t have to be limited to YouTube and other video apps.
Keep using your TV remote
Being able to play, pause, and adjust the volume of your casted content from your phone is pretty handy, but it’s not always the best solution if your phone needs to charge or even if it’s just in the other room. Fortunately Chromecast supports regular TV remote controls for pause/play, etc. You just need a TV that is compatible with HDMI-CEC (Consumer Electronics Control), and have the Routing Control Pass Through turned on in the TVs settings.
The added benefit of enabling HDMI-CEC Routing Control is that the TV will be forced to switch over to the Chromecast input as soon as you start playing content. So no more scrolling through HDMI input channels.
Some TV manufacturers call HDMI-CEC different names. Here’s a quick list for some of the most popular brands: Samsung calls it Anynet+; Sharp calls it Aquos Link; Phillips calls it EasyLink; LG calls it SimpLink; and Sony calls it BRAVIA Link.
Play games, even motion controlled ones
You don’t just have to stream music and video to your Chromecast, games are perfectly viable too. In fact, there are games designed specifically for the Chromecast available to download from the Play Store, so it’s not just a case of casting your Android display onto the big screen. You can see another list of supported partners here.
If you’re up for something a little more experimental, you should try out Super Sync Sports, which is played via motion controls from your phone. Add the game to Chrome, cast the webpage from your laptop to your TV, and start playing on the big screen with up to 4 players.
Show off your vacation photos
Chromecast already displays some pretty nice-looking wallpapers when it’s not casting your favourite shows, but you’re also free to customize the images and information displayed on big screen. Hop into the Home app and then into the Backdrop settings for your Chromecast, and you can select images from a variety of sources, including Google Photos, Facebook, and Flickr.
Paired up with Google Home, you can also ask to display photos from a specific location, month, or person straight to your TV. If you’re a Google Photos users, you’ll find your images automatically sorted into various categories thanks to the service’s intelligence algorithms. This is a handy way to show off your latest vacation snaps.
Enable Guest Mode
Just like for Google Home, you don’t have to mess around with Wi-Fi codes to allow your guests to cast content to your Chromecast. Head into the Home app and your Chromecast’s settings. From here you can enable Guest Mode, which uses a guest’s Location settings and audio pairing to quickly connect if they’re within 25 feet of the device.
More Google Home coverage
Have your own Google Home or Chromecast tips or did we miss any Google Home features? Drop us a line in the comments below.