What Is Google Assistant?
Google Assistant is artificial intelligence at your fingertips. But sometimes, it can be tough to know what to ask an omniscient robot to do. I’m here to help.
Assistant is Google’s voice assistant. At launch, it was an extension of Google Now – designed to be personal – while expanding on Google’s existing “OK Google” voice controls. Originally, Google Now smartly pulled out relevant information for you: it knew where you worked, your meetings and travel plans, the sports teams you liked, and what interested you so that it could present you with personal information that mattered.
Google has long killed Google Now, but Assistant very much lives in the same space, fusing these personalized elements with a wide-range of voice control. Google Assistant supports both text or voice entry and is happy to follow the conversation whichever entry method you’re using.
What Can Google Assistant Do?
The “OK Google” or “Hey, Google” side covers voice commands, voice searching, and voice-activated device control. It lets you do things like send messages, check appointments and so on on your Android device, just like Apple’s Siri on an iPhone or iPad. But reaching far beyond that, with a bot-centric AI experience, designed to give you conversational interactions.
1. Make It Read the News to You
This is a great feature that you probably aren’t aware of — Google Assistant actually reads out news related to topics of your liking, from sources of your preference. And these are actual people reading the news, not some speech-to-text conversion.
To enable this:
- First you need to open the Google App, swipe open the left menu, then go to Settings.
- Under Google Assistant, click Settings >> News.
- Here, you can add news sources (currently only available in English) like CNN, BBC, Reuters, WSJ, Bloomberg, TIME, etc. There are also a bunch of publications with spoken coverage of tech news, business, sports, health, science, politics, etc.
Once you’ve set this up, just say “Play the news” to Google Assistant (which you can invoke by a press and hold of the home button). Now, all those sources you chose will start playing one by one. You can also control playback by saying “Next” to jump to the next publication, or “Pause” or “Stop” to perform those actions.
You can also play news from a single source by saying the name of the new source directly. For instance, try saying “BBC Minute” or “CNN News Briefing” to Google Assistant.
Create new calendar events on the fly by telling Assistant “add to my calendar” followed by the event’s name, date and time.
Peek at your agenda for any day by asking Assistant variations on these questions:
- “When’s my next appointment?”
- “Show me my appointments for Tuesday afternoon.”
- “What does my day look like on Friday?”
- “What’s on my calendar for next Monday?”
- “What/when/where is my next event?”
- “What’s my first event tomorrow?”
- “When’s my next haircut appointment?”
Apple folks, you aren’t forgotten here, either: You can link Assistant to your iPhone’s calendar by setting up Google’s IFTTT applet for integrating Apple Calendar with Google Home and then using the command “Add to my iOS calendar” followed by the event’s title, date, and time.
3. Check Flight Schedules and Other Things
If you’ve used Google at all, you’ve probably come across Knowledge Graph at some point, those little cards that contain the answer to your search query.
For example, you’ll see a card that says “1st June 1937” when you ask, “When was Morgan Freeman born?” Assistant is also conversational, meaning if you ask, “What was his first movie?”, it knows you’re talking about Morgan Freeman.
And Google Assistant, just like Google Now before it, reads those cards out to you for a hands-free experience. So you can ask things like, “Where is UA 48 right now?” to know the flight status of that United Airlines plane. Of course, you can ask about anything you’d generally ask Google and have relevant information read out to you.
4. Identify Things
Google Lens is a nifty little feature that can identify objects and it’s built into Google Assistant. Just tap the camera icon in the bottom right and you can use your phone’s camera to pick out objects for Google to identify. It did a serviceable job of working out the games in my board game collection, although when confronted by Kolejka could only ask ‘is this art?’
5. Translate Sentences
With the help of Google Translate, Assistant can speak entire sentences you ask it to translate from one language to another. For example, say, “How do I say thank you in Hindi?” or, “How do I say hello in Spanish?” to have translated sentences to appear on the screen as well as heard through your phone speaker.
6. Check Sports Results
Sports results are available on Google which means it’s easy to find out how your team did on the weekend. That is, unless you’re a poor sod like me and support the Brisbane Lions in which case you have a 50/50 chance of getting results for the Detroit Lions instead. You can ask when your team will play next and Google will tell you the time, location and opponent too.
7. Play Music and Video
You can play music via streaming services like Google’s own Play Music and even YouTube videos. It’s a bit weird that you can’t configure third-party apps like Spotify and Pandora (as you can on the Google Home). There just doesn’t seem to be a way to change the defaults on Android phones for now.
Nonetheless, saying, “Play Daft Punk,” will start playing the music, whereas saying, “Play Daft Punk on YouTube,” will start playing the video. Assistant will also control music playback for you: “Turn the volume up” or “Play the previous track”. You get the idea.
8. Toggle Settings
Apart from controlling music, there are other toggles that you can control by asking Assistant. Say, “Turn the flashlight on,” or, “Turn the Bluetooth off,” and see it happen. The What Can I Do section in the settings also suggests things like taking a selfie. But when I told Assistant to “take a selfie” on my phone, it just opened the camera app — so your mileage may vary.
9. Get Traffic Information
Google Assistant can get you out of a jam, literally. Other than navigating you somewhere by voice, you can also check traffic information from your location. To do that, ask, “Time to madison square?” or whichever relevant place you want to check before starting the drive.
10. Reminders and the Shopping List
You probably know you can ask digital assistants to “remind you of something” at a particular time. But did you know that you can use location reminders to be reminded of things as you arrive at a particular place? Just try saying, “Remind me to spend quality time with my family when I reach home,” to Google Assistant, and provided you’ve set your home location, it’ll push the reminder whenever you’re there. You can set your home and work locations by going to Settings in the Google app, thenSettings under Google Assistant, and then Personal Info at the bottom.
Beyond this, you can also make Google Assistant remember things that have no time or location triggers. For example, say, “Remember that the house keys are with my wife” or “Remember that the gas turns off if you turn the knob to the right”. Now, you can just ask, “What did I say about the gas?” or “Where are my keys?” and Assistant will show you the relevant answers.
Lastly, for the times you need to add things to your shopping list, just say “Add X to my shopping list”.
Saying this will either add that item to the Shopping List in the Google Keep app, or in more recent updates, store it in the Google Home app. To quickly bring up your shopping list, say, “What’s on my shopping list”. Unfortunately, you can’t delete items off the list just yet.
Which devices offer Google Assistant?
Google Assistant launched on the Google Pixel smartphones and Google Home, before expanding to just about all modern Android devices. It’s available on Wear OS devices, Android TV, and Nvidia Shield, plus Android Auto.
Google Assistant is native to Google Home smart speakers. But it’s also widely available on other smart speakers from third-party manufacturers; devices like Philips Hue can be controlled by Google Assistant and not just through Google Home, but wherever you happen to interact with Assistant. Assistant is truly everywhere at this point, walking a path that’s very similar to Amazon’s Alexa.
How do I know if my phone has Google Assistant?
To check if your phone has Google Assistant, say “OK Google” or press-and-hold the home button. That’s the starting point for Assistant, after which you can type or speak and have Assistant respond. Usually, during the set-up of an Android, you’ll be prompted to configure Assistant.
How Do You Use Google Assistant?
If you’ve read up until here, you’re probably as excited to use your Android phone via voice as I am. You should remember that with time, Google should add more functionality to its Assistant software, especially now that a lot more people have access to it.