15 essential Google Assistant commands you'll find yourself using every day

No matter if you're using a Google Home smart speaker, a display-equipped Google Home Hub, or just an Android smartphone, Google Assistant will make your smart home smarter.

Credit: Martyn Williams/IDG

Google Assistant is everywhere, ranging from the Android smartphone in your pocket to the smart speakers and smart displays ensconced in your kitchen or living room. And that means you can control all your smart home devices without so much as turning your head.

All you need to say is “Hey Google!” What do you say after that? Well, almost anything, but here are 15 essential commands you should commit to memory.

Get a weather report

One of the simplest commands is probably also one of the most useful. As you’re getting ready to head out the door, say “Hey, Google. What’s the weather like?” You’ll get a succinct explanation of the current conditions and the forecasted conditions for later in the day.

Read the news

Google Assistant news sources Michael Brown / IDG

You can choose from a diverse collection of resources for your news updates.

Want to know what’s going on in the world? Just ask Google Home to “read the news.” You can use the Google Home app on your smartphone to control which news sources Google uses, too. Open the Google Home app, click the Account icon at the bottom right, click Settings (under General Settings), and then Services (from row immediately below your account name). Tap News in this list and then tap “Add news sources,” which will present you with a list. Place a check next to each of the services you’d like to subscribe to, and then click the left-pointing arrow at the top of the screen. When you return to the News screen, you can arrange the order in which your news sources will report.

If you want news about a specific topic, you can say something like “Hey, Google. What’s the latest tech news?” Google Assistant will play an audio report on compatible smart speakers, or display a video on a smart display. You’ll also get a series of links to other news stories in the Google Home app (you can find them by clicking on the compass icon at the bottom of the app).

Set a reminder

Google Home was famously unable to set reminders at launch, but Google eventually solved that issue. You can now tell Google to remind you to do something. Just say “Hey Google, remind me to [take out the garbage… mow the lawn… clean the gutters…” or whatever you need reminding about). If you don’t specify when you need to be reminded, Google Assistant will ask “When do you want to be reminded?” If you don’t state a specific time, it will ask for that information as well. You can set repeating reminders, too; for example, “Remind me to take the garbage can to the curb every Monday at 6 p.m..” The reminder will appear on your phone, but Google Home smart speakers will also light up to let you know there’s a pending reminder. Just say “Hey Google, what’s up?” to get details.

Set a timer or alarm

google home music choices Michael Brown / IDG

Google Assistant can wake you up to music from your favorite artists.

Need a better alarm clock? That’s Google Home. Tell Assistant to “Set an alarm for [time],” and you’re done. You can also set a recurring alarm by saying “Set an alarm for every [Monday, weekday, Saturday…] at [time, a.m. or p.m.].” If you’re a Google Play Music subscriber, you can set an alarm that wakes you up with music, instead of a general alarm tone. Just say “Set [artist name] alarm for [time, a.m. or p.m.).”

Google also offers a limited number of “character” alarms (the list is short, you can choose from characters in the Lego or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles universes). Just say “Set a character alarm for [time, a.m. or p.m.]” and Google Assistant will ask which character you’d like to hear from.

When the alarm goes off, you can tell Google to stop the alarm or to snooze it for however long you want. The alarm will sound for 10 minutes if you don’t end it earlier. Since smart speakers don’t have battery backups, it might be a good idea to plug the one you’re using as an alarm clock into an uninterruptible power supply, in case there’s a power outage.

To set a simple countdown timer, just say “set a timer for [seconds, minutes, or hours].”

Remember things

This command is slightly different from a reminder, as it’s not necessarily related to a time or date. Your squishy human brain is fallible, but Google Home can remember things for you, and it never forgets—unless you ask it to. Just ask your Google Home to “Remember [X]” and it will tuck that factoid away. For example, you can say “remember my spare car key is in the kitchen junk drawer.” Accessing this info is easy, just ask Google Assistant what you told it to remember. If you’ve asked it to remember several things over time, you can be more specific with your query: “Where is my spare car key?” for example.

Math without a calculator

Sure, there’s a calculator on your phone, but you don’t even need to touch it to get the answer to a vexing numerical query. Just ask Google to perform a calculation or conversion, and it’ll reply instantly—much faster than your fingers can type out the query.

Flip a coin

Just can’t make a decision? You don’t need pocket change to let lady luck decide. Tell Google to “flip a coin,” and you’ll get the result immediately. There’s even a coin-flipping sound to complete the illusion (sorry, there’s no animation on Google-powered smart displays).

Create a calendar appointment

Making a calendar appointment can be tedious, but Google Home can handle all the work for you. Simply tell Assistant you want it to “Create a calendar appointment” or something similar. Google Home will ask for the title, date, and time before adding the item to your calendar. Be sure you set up voice matching if you share a Google Home with other users in your household.

Play music

You can tell Google Home to play a specific artist or song, but you don’t need to get that specific. You can ask Google to play different genres or something vague like “relaxing music.” Make sure you’ve connected a music service in the Home app (Spotify, Pandora, or YouTube Music, for example) to get the best results. To do this, follow the same steps in the Google Home app that you used to select news services, but click Music to link to your service provider of choice.

Place a call (or a video call)

lenovo smart display video call Lenovo

A Google Home speaker that has both a screen and a camera, such as the Lenovo Smart Display shown here, allows you to make video phone calls.

Google Home devices let you place a call, and you don’t even need to have your phone around. If you’ve allowed Home to access your account, you can merely say “Call [contact].” You can also read off a number for Assistant to call. It’s like a speakerphone call, but with better audio. You will want to use the Home app to configure the number that appears on caller ID, though (you can provide your own smartphone number, or you can leave it labeled as “unlisted.”)

You can also make video calls to and from display-equipped Google Home devices, such as Lenovo’s Smart Displays or the JBL Link View (the Google Home Hub famously does not have an onboard camera). Just say “Make a video call to [name of smart display]” or “Make a video call to [phone number].” The person you’re calling will need to have Google Duo (available for both Android and iOS) installed on their smartphone (or smart display, as the case may be).

Track a flight

We’ve all been there: you need to pick someone up from the airport, but you don’t know if their flight is on time. Just ask Google Home “What’s the status of [airline, flight number]?”

Get a translation

The Google Translate app is ideal if you need a lot of translations, but if you just need a word or phrase, ask Google Home: “How do you say [hello, thank you, goodnight…] in [French, Japanese, Mandarin…]?” You’ll have your answer immediately.

Listen to relaxing sounds

The world can be noisy, and sometimes it’s easier to cover up the noise than to eliminate it. If you need to drown out the world, ask Google Home to play white noise. You can also ask for other ambient sounds, including rain, thunderstorms, and more. Be careful how you phrase your request, though. If you say “play a thunderstorm,” Google Assistant might misinterpret your request and start playing music. A better command would be “play the sound of a thunderstorm.”

Tell me about my day

Google Home can be useful from the moment you wake up in the morning. Just say “Tell me about my day,” and Google Assistant will do just that. You’ll hear the time, weather forecast, upcoming calendar events, reminders, and the top news stories. It really ties everything together—provided, of course, that you rely on Google Calendar to manage your schedule.

Play a game

That’s enough getting things done—sometimes you just want to have some fun, and Google Home can be a amusing diversion. You can jump right into a multi-choice trivia game by saying “I’m feeling lucky.” You can play that alone or with friends. If you say “play a game,” Google Home gives you a variety of options, including Crystal Ball (like a magic 8-ball) and mad libs.

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Ryan Whitwam

TechHive (US)
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