Google Assistant is Google’s voice assistant, which grew out of Google Now, and is available on a range of recent Android devices and now the iPhone. You can use Google Assistant to trigger apps and devices, ask all kinds of questions, make plans, and carry out a variety of useful tasks. If you’re new to the voice assistant, it may be difficult to figure out just how it works. Lucky for you, we can help! If you’re currently wondering, “what is Google Assistant anyway?” or “how can I use all this stuff with OK Google?” then read on to get started.
How to launch Google Assistant
Begin by activating and setting up your Google Assistant on your Android device. It’s a good idea to do this in a quiet place when you have a few minutes of extra time.
Start by unlocking your screen and giving the Home button a lengthy, several-second press (if your device is listening, you can also just say “OK Google”). This should bring up a new window that says, “Meet your personal Google Assistant,” or something similar. If you’ve already set up your Assistant, the window will take you to the Assistant menu instead.
First-time users will need to press Continue and give Google Assistant access to their email and apps. Afterward, you will be taken through a short voice configuration process that has you say, “OK, Google” a few times. Once done, Assistant should be ready to go!
Keep in mind that Google Assistant is unique to each Google account. If your phone is shared among more than one Google Account, make sure you’re using your account before continuing. You can change accounts at any time by pressing the Home button until the Assistant menu appears, choosing Settings, and heading to Accounts.
Learn how to ask questions
With “OK, Google” as your activation phrase (watch Google’s video for more info), it’s time to try out some basic voice commands. Google Assistant uses a message screen for text answers and links, and voice features for answering questions out loud — you can type questions too, if you prefer. Google gives you a few ideas about what to try out, and if you have experience with voice assistants, then you know the sort of questions that it can answer. This includes basic questions like:
- What is the weather like today?
- How far is it to Seattle?
- What’s the latest business news?
- What are the latest sports scores today?
- How old are you?
You get the idea. Google Assistant is particularly good at followup questions and picking up context. You can ask, “Who sang Born in the USA?” and then follow it up with, “What year did he release it?” and Google will know you are still talking about Bruce Springsteen. Wording doesn’t usually have to be precise, so don’t worry about talking casually. For more details on what the virtual assistant can do, check out our roundup of some of the best Google Assistant commands.
See how Google Assistant connects to your apps
Asking general questions is fun, but the Assistant really becomes useful when you explore the ways that it connects to the apps and services on your Android device. Assistant integrates well with a variety of services, allowing you to accomplish many tasks with voice commands, such as:
- Ask the Assistant to “Set a reminder” for a specific day and time.
- “Show photos” of specific geo-tagged places or people.
- “Show emails” about specific topics, trips, meetings, social posts, or anything else that may be stored in your Gmail.
- Ask “What is planned for tomorrow?” or “What’s going on today” to bring up your calendar events.
- Connect a variety of smart home devices.
- Play music from services or storage.
- Ask a variety of map/direction-based questions.
- Open a specific app.
- Create shortcuts for more complex tasks.
Customize briefings and news
Google Assistant offers you a “My Day” briefing on demand, which basically amounts to a verbal news and event report. You can — and probably should — customize this briefing. Press the Home button until the Assistant window opens, and select the menu icon in the upper-right corner. From here, go to Settings and select My Day.
On the My Day screen, you’ll see a number of options you can check, uncheck, and customize. These include weather reports, commute updates, reminders pertaining to calendar events, and more. Anything that is checked will be included in your report, so only check the things you really want to hear about at the start of the day.
Now, just say “Tell me about my day” and your customized briefing will begin.
Personalize your Assistant in Settings
The Settings menu allows you to personalize a number of other Assistant features. A couple things you can do include:
Change how the voice behaves
In the Voice menu that you can access from Assistant Settings, you can turn speech off, allow speech to work offline, allow the Assistant to recognize “offensive” words, switch to Bluetooth headset compatibility, and more.
Change the news sources Google uses
From the Settings menu, choose News and then Customize. This gives you a list of popular news sites that Google will report from when you ask to, “Listen to news.” Keep in mind that Assistant will provide news from all the sources you select, so you don’t want to choose repeats. Choose your favorite news and sports sources from the list, and add in specialized reports (technology, stocks, etc.) as needed.
Change what Assistant calls you
In Settings, go to Personal Info. You can change your Nickname here to whatever you prefer Assistant to call you. You can even customize the pronunciation!
Watch for new partners
Voice assistant compatibility is a fast-evolving market. Google has recently added compatibility with speakers, appliances, and a variety of smart home devices — with a lot more partnerships on the way (not to mention the Alexa-like Google Home). It’s worth noting any new partnerships to see if Assistant’s compatibility expands into new areas that interest you.