Google Home: 9 simple things it still can't do, but Alexa can

Commentary: It might surprise you what your Google Home can't yet do. Here's what we wish it had, and some ways you might be able to work around some of the drawbacks.

Dale Smith Former Associate Writer
Dale Smith is a former Associate Writer on the How-To team at CNET.
Dale Smith
6 min read

The Google Nest Mini replaced the Google Home Mini last year and muddied the waters of Google's branding even further (see no. 4).

James Martin/CNET

Since the original the original Google Home smart speaker first debuted, many have felt the search giant's foray into the smart home has been stuck playing catch-up with Amazon's Alexa assistant and Echo speakers. But that view has shifted considerably in recent years, as Google has added a slew of long-awaited features -- some of which Alexa already had, some it still doesn't. Not to mention, Google now sells some of the most breathtakingly vivid smart displays (the Nest Hub and Nest Hub Max) and surprisingly full-spectrum mini speakers (the Nest Mini) available.

In other words, Google Home is no longer just a smart home contender but a bona fide market leader, and -- for the most part -- we're fans. So think of this as more of a wish list of features we're hoping to eventually see than a laundry list of pet peevesgripes and complaints about the Google Home ecosystem, (though we have some of those, too).

No platform is flawless, but Google Home (or Google Nest) could edge just a little closer to perfection if it would address these nine little bugbears. (Plus, a few ways to work around some of the pitfalls.)


Google knows where you are anyway, so why not let you trigger Google Home actions based on your location?

Angela Lang/CNET

1. Google Home still can't trigger an action based on your location

If only there were some magical way to make your gadgets do your bidding without having to actually say anything. Well, there is, and it's why Amazon's Alexa excels at automation in a way Google Home still falls short: Alexa supports location triggers. In other words, Amazon's digital assistant tracks your GPS location and can fire off actions (control smart home gadgets, play music, welcome you home) based on where you are.

For now, if you want Google Home to turn on the lights when you get home (or off when you leave) or perform any other action based on your location, you have to tell it to with a voice command. What's even more vexing is that the Google Nest Learning Thermostat has a home/away mode that uses -- you guessed it -- location triggers to turn your heat or air conditioning up or down. 

Plus, Google already knows where you are all the time anyway, so why not add this simple feature? For now, the best you can do is cobble together a location-based action using If This, Then That, aka IFTTT.

2. You shouldn't have to shout!

If you have multiple Google Home smart speakers and you set an alarm or timer on one of them, the only way to turn it off with a voice command is by talking to the speaker you set it on. Sure, there are a few workarounds (including shouting at it), but Alexa knows when another speaker connected to the same account is sounding off, so why doesn't Google Home?


Apple's HomePod can stream music directly from Apple Music, but so far Google Home still can't.

James Martin/CNET

3. Get over the rivalry with Apple, already

We get it -- Apple and Google are grudging frenemies at best, but it's time to open up more. You can use any number of music streaming services on Google Home devices, and even set some non-Google options like Spotify to be your default. 

But the only way to pipe Apple Music to your Google Home smart speakers is by playing it on a compatible device, then connecting to Google Home with Bluetooth . That's so 2010. If you can stream Apple Music on a Samsung TV these days, you should be able to do it with Google Home, too. For people like me who use Apple and Google products and services, being barred from my tools is an unnecessary pain.

4. Google Home? Nest? Fix the naming, please

Let's do a roll-call: There's the Google Home Max, the Nest Mini, Nest Hub and Nest Hub Max. Then there's the discontinued original Google Home speaker (fret not, it appears a replacement is on the way -- under the Nest banner), the original Google Home Mini (replaced by the upgraded Nest Mini) and Google Hub (rebranded Nest Hub).

Confused? So are we.

It makes sense that Google would want to fold its Nest line of smart thermostats, security cameras and other smart home devices into its Google Home platform (or vice versa). But doing so one device at a time has fractured the lineup's branding and mixes up the naming. For example, "Nest Home" isn't a thing, but "Google Nest" is.


If you whisper to Alexa on Amazon Echo, it'll whisper back to you. We only wish Google Assistant could do the same on Google Home.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

5. Pssst! Google Home can't whisper

Yes, Google Home has a night mode that will reduce the speaker's volume during scheduled times of the day, but that's literally all it does -- knocks it down a couple of notches. Do you know what Alexa can do? If you whisper a command to Alexa, Alexa literally whispers back. Not only does that make Alexa seem more, well, human, a whisper is leagues less jarring when kids or a partner are sleeping or you're just trying to enjoy some quiet time.

6. Hey, Google, can we call you something else?

Apple has Siri and Amazon has Alexa. Microsoft -- Cortana. Even Samsung has Bixby. But Google? Google just has... Google. We get it -- you can't make just any old word a wake word. Digital assistants accidentally dip into conversations not intended for them often enough as it is, whenever you say something close enough, like "Hey, Boo Boo," "OK, Frugal" and even "OK, Boomer."

Actually, you can use Google Home's slightly less-than-perfect ear to trick it into answering those alternatives and more ("Cocaine Poodle" anyone?), but it would be nice if Google at least offered options. Once again, Alexa can. Beyond just its name, Alexa can answer to "Computer," "Amazon" or "Echo." OK, Google?


Amazon Echos have an audio out port, but Google Home can only connect to an external speaker system using Bluetooth.

Ry Crist/CNET

7. Where's the audio jack?

Amazon Echoes have physical stereo outputs ports, which let you wire them to a bigger, better, louder stereo system. The only way to connect Google Home to other speakers is with Bluetooth, which just isn't quite as high quality of a signal. But why would anyone want to connect a speaker to another speaker?

First off, as far as smart speaker technology has come, Google Homes (and Amazon Echoes and Apple HomePods ) -- even ultra-premium devices like the Google Home Max -- really can't compete with high-end gear, like CNET's best bookshelf speaker for 2020, the Elac Debut 2.0 B6.2. Besides, why wouldn't you want to put Google Assistant on a killer Bose system?

8. Google Assistant should house-sit for you

With a smart speaker, someone's always home. Sorta. So, if Google Assistant is going to lounge around the house all day anyway, it might as well keep an eye (err, ear) on things, too, right? Last year Amazon launched Alexa Guard, which listens for suspicious activity -- like a window breaking -- when you're not home. It might not be as robust as a dedicated security system, but it's still better than just sitting there while burglars empty out your jewelry box.


The new Google Messages app lets Android devices send iMessage-like text messages to other Android users, but Google Home still can't even send a basic SMS.

Jason Cipriani/CNET

9. You still can't send text messages with Google Home

Seriously? You can connect your phone (even if it's an iPhone!) and make calls from Google Home, so why no text messaging? Alexa can handle SMS whether your phone is an iPhone or Android. And Apple's HomePod can send your SMS or iMessages if you use an iPhone. Google just recently introduced Google Messages (think iMessage for Android), so why they didn't add the app to Google Home is a mystery. Hopefully Google gets this message, though, (and we don't get left on read) sooner rather than later.

In spite of these shortcomings, however, Google Home does get more than just a few things right. Check out these five things Google Home can do that Alexa and Siri can't. And here's another five things Google Home does better than the competition. To really tweak your Google Home for the best experience, you have to try changing these five settings -- you won't regret it.