Google Home was late to the smart home soiree, but lately it's become the life of the party.
In the battle for smart home supremacy, the Google Home has long been viewed as an underdog. After all, Apple's rival HomePod devices are slick, Siri-powered gadgets chock-full of Apple-style innovations. And with nearly 70% market share, Amazon's Echo devices with Alexa are wildly popular, consistently outselling all other smart speaker brands combined, and connect to just about every other smart gadget on the planet. For a while, the Google Home ecosystem was caught somewhere between, until a deluge of updates over the last few months started moving the dial.
When it comes to digital assistants, I use them all. Every day I trust Siri to handle my iPhone and Apple TV duties with aplomb, but up until recently, Alexa and Google Assistant were splitting smart home duties pretty evenly in my house. Now, about the only thing I still use an Amazon Echo for is to play music through far better speakers connected to Alexa's audio port -- a physical connection no Google Home or Nest speaker has ever sported.
Yes, the Google Home and Google Assistant have come that far in that short a time. But don't just take my word for it. Try out my top five favorite Google Home tips and tricks that'll leave you wondering if the smart home race is even a contest anymore.
One thing I still can't get over is how awkward it is to summon Google Assistant. "Hey, Google" and "OK, Google" just don't roll off the tongue as gracefully as "Alexa" or even, "Hey, Siri." Thankfully, Google's platform makes up for its clunky trigger phrase by eliminating it altogether when you're canceling the incessant ringing of a timer or alarm.
That's right -- the next time an alarm, timer or other such reminder is going off on your Google Home, you're wasting your breath if you shout, "Hey, Google." Just holler, "Stop!" and the Google Home will obey. (You don't have to shout the word stop, especially if you have Google Assistant's wake-word sensitivity cranked up on your speaker, but it's certainly more fun if you do.) If you set kitchen timers or other reminders throughout the day as often as I do, you'll never set an alarm with another digital assistant again.
Now, if only the Google Home would make it easier to silence an alarm in a different room like you can easily do with Alexa...
I night-eat. A lot. In a zombielike state between the waking world and sleep, I'm lucky if I remember to shut the cereal box or put the milk back in the fridge, much less turn off the kitchen lights when I head back to bed. Or sometimes I'll realize I forgot to program my coffee maker just as I'm fading into dreamland, and I'll lament that there's no way for me to program it using just my voice.
Enter the Google Home with the most amazing solution to a problem I never even realized could be solved -- scheduled tasks. Google Assistant can now schedule tasks for the future, so you give the command when it occurs to you, not just hope you'll remember when the time comes. Check out our guide to getting the most out of this Google Home scheduled tasks here, but the gist of it is to simply tell the Google Home when you want it to do a particular action, like this:
Try this with Siri and it'll tell you it can't schedule commands. Alexa will immediately do what you ask instead of waiting. Be forewarned -- this feature gets addictive, and fast.
Speaking of scheduling things, for the type-A personalities out there... Every smart home assistant worth its digital salt has a way to create custom commands, usually called routines. But Google recently introduced two behemoth scheduling tools that can fine-tune your agenda in ways Alexa and Siri can't come close to imitating.
Workday is designed to help you stay on task individually during your work hours: It'll remind you to stand and stretch, take your afternoon coffee break or start wrapping things up toward the end of your day. Family Bell is geared more toward organizing your whole squad and alerting your family when it's time to, say, spend the next hour on arts and crafts, or meet up in the kitchen for lunch. We give step-by-step instructions for routine templates here (scroll to the second subsection in that linked article for the specifics).
If smart speakers were judged on nothing but their apps, the Google Home would easily crush the competition. Its app interface is the simplest, the most intuitive to use and, let's face it, the prettiest to look at of the lot. And it helps you handle one of the most common smart home tasks with ease.
I'm talking about multiroom media controls. To get started, open the Google Home app and tap the Media button. From there it's pretty self-explanatory, but you can refer to our in-depth multiroom music tutorial here for tips and tricks to try the next time you want to create custom speaker groups in real time. Siri and Alexa both let you play through various sets of speakers scattered throughout your house, but neither offer controls this easy to master.
One of the most beloved Alexa features is the platform's chatter-reducing "brief mode"' that enables Amazon Echo devices to respond to certain commands with just a chime (instead of repeating the command verbatim back to you). But even this popular setting is far from perfect. For one thing, it's an all-or-nothing proposition. Either Alexa dings to confirm, or she chats your ear off, with no real option in between. (Siri doesn't have a comparable feature, so it has to sit out this round.)
The Google Home has its own sort of brief mode, if you do some behind-the-scenes tweaking. That can be a little hairy at first but is well worth the effort.
Basically, a Google Home will acknowledge commands with a chime so long as: 1) the device you talk to is grouped in the same room as the device or devices you want to control and 2) those other devices are identified as lights in the Google Home app. What that means is that you'll have to fib a little if you want a Google Home to silently control, say, a space heater, or anything else that isn't a light, by identifying it as a "light" in the Google Home app.
I promise, it's not as complicated as it sounds. We have more thorough instructions over here, and once you get past the initial hurdle of setting it up correctly, it's smooth sailing from then on. And of course if all you want to control are lights, simply set up rooms as you normally would and the Google Home will take care of the rest.
If Google keeps adding features throughout 2021 like the Zoom calls, new home and away modes and compatibility with rival music services it added in 2020, perhaps a year from now asking whether the Google Home is an underdog or a category winner will be as unnecessary as shouting, "Hey, Google" before hollering, "Stop!"