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Google Home: Try these other mobile apps to unleash its full power

The Google Home app is a great starting point, but if you want to get the most out of your smart speakers, you'll need to download more apps.

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Google Home only requires one app, but several others can come in handy as well.

James Martin/CNET

If you dig around in the Google Home ecosystem for long enough, you'll discover the Google Home app alone doesn't handle everything you want to do with your smart speakers. Tons of great features require you to download even more Google apps, like Google Assistant and even Gmail, but there's nothing in the Google Home app to let you know about those apps.

To make matters more confusing, there are some apps you might think you need but either you actually don't or you do, just not for the reasons you think. Rest assured; I'm going to sort it all out for you.

I'll show you which app you absolutely need, which ones aren't critical but definitely worth having and, finally, which one you can leave on the app store shelf (unless, of course, you need it for a different reason than setting up your smart speakers).

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If you want to set up a morning routine, you'll want to use the Google Home app to do it.

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The Google Home app does almost, but not quite, everything

Everyone needs to download the Google Home app to set up their Google-branded smart speakers, so it's by far the most ubiquitous of these apps. The Google Home app is the one you'll use the vast majority of the time when you need to accomplish something you can't easily handle with voice commands. For example, you need the app to create custom commands or routinesorganize your smart home into rooms or create speaker groups for playing music across your whole house.

It's also incredibly useful as a centralized place to see the status of all your smart home devices at any given time. Want to check to see if you've left any lights on at home? Rather than opening a bunch of apps for all the various smart bulbs or Wi-Fi outlets you have, you can open the Google Home app to get a snapshot of your entire smart home (and control it all with touch).

The Google Assistant app: Not required, but quite useful

Even though you have the Google Home app on your phone, to fully bridge the gap between your smart speakers and your mobile device, you're going to want to also install the Google Assistant app. Without it, for example, you won't get notifications on your phone for reminders you set up on Google Home. You also won't be able to tell Google Home to send information to your phone without the Google Assistant app -- stuff like answers to random questions, a store's operating hours or even driving directions.

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Google Home is the name of the device, but it's Google Assistant you're talking to when you say, "Hey, Google."

James Martin/CNET

Most important, though, you need the Google Assistant app to see which third-party apps (called "Actions") you've enabled, which is an important step in tightening up your privacy and security (check out our fuller guide to Google Home privacy and security here).

Gmail app can help iPhone users tighten Google Home security

If you really, really want to clamp down on security and privacy with your Google Home setup, you'll want to enable two-factor authentication, aka "2FA." That means anytime you (or someone who is not you) tries to log in to your Google Home account, you'll have to allow it via a push notification (our full step-by step guide on how to set up two-factor authentication is here).

If you've got an Android device, 2FA for Google Home is baked into the operating system. But if you've got an iPhone (like me), you'll need to download the Gmail app, which generates the notification when someone (hopefully you) tries to log into your Google Home account. Why Gmail and not some other app like Google Assistant? Your guess is as good as mine.

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Download the Nest app to setup and control Nest devices other than smart speakers, but for speakers use the Google Home app.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Nest app is useless for speakers but great for other Nest gadgets

One common mistake for people just now getting into the Google Home ecosystem is to download the Nest mobile app when trying to set up their new speakers. The confusion arises, of course, from Google's slow rebranding of Google Home as Google Nest. Last year Google rebranded the Google Home Hub as the Nest Hub ($50 at Best Buy), as well as the updated Google Home Mini ($19 at Best Buy) as the new Nest Mini ($19 at Best Buy). Then, this year, Google discontinued the original Google Home speaker and replaced it with a new option called Nest Audio ($100 at Sam's Club). The Nest app, however, won't help you set up any of those Nest devices, nor do you need it for Nest Wifi. You'll need only the Google Home app for all of the above.

You will, however, need the Nest app if you have a Nest Learning Thermostat ($248 at Amazon), Nest Protect ($119 at Amazon) smoke detector, Nest Secure ($407 at HP) Alarm, Nest x Yale lock or Nest security cameras, including the Nest Hello ($218 at HP) Doorbell.

One Nest feature that finally got brought over to the Google Home app: Home and Away location-based routines. That, and Google Home's broadcast feature that lets you pipe messages across your whole house, plus my recent discovery of Google Home's hidden "brief mode," all add up to making Google Home a formidable adversary in the ongoing smart speaker wars.