Google Assistant: Tips for talking to Pixel, Google Home and Allo

Google's new digital assistant can keep up a conversation and remember personal details to make your every wish its new command. Here are five commands worth trying out.

Vanessa Hand Orellana CNET Senior Editor
As head of wearables at CNET, Vanessa reviews and writes about the latest smartwatches and fitness trackers. She joined the team seven years ago as an on-camera reporter for CNET's Spanish-language site and then moved on to the English side to host and produce some of CNET's videos and YouTube series. When she's not testing out smartwatches or dropping phones, you can catch her on a hike or trail run with her family.
Jason Cipriani
Jason Cipriani
Jason Cipriani Contributing Writer, ZDNet
Jason Cipriani is based out of beautiful Colorado and has been covering mobile technology news and reviewing the latest gadgets for the last six years. His work can also be found on sister site CNET in the How To section, as well as across several more online publications.
Vanessa Hand Orellana
Jason Cipriani
4 min read
Watch this: Start chatting with Google Assistant

Google Assistant (which replaced Google Now) is like Siri, but a lot more helpful, carrying full-fledged conversations and taking notes about your likes and dislikes. It taps into Google's huge database of apps (like calendars, email and so on) as well as restaurant reviews, weather, travel, maps and a whole lot more.

The voice assistant is baked into Google Pixel, the Google Home (the Alexa competitor) and the Allo app (on iPhone and Android). Here are some tips to get you started.

1. Start with a "Good morning"

Google Assistant is deeply integrated with your Google account, including Google calendar. A simple "good morning" at the start of your day will give you all the information you need to start off on the right foot.

Google Assistant will give you a quick weather update, read your list of appointments or events for the day, alert you of any pending reminders and even go through the day's news by automatically playing relevant podcasts from a variety of news outlets you can customize.

And it's not just stuck in the present, you can ask to see gate information about your next flight or find out if you missed your last gym class.

2. Set your news preferences

You can ask Google Assistant for news updates with phrases like "Tell me the news." But to really take advantage of the feature, you need to set up your news preferences in the Assistant's settings.

With Assistant open, tap on the three-dot icon in the corner. Select Settings > News > Customize. Select from a wide-ranging list of news podcasts, including NRP, WSJ, Fox News and CBS.

When you ask Google Assistant for the news, it will begin playing your selected podcasts in the order listed under the News section. Right now, it may not be all that useful considering it's playing through your phone's speaker, but when the Google Home launches you can use it to listen to your news without extra setup.

3. Tailor your daily updates

While in the Google Assistant settings page, tap on My Day. Here you can indicate what information you want Google Assistant to include when you say "Tell me about my day."

You can include your weather forecast, work commute, next meeting and any pending reminders. You can also opt to have the daily briefing end by playing news podcasts or by closing out the app.

4. Ask a follow-up question

When we asked the Assistant asked about the Cubs game, it answered with the correct time and date. It could also answer the follow-up question "When was the last time they made it to the World Series" accurately without us having to repeat the name of the team.

Instead of listing off web results, the Assistant read off the information from the Wikipedia entry out loud and kept it on screen. Ask a third related question and it will still know what you're talking about.

5. Let Google Assistant be your guide

Like previous digital assistants, this one is capable of locating you on a map. But unlike its predecessors, it's also aware of your surroundings.

If you happen to be near a certain pointy skyscraper in San Francisco and can't remember its name, just ask. Google Assistant can correctly identify the Transamerica Pyramid based on your location.

Ask for directions home from your location, and it will default to driving directions, but follow up with "walking" if you're traveling on foot and it knows exactly how to guide you.

6. Take a photo with your voice

Google Assistant isn't the first assistant to be able to launch the camera on a phone, but now it actually does the work for you so your finger never has to touch the shutter.

Say "take a photo" or "take a selfie" to launch the camera with an automatic three second countdown.

7. Ask for a joke

The best friendships always start with a joke. So, ask Google Assistant to tell you a joke. Granted, you're likely to hear some of the worst Dad jokes ever, but they're still good for a laugh. Just say "Tell me a joke." Laugh. Repeat.

8. Tell it about yourself

Start teaching Google Assistant what kind of food you like and don't like. Tell it your dog's or spouse's name (not necessarily in that order). Tell it where you live and work. Tell it your secrets, if you want.

The more it gets to know you, the smarter it gets, and the better it gets at fulfilling your every need. Google Assistant remembers everything you share with it, so invest the time in getting her up to speed on personal details you want it to know.

If you say "my favorite color is purple" for example, it will take note. And next time you ask to see pictures of flowers in your favorite color, it will actually know what you're talking about.

9. Yo Google! I'm bored.

What good would any sort of assistant be if it couldn't entertain you when you are bored? Try saying "OK Google, I'm bored" then tap on one of the different options it presents you with.

Selecting Games will give you the option to take quizzes, play Google Doodle games or pass the time with classic games like tic-tac-toe.

You can also ask for funny videos, random facts and memes if you're into that sort of thing.

10. Don't try this on Home

Google Assistant's powers are not equal across all devices and favors Pixel phones over all. In Allo it's limited to in-app commands and even within Google's own Home it has certain limitations.

Some of the things the Home can't tackle yet include:

  • Creating lists other than a shopping list
  • Making changes to your shopping list
  • Adding entries to your calendar
  • Integrating multiple calendars
  • Giving you directions
  • Sending directions to your phone
  • Setting reminders
  • Interacting with email

Editor's note: This story was updated at 4:29 p.m. PT to note the features that do not work with Home.