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Smart Home

9 surprising things Google Home can't yet do

The Google Home is a pretty well-rounded smart speaker, but there's a bunch of simple things it can't do.

Taylor Martin/CNET

While the Google Home smart speaker can hold its own in many rights, when compared to the Echo, Echo Dot or Amazon Tap, it understandably falls short. The brains of Amazon's speakers, the virtual assistant Alexa, has been learning and developing for more than two years now, while Google's version, Assistant, is still quite new.

If Google ever wants to compete squarely with Amazon's smart speaker, it will have to add new features. Here are 10 things the Google Home could add that would catch it up.

Editors' note: Originally published Nov. 24, 2016, this is regularly updated to include new information and remove features from the list that have been added to Google Home's capabilities. Since launch, Google has added shopping with Google Homesending Netflix shows to Chromecast using your voice, Logitech Harmony supportmulti-user support, voice calling, remindersBluetooth, sleep timer, sending directions to your phone, the ability to string two commands together and music alarms.

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Track packages

Despite the new ability to shop with the Google Home or the fact that Google Now has had the ability to cherry-pick tracking numbers and travel info from your email for years now, you cannot track packages with the Google Home.

Google Assistant, the brains behind the Google Home speaker, can provide you with upcoming flight information. But for some reason, you can't get any package tracking information yet.

Take notes or voice memos

Still a shortcoming of the Alexa speakers is the inability to make notes using dictation or store voice memos.

Likewise, you can't create notes or memos with the Google Home either. This is odd, considering Google has integrated its "Keep shopping list" app with Assistant.

The functionality is there and it seems like note-taking wouldn't be very difficult for Google to implement. Yet, if you say, "OK, Google, add a new note," it responds with "Sorry, I can't take notes yet."

A workaround to this that has been hit or miss in our experience is to create an IFTTT applet that will let you create a note in Evernote, OneNote or Google Drive.

Actions on IFTTT

Much like Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant has a channel on the IFTTT online connection service that greatly extends what the smart speaker can do. It connects it to devices and services that aren't natively supported, like Lifx bulbs or the Ecobee thermostat.

The IFTTT Applets you can make with Google Assistant are far more in-depth and customizable than those for the Amazon Alexa channel. However, there are no actions for the Google Home channel, meaning you can only use the speaker for the trigger part of Applets.

I could think of at least a dozen reasons why Google Home actions would be useful, such as playing music when I get home or telling me when my Egg Minder has fewer than three eggs.

Custom wake phrases

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James Martin/CNET

There is also no way to set custom wake phrases. And each of Google Home's induction phrases are three- or four-syllable phrases that aren't exactly very natural to say:

  • "OK, Google."
  • "Hi, Google."
  • "Hey, Google."

Yes, I'm used to saying "OK, Google," but only because Google has forced me to use that phrase since the introduction of Google Now. But it doesn't make it any more natural to speak.

I found that "Hey, boo boo" also works as a wake word, likely by coincidence. Even if it's not any more natural or shorter to say, my Yogi Bear impression is really coming along. You can also wake Google Home by saying, "Okie dokie, Google."

Notifications

Amazon recently rolled out notifications for Alexa speakers, which will alert users of missed calls and messages and, for now, delivery status updates for items ordered from Amazon. As of right now, notifications are not possible on the Google Home, unless you consider this workaround.

However, notifications were one of the upcoming features announced for Google Home at Google I/O in May 2017. These notifications are called Proactive Assistance and will alert you of reminders, status changes for upcoming flights, unusual traffic for your commute and more. When notifications will be officially added to Google Home is still unknown.

The closest thing to a notification is how the recently added reminders work. When the reminder goes off, Google Home will play a chime. Then a single LED indicator on the top will remain lit for 10 minutes.

Scheduled routines

At long last, both Google and Amazon rolled out routines for their respective smart speakers. Routines let users issue a single command to perform multiple actions, such as changing the temperature, controlling the lights and playing music or a podcast. However, there is one major difference between Alexa's routines and Google Home's: scheduling.

With Alexa, you can have a routine automatically run at the same time every day while the Google Home routines must be initiated with a command. This may seem like a minor difference, but it means you won't be waking up to Google Home telling you the weather and the news.

Drop in

You can use Google Home to call virtually any number. Just say, "Hey, Google, call dad," or "OK, Google, call the nearest coffee shop." What you can't do with the Google Home, however, is drop in on other Google Home users like you can with Alexa speakers.

Alexa speakers offer a feature called Drop In, which is like calling, but it doesn't require the person on the other end to answer. When you drop in on someone, the call is immediately answered on their end. This requires the permission of both parties and is intended to be used to check in on family members.

Voice remote

If you're across the house from your Google Home speaker, you may not want to yell to tell it a command. With an Alexa speaker, you can pair the Alexa voice remote to your speaker. Then hold the Microphone button and issue commands to the speaker from almost anywhere in your house.

With the Google Home, there is no such remote. However, for most commands, you could simply grab your iPhone or Android phone and speak a command to Google Assistant. Using this, you can queue up music on the Google Home speaker, play YouTube videos on a TV with Chromecast and basically anything else. But it is somewhat more cumbersome than having a remote dedicated to the speaker.

Donate to charity

Earlier this month, Amazon announced a pretty significant feature for people with a giving spirit. Users can now donate to over 50 nonprofits using just their voices. This new feature comes ahead of rumors of peer-to-peer payments.

Google Assistant lets users send money to one another and the feature will be rolling out to Google Home in the future. However, no charitable donations are on the horizon for Google's smart speaker… that we know of.