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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.

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 November 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, reminders and Bluetooth. Four features -- sending directions to your phone, notifications, music alarms and -- were added to the list.


Track packages

Despite the new ability to shop with 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 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.

Sleep timer

While it's understandable that some features are missing from the Home at launch, it's kind of surprising that a smart speaker shipped without a sleep timer. If you tell Google Home to play one of the built-in white noise sounds, it will play for just one hour before stopping on its own. That said, you can't tell Google Home to stop playing a podcast or stream music after 30 minutes or an hour has passed.

You can say, "OK, Google, set a sleep timer for 30 minutes." The speaker will respond in the affirmative, stating that it's set a timer for 30 minutes, named Sleep. Not exactly helpful.

Hopefully, this is a feature that gets addressed in an upcoming update.

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.

String commands together

Also like Alexa, Google Home is not yet capable of taking a string of commands and separating them. You must separate each command into its own statement.

Think of how much more natural it would be to say, "OK, Google, play the Lumineers and set volume to 50 percent." Instead, you have to issue two separate commands to achieve this -- "OK, Google, play the Lumineers. [Pause.] OK, Google, set the volume to 50 percent." Having to speak two commands isn't so bad. But if you've got three or more commands you often speak together, the user experience definitely begins to suffer.

However, Google recently announced smart home routines, which will allow users to issue a single phrase such as, "OK, Google, good night," and have the thermostat temperature lowered, turn off the lights and lock the doors. Routines aren't available yet, but it seems as if they will be an extension of shortcuts introduced earlier this year

For now, the only alternative is to create multiple IFTTT Applets with the same trigger phrase. Even then, the trigger phrase will only control external devices and services. You can't begin playing music or change the volume of Google Home using IFTTT.

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."

Send directions to your phone

Surprisingly, while Google Home will give you results on the nearest coffee shop or pizza joint, it can't send that information to your phone, which seems like a pretty big oversight, considering it's one of the most useful features found in Google Maps.

That said, you can now send information to your phone from Google Home by saying, "OK, Google, send that to my phone." While it doesn't work with Maps yet, it does work with:

  • Calendar
  • Shopping lists
  • Weather
  • Movies
  • Sports scores and schedules
  • Photos
  • Translations
  • News and stocks

When Google Home sends the information to your phone (Android or iOS), it will appear as a notification that says "Sent from your Google Home."

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 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. 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.  

Music alarms

You might imagine a connected speaker like Google Home would ship with fancy alarm features. You would also be wrong. Google Home's alarm function is very basic.

You can set an alarm, give it a name, have it recur daily, control the alarm volume, and snooze it. You can't choose a different alarm sound, and you especially can't set a custom alarm, such as music.