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Smart Home

5 ways Google Home just got better

Between voice calling, new entertainment offerings and better integration with screens, the Google Home is growing up quickly.

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Google's rival device to the Amazon Echo has had a lot of growing up to do in the past few months. The Google Home was released nearly two years after Amazon's voice-activated speaker.

Now it's becoming available in more countries than the Echo (which is only in the US, UK and Germany). Available in the UK since April, soon you'll be able to pick up the Google Home in Australia, as well as Canada, Germany, France and Japan -- cutting down the market lead Amazon had on Google.

Plus, Google has announced a slew of new features that bring it ever closer to the digital assistant throne.

Proactive assistance

The first big feature Google is bringing to the Home is proactive assistance. That means the Home will be able to push notifications to users -- warning of bad traffic before a commute, for instance. It's currently unclear how exactly these push notifications will work with various users -- whether, for instance, different users asking the Google Assistant "what's up?" will result in different alerts or not. For now, though, this sort of actionable advice based on real assistance skills seems like a notable step forward.

Hands-free calling

Again, like Amazon, Google is introducing hands-free calling. Unlike the Echo, though, the Home will be able to call phones. For now, Google is not allowing users to call other Home devices, which it says is a privacy breach -- a shot at Amazon's feature, which does allow Echo-to-Echo calling, and doesn't allow users to block calls. One extra benefit: If you live in the US or Canada, phone calls made from the Google Home will be free.

Entertainment upgrades

Google is bringing new entertainment options to the Google Home, including nonpremium Spotify usage, HBO Now streaming (with a Chromecast dongle), Soundcloud streaming and more. The full list of partnerships is to come.

Visual responses

Finally, the Home will start using screens more effectively. That means you'll be able to ask for directions to a given address or an image of your schedule, and Home will be able to send it directly to your phone or televisions. This sort of usage will depend on a partnership between the Home and the Chromecast.

Shortcuts

One of the biggest weaknesses with voice assistants so far is their lack of complex control over many devices and features. Siri allows for some personalization with smart home devices, but that's about it. But now the Google Home is introducing Shortcuts.

Shortcuts will allow users to set up verbal shortcuts, like "workout time," to trigger multiple app commands and devices at once.

Shortcuts Now Live in Google Home App! from homeautomation