Following in the steps of Siri and Amazon’s Alexa before it, Google Assistant is a virtual assistant that helps with your everyday tasks by letting you ask it anything. Well not quite anything, but it can definitely make your life easier if you’ll let it. Just be prepared to feel self-conscious every time it dawns that you’re speaking to an inanimate object, even if you’re in the privacy of your own home.
There’s no need to buy a Google Home or Home Mini in order to take start taking advantage of Google Assistant. If you own an Android phone running Marshmallow (6.0) or later, then you already have it. To check if it’s turned on, say “OK Google” or press and hold the home button on your phone. If you can’t rouse the virtual assistant by doing this, open the Google app’s Settings and under Google Assistant tap Settings and ‘Turn on’. iPhone and iPad users can also get in on the action, although some of the features are more limited, by downloading the newly released Google Assistant app.
One of the best things about Google Assistant is that you don’t need to download any of its skills, as you do with Alexa. It works right out the box. The problem with this is you might not know what the AI helper is actually capable of. To get you up to speed with the best ways Google Assistant can help you with everyday tasks, we’ve included a list of our favourites below.
Check the weather forecast
It’s the morning. You want to know whether you’ll get wet on your commute. Ask Google Assistant “What’s the weather today?” and it’ll give you a quick forecast for the rest of the day including expected high and low temperatures. If you already know it’s cold outside, you can be more specific and ask: “Will it rain today?” to establish whether you need to take an umbrella with you. For a longer range forecast, ask “What’s the weather forecast for the rest of this week?”
Send a WhatsApp message
If you’ve got headphones with a mic, this feature lets you send a message without taking your phone out of your pocket. For Bluetooth headphones it’ll work right off the bat, but if you’ve got a wired headset, you’ll need to change the settings. To do this, open the Google app’s Settings, then tap Voice and Hands-free, then check ‘For wired headsets’ is enabled.
After this, just say “Send a message with WhatsApp” and it’ll ask you who you want to chat with and what you want to include in your message. Finally, it reads the message back to you before confirming that you want to send it. Just remember not to shout if you’re using noise cancelling headphones, unless you want to share your private plans with everyone around you.
Get travel advice (including live traffic info)
There have been plenty of times that I’ve entered my destination into Google Maps when setting out on a lengthy journey only to discover there’s a hefty delay. Wouldn’t it be great if you could get this info before you’ve left so you can change your plans accordingly? Well, actually you can.
Ask Google “How long will it take me to X?” and it’ll tell you how long you can expect it to take using your default travel method. If the mode of traffic it suggests is not the one you plan to use, try being more specific and ask “How long will it take to get the train to X?” or “How long will it take to drive to X?” You can also say “How’s the traffic when driving to X?” if you just want to check for delays or ask “How would I get to X?” if you want instructions that you can then open in Google Maps.
To change your default travel method, open Google’s main menu and tap Customise. Swipe up until you see commute, then tap ‘View all settings’. Swipe up once again and you’ll see you can set preferences for ‘How you usually commute’ and ‘How you usually get around’.
Find the nearest restaurant
Ask Google “Where’s the best restaurant near here?” and it’ll reel off a few well-reviewed nearby eating establishments. Just take its recommendations with a bit of a pinch of salt and consider doing some more thorough follow-up research, or you might end up getting a bag of fish and chips rather than a proper sit-down dinner. Again you can be more specific and ask questions like “Where can I get pizza near here?” or “Where can I get a Chinese takeaway?”
Play your favourite music
If you don’t want to pick up your phone to change the music that’s playing, why not ask Google to take care of it? This can be invaluable for driving, when it’s not safe to touch your phone. You can also use it in the home to change what’s playing on your Chromecast Audio. Tell Google “Play me some jazz” or ask it to start playing a specific artist, album or playlist and it’ll starting streaming in the relevant app. To set your default music provider, open the Google Assistant settings from Google’s main Settings menu and tap Music before choosing the service you want.
Set an alarm for the morning
This is one of the most practical uses of Google Assistant and it also comes with the least risk of embarrassment because you’ll normally only need to say it in earshot anyone you share a bed with. Say “Set an alarm for 7am tomorrow” and that’s it, you don’t have to waste any time navigating through the clock app to enable or edit existing alarms.
Identify any song
One of the latest features to be added to Google Assistant is the option to identify a song that’s playing in the background. Summon the virtual assistant and say “What song is playing?” and it’ll produce a card showing the artist and song name along with its lyrics and shortcuts to play the song in Spotify, Google Play Music or YouTube. It might be faster than using Shazam and has perk of not requiring you to install any additional apps, but you’ll need to be brave to reveal your embarrassing music taste to everyone around you.
How do I uninstall it?
Of course, if you don’t want Google Assistant listening out for your every noise, you can disable it altogether. Press and hold the home button and tap the inbox icon in the top-right corner and an Explore page loads. Tap the three-dot button and choose Settings and Phone and you can turn Google Assistant off. This menu also lets you train your phone to your voice so it’ll unlock without you touching it.