Google As­sis­tant fea­tures you should use

Google’s AI as­sis­tant learned some new tricks while you weren’t look­ing. RYAN WHITWAM re­veals its best new fea­tures

Android Advisor - - Contents -

Google has had voice search fea­tures in An­droid for years, but when Google As­sis­tant rolled out on the Pixel in Oc­to­ber 2016, ev­ery­thing fi­nally came to­gether.

You can now get As­sis­tant on all mod­ern An­droid de­vices, and Google an­nounced new As­sis­tant

fea­tures at I/O 2018 that will make it even bet­ter (okay, and maybe a lit­tle too real, in the case of Du­plex).

It can be easy to miss the im­prove­ments if you don’t ob­ses­sively keep an eye on the news, so here they are in one place: the 12 coolest new fea­tures in Google As­sis­tant.

Sync con­nected smart home de­vices

Google As­sis­tant sup­ports nu­mer­ous smart home de­vices, but you might no­tice that de­vices you’ve just added to your ac­count don’t al­ways work right away. That’s be­cause As­sis­tant isn’t con­stantly scan­ning for new con­nec­tions. You can give it a kick-start. Af­ter adding a new smart home de­vice such as a cam­era or ther­mo­stat, open up As­sis­tant and say, “Sync my de­vices”. As­sis­tant tells you it’s sync­ing with your con­nected ac­counts, and a few sec­onds later any newly added de­vices will ap­pear in your list. Make sure to add them to rooms in As­sis­tant for full func­tion­al­ity.

Send daily info

As­sis­tant is great for call­ing up lit­tle tid­bits like the weather, stock quotes, or even jokes. You don’t even have to ask ev­ery time, though. You can have As­sis­tant proac­tively send you cer­tain bits of in­for­ma­tion as a daily up­date.

To con­fig­ure a daily up­date, start by ask­ing your ques­tion nor­mally – ask it for the weather, a dad joke, what­ever. Af­ter As­sis­tant pulls up the con­tent, you can fol­low up with “Send this to me daily”. As­sis­tant asks what time you want the up­date, and

you’re all set. To change or can­cel a daily up­date, just say, “See my sub­scrip­tions”.

Have As­sis­tant re­mem­ber things for you

Your squishy hu­man brain is fal­li­ble, but Google As­sis­tant can re­mem­ber things with­out fail. All you have to do is ask it. You can tell As­sis­tant to re­mem­ber things just by say­ing “Re­mem­ber that [some piece of in­for­ma­tion]”. You could tell Google to re­mem­ber where you parked, what you did with the spare house key, your high score in Tetris, or any­thing else. As a handy bonus, As­sis­tant also saves maps when you tell it where you parked. Later, you can ask Google to re­call the in­for­ma­tion in var­i­ous ways. You can be

di­rect, like ask­ing As­sis­tant “Where did I park?” You can re­call fac­toids you’ve saved with “What did I say about [x]?” or “Re­mind me about [x]”.

Search your Google Pho­tos up­loads

Google Pho­tos is a fan­tas­tic backup so­lu­tion for all your snap­shots. Google of­fers un­lim­ited stor­age of im­ages and videos, pro­vided you’re okay with a lit­tle com­pres­sion, and Pixel own­ers get free ful­lqual­ity back­ups. If you want to look for spe­cific pho­tos you’ve taken, you can do it right from Google As­sis­tant. All you have to do is ask.

As­sis­tant plugs into the amaz­ing search ca­pa­bil­i­ties of Google Pho­tos, so you can ask to see al­most any­thing. You can ask As­sis­tant to pull up pic­tures of spe­cific peo­ple, lo­ca­tions, and even ob­jects. Tap the im­age re­sults to scroll through them im­me­di­ately, or open Google Pho­tos via the short­cut un­der your pic­tures. Just make sure you pref­ace your re­quest with some­thing like ‘my pho­tos’ to en­sure you get im­ages from your Google Pho­tos li­brary rather than im­ages from a Google search.


Us­ing As­sis­tant to do the same few things all the time can be te­dious, but Rou­tines might be able to help. This fea­ture al­lows you to con­nect mul­ti­ple ac­tions to a sin­gle com­mand. There are only a few pre­de­ter­mined rou­tine com­mands right now, but they could still save you a lot of time. To get started, open the As­sis­tant set­tings and scroll down to Rou­tines. In this menu, Google pro­vides six com­mands right now:

good morn­ing, bed­time, I’m leav­ing (leav­ing home), I’m home, let’s go to work, and let’s go home. Say any of those, and you’ll trig­ger the as­so­ci­ated Rou­tine. Each one in­cludes a few cus­tomiza­tion op­tions in­clud­ing smart home de­vices, travel info, and au­dio play­back. You can also mod­ify the trig­ger phrase at the top of the Rou­tine set­tings page.

Take and share screen­shots

You can cap­ture screen­shots on An­droid phones by hold­ing the power and vol­ume but­tons, but As­sis­tant can do it, too. In fact, it might be faster if you in­tend to share the screen­shot right away. Open As­sis­tant and say, “take a screen­shot” or “share a screen­shot”.

It takes a mo­ment to cap­ture the screen­shot, but you’ll get a preview as soon as it’s done. As­sis­tant then im­me­di­ately brings up the shar­ing in­ter­face so you can send the screen to a mes­sage or up­load it some­place. The screen­shots taken via As­sis­tant aren’t saved lo­cally, so you won’t end up with clut­ter from re­peated screen­shot cap­tures.

Lis­ten to pod­casts

Google has built a ba­sic pod­cast in­ter­face into the Google app, and the eas­i­est way to ac­cess it is via As­sis­tant. You might want to lis­ten to pod­casts in this fash­ion be­cause Google’s so­lu­tion is quick and easy. Just say, “lis­ten to [pod­cast name]” to fire up the lat­est episode. If you were in the mid­dle of an episode, As­sis­tant picks up where you left off.

Your progress is not de­vice-spe­cific, ei­ther. You can start lis­ten­ing to a pod­cast on your phone, then tell As­sis­tant on Google Home you want to lis­ten to the same pod­cast. Rather than start, over, it starts where you last lis­tened on your phone.

Ex­plore menu

Google used to hide all of As­sis­tant’s fea­tures in a se­ries of es­o­teric, buried menus. Now, there’s a much more sen­si­ble way to find out what sort of cool things you can do with As­sis­tant in the Ex­plore menu.

To ac­cess this menu, open As­sis­tant and tap the blue drawer icon in the up­per right corner. Here, you can find all the ser­vices sup­ported by As­sis­tant bro­ken down into cat­e­gories like So­cial & Com­mu­ni­ca­tion, Ed­u­ca­tion & Ref­er­ence, Games & Fun, and more.

Each tile links to a full info page where you can see sam­ple com­mands and (if nec­es­sary) link your ac­count. Bot­tom line: check­ing out the Ex­plore menu is the eas­i­est way to keep track of newly added apps and ser­vices. There are also some gen­eral As­sis­tant com­mand sug­ges­tion at the top. You don’t even have to speak the sug­ges­tions, just tap the bub­ble and they’ll be dropped right into As­sis­tant.

Typ­ing to As­sis­tant

Google As­sis­tant first ap­peared in the Allo app, and in that it­er­a­tion, you could in­put text to ‘chat’ with the Google’s bot. But the more pow­er­ful baked-in phone ver­sion of As­sis­tant be­gan its life with only voice in­put. That’s fine when you’re in a sit­u­a­tion where you can talk to your phone, but voice dic­ta­tion isn’t al­ways

ap­pro­pri­ate. Well, you can type your ques­tions and com­mands, too.

To ac­cess the key­board in As­sis­tant, just long­press your home but­ton as you nor­mally would. But in­stead of speak­ing right away, tap the key­board icon in the lower-left corner. As­sis­tant will ex­pand to fill the screen, and you can be­gin typ­ing. As­sis­tant will re­spond to all the same com­mands that you’d use in a voice-dic­ta­tion sit­u­a­tion, and you’ll also find con­tex­tual sug­ges­tions above the key­board. And be­cause th­ese sug­ges­tions are part of As­sis­tant, they ap­pear no mat­ter which key­board app you’re us­ing.

Editable history

Google As­sis­tant used to be a tran­sient ex­pe­ri­ence – what­ever you said to As­sis­tant would be lost to the

ether as soon as you left the As­sis­tant UI. But now there’s a full history of your com­mands, and you can edit them too. To ac­cess your As­sis­tant history, you need only drag up on the over­lay when As­sis­tant pops up. This will drop you into a full-screen in­ter­face that shows your re­cent queries. Scroll up to see ev­ery­thing you’ve asked and how As­sis­tant an­swered.

Edit­ing is a snap, too. Long-press on a query, and it will be high­lighted along with As­sis­tant’s re­ply. From there, you can ei­ther delete or edit it. Delet­ing will com­pletely re­move the query (and as­so­ci­ated ac­tiv­ity) from the history. This is just like re­mov­ing some­thing from your Google search history, so it won’t be used to in­form fu­ture search and As­sis­tant predictions.

If you choose to edit a query, the text is dropped into the text field along with an open key­board. You can tap send to im­me­di­ately re­peat the com­mand, or make some changes and send it again. Just note

that none of this un­does the ac­tions per­formed when the com­mand was first is­sued.


There are dozens of ser­vices and apps in­te­grated with As­sis­tant al­ready, but some of them get pref­er­en­tial treat­ment. For ex­am­ple, you can tell Google to con­trol your Hue lights di­rectly, but lights con­nected through Homey re­quire you to pref­ace all com­mands with “Tell Homey”. It can get a bit te­dious, but short­cuts are here to help.

To cre­ate a short­cut, go to the As­sis­tant set­tings and open the set­tings. Scroll down and tap on the Short­cuts op­tion. The short­cut screen has a box for what you want to say, and one be­low that for what you want As­sis­tant to ac­tu­ally do in re­sponse.

In the top box, in­put what­ever snappy short­cut phrase you want. It tends to work bet­ter if you use the mi­cro­phone but­ton to speak the short­cut. As­sis­tant will some­times put a sam­ple com­mand in the bot­tom box, but you can change that to the com­mand you want. It has to be the full phrase you’d say to As­sis­tant, in­clud­ing the ‘Tell [X]’ part if needed. Once your short­cut is saved, it’ll work by voice and text.

Google Ex­press shop­ping list

Google As­sis­tant has al­ways been able to add items to a shop­ping list, but that list used to live solely in Google Keep. As such, it was just a list. But Google re­cently changed the shop­ping list func­tion­al­ity to plug di­rectly into its Google Ex­press de­liv­ery ser­vice, which could be very use­ful if you use it.

All you have to do is say, “Add [item name] to my shop­ping list”. It will show up in your Google Ex­press shop­ping list in­stantly. You can ac­cess that list in the Google Ex­press app, or sim­ply say “Show me my shop­ping list”. That takes you to the on­line ver­sion of your list, which can be shared with any of your contacts. If you’re a Google Ex­press sub­scriber, you can tap ‘Shop your list’ to get fil­tered search re­sults from sup­ported lo­cal re­tail­ers. Add items to your cart, and you’re done.

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