What is Google Assistant? Control your home, play music and TV and manage your life with your voice

OK Google, it's time to get the lowdown on the tech giant's voice-activated personal assistant. What is it, and what can it do for you?

Google Assistant, just like Siri, Bixby, Alexa and Cortana, is a voice-controlled personal assistant designed to make your life easier by answering your questions and performing tasks for you. 

Found in hundreds of devices it can control the heating in your home, help you book flights and even act as an interpreter if you’re speaking to someone in another language.

So how does it work? And what can it do for you? Read on, and we’ll explain.

[How to build your smart home: A living room tech guide]

What is Google Assistant?

Google Assistant is a powerful personal assistant that lives inside various devices you own, from smartphones to speakers and even cars.

It uses artificial intelligence to understand what you’re saying and then communicate with you in much the same way you would with a human being.

It responds to both spoken questions and written text. If you have a device that supports Google Assistant you can use the activation words: ‘OK Google’ or ‘Hey Google’ and then make the request.

What can Google Assistant do?

A lot. It can answer trivia questions, look up information online, send messages, create timers and give you your weekly schedule. It can even book flights and make sure you get to the airport on time.

Within your home, Google Assistant can do even more. It works with hundreds of different gadgets and services like Nest, Hive and Philips Hue to adjust your heating, dim your lights before bed and even automatically turn them on in the morning in tune with your alarm.

Google Assistant can also become the remote control for all your entertainment. If you have a compatible speaker it can play music on request from your Spotify, Deezer or YouTube Music accounts. Google Assistant also works on some TVs as well letting you play your favourite shows from Netflix, giving you information about the film you're watching or searching for videos on YouTube.

If you have a car that uses Android Auto or just Google Maps on your phone, Google Assistant can also help you send messages while you’re driving, add stops to your route or change your destination, all with your voice.

How do I turn on Google Assistant?

All gadgets that support Google Assistant can be turned on simply by saying the wake words: ‘Ok Google’ or ‘Hey Google’ or by pressing the microphone icon on the remote for your TV.

If you have an Android smartphone or tablet you can silently activate Google Assistant by holding down on the home button or on some devices, by squeezing the sides of the phone.

Smartphones and tablets also let you type your questions to Google Assistant so if you’re in a meeting or can’t talk out loud you can still perform all of the same actions.

How do I open Google Assistant settings?

The easiest way to change the settings of your Google Assistant is through your Android smartphone or tablet. Simply press and hold the home button until Google Assistant is activated. Then tap the small grey compass icon in the bottom right-hand side of the screen.

Finally, tap the three dots on the top right-hand side and tap on Settings.

Once inside the Settings menu you can change everything from the name you want Google Assistant to call you, the measurements that it uses and even whether or not it recognises different members of the family using Voice Match.

Can I talk to Google Assistant like a normal human being?

You can. Thanks to Google’s speech analysis technology, it’ll put what you say in context. Ask it “How old is Tom Cruise?” and it’ll tell you. Follow that with “How tall is he?” and it’ll still know you’re talking about Tom Cruise without you saying his name again. It’s very clever stuff and makes for very naturally flowing queries.

[Read more: 34 Google Home ‘Easter eggs’ to make you laugh]

Which devices use Google Assistant?

Originally Google Assistant was only available on Android smartphones and tablets. Now though it can be found on hundreds of different devices from smart speakers in your home to smart displays that live in your kitchen or living room.

Smartphones

All smartphones and tablets that run Android 5.0 or above are compatible with Google Assistant. It’s unlikely that your phone is running Android 5.0 or lower but if you’re not sure, find out which version you have here.

Google Assistant is installed as standard on all of the latest smartphones including the Samsung Galaxy S9, Huawei Mate 20 Pro, Motorola One, Sony Xperia XZ3.

Apple’s default personal assistant is Siri however you can install the Google Assistant app. Unlike other devices though you won’t be able to just activate Assistant with the wake word, you must have the app open first.

Speakers and TVs

As Google Assistant is voice-controlled, it's a natural fit for speakers. With smart speakers you get the full Google Assistant experience, but you can also request songs, change tracks and adjust the volume all with your voice.

Google makes its own range of speakers such as the Google Home and Google Home Max (see What is Google Home?, below) but you can also buy Google Assistant-controlled speakers from companies such as Bang & Olufsen, Sony and LG.

Announced this year, Google Assistant is now integrated with Sonos smart speakers letting you control your music around your home with just your voice.

In addition to speakers you can also get Google Assistant on Sony's range of smart TVs giving you instant voice control over the channels you watch, volume and more.

Smart Displays

Smart displays are a new type of gadget for the home. They can have large screens designed for the living room or be smart alarm clocks which sit on your bedside table.

These gadgets combine the power of Google Assistant with a visual display that can show you information while you’re talking. This could vary from showing you last night’s sports scores to displaying your weekly schedule.

Smart displays can become really useful in the kitchen where you can ask Google Assistant to show you how to make something, and then cook along with the instructions on screen.

Google recently announced its first smart clock in partnership with Lenovo. With a four-inch touchscreen this device can give you alarm suggestions based on your daily routines, and gently wake you up in the morning with an auto-adjusting display.

Like all Google Assistant devices it can also control all your compatible smart home gadgets. For example you can now pair your alarm with Philips Hue smart lightbulbs so that when your alarm goes off, the lights in your bedroom very gently recreate the feeling that the sun is coming up.

Cars

Newer cars can run a version of Android on the centre console display using a technology called Android Auto. If your car is compatible with Android Auto, you can also use Google Assistant.

Google Assistant in your car lets you set a destination, reply to messages, control the music playing and even ask normal questions as you would at home.

[Alexa, Cortana, Google Assistant - What are voice assistants and how do they work?]

What is Google Home?

Just like Amazon and Apple, Google also makes a range of devices that are controlled by Google Assistant.

The core product is Google Home, a voice-controlled speaker that can not only play music but also acts as your main point of contact for speaking to Google Assistant.

For those who only want to use the deveice as a remote control, Google Home Mini trades audio oomph for size giving you something that’s small yet still powerful.

At the other end is Google Home Max which is a large premium speaker designed for audiophiles. It intelligently scans the room and then adjusts the audio so that whatever music you’re playing sounds its best.

Finally there’s Google Home Hub which combines a Google Home speaker with a seven-inch display. This lets you visually control the devices in your home, watch YouTube videos, see recipes and more.

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