How to use the Google Home app: Tips and tricks to get more out of Google's voice assistant

From making phone calls to creating an in-house PA system, explore the Google Home app and discover the amazing things you can do with your smart speaker.

If you are one of the nearly quarter of UK households that have a voice-activated smart speaker*, you might well have a Google device such as the Home, Mini or Home Hub.

Whether it’s getting a weather report, playing music or settling a general knowledge debate, smart speakers can save us time and can be enjoyed by the whole family.

But if that's all you're using it for, you're only scratching the surface of what your Google Home can do. We take a closer look at some of the great features of the free Google Home app.

[Read more: Everything you need to know about Google Home]

Download the Google Home app

Your Google Home device is set up and controlled using the Google Home app, which is available for Android and iOS phones and tablets. There is a not currently a Windows or Mac version.

Download Home for Android | Download Home for iOS

Google Home app: Home screen

When you launch the app you’ll see four icons along the bottom (for Home, Discover, Browse and Account respectively) and, above them, a microphone button.

Google Home app

Home: This screen allows you to see what smart home devices are set up in your home, turn them off and on and add new ones.

At the top are ‘Quick Action’ icons, which let you access your smart devices. For instance here tapping ‘Play’ will let you stream music to your devices, while tapping ‘Thermostat’ lets you access the controls and turn your heating on or off.

Scroll down and you’ll see the rooms in your house and the smart devices set up in each room, along with any devices that it detects on your home network that you haven’t been allocated a room.

Discover: Here you can see any movies or music playing right now. New Google Home features appear here along with tips on how to get more out of Google Home using the apps on your phone.

Browse: Recommended TV shows and movies are shown here, along with any linked services like Netflix or Spotify and suggestions for new ones. Suggested apps appear at the bottom.

Account: This menu contains settings and account management information including preferences.

Microphone: Tap this to activate Google Assistant on your smartphone and ask (or type) Google a question. You’ll see suggestions for things to say and tasks to perform.

Get organised

Create a shopping list

Making shopping lists using Google Assistant is quick and easy. The moment you run out of something, simply say: “OK Google, add crisps to your shopping list” and you can gradually build up a list of things you need ahead of your weekly shop.

If you want to view your list, go to Account – Settings. Tap Services and scroll down to Shopping List. Alternatively, tap the Microphone and say “Bring up my shopping list.”

[Read more: Google Home vs Amazon Echo - which smart speaker is best?]

Get travel advice before you set off

Save time in the mornings by finding out what the traffic or trains are like before you leave your house.

Go to Account – Settings – Your places and set your Home and Work addresses, then in the Your Places menus, tap Getting around and set preferences for how you get to work and how you get around including: Driving, Walking and Cycling.

Before heading to work simply say “OK Google, how long is my commute?” to get an estimated time.

Google Home app travel

Traffic updates

To check journey times for somewhere new say “OK Google, how long will it take to drive [or walk, or cycle] to Porlock in Somerset.”

View recent activity

To view a history of how you or your family have been using Google Home’s tap Account – My Activity and you can filter by date. Each incident is displayed as what Google calls a card; tap the three-dot menu icon to the right of any task to delete any you don’t want anyone else to see.

Google Home app - my activity

Keep in touch with family and friends

Making phone calls

If you’ve got an Android phone or tablet, you can make phone calls through your Google Home speaker, although emergency numbers are not allowed.

Say “OK Google, call XXXXX” and when you have finished say “OK Google, hang up”

By default, your number is unlisted and will show on the recipient's phone as 'Private'. So that people know it’s you go to Account – Settings - Services - Voice & video calls - Mobile calling, then under 'Your own number' click Edit and 'Add or change phone number' to add your number.

If you want to revert to an unlisted number, click Edit on the Mobile calling screen and select 'Use unlisted number'.

Making video calls

With Google Home you can only make video calls using the screen on the Google Home Hub to people who have Google Duo, Google's own video-calling app.

Remaining within the Voice & Video calls menu, under Video & Voice Apps, tap the link next to Phone number, enter your phone number and verify it with the code sent to your phone. You’ll now see your Google Home Hub is linked, so turn the slide next to it On.

To make a video call say "Video call XXXX" and "Hang up", "Mute call" and "Answer the call."

Remember family members

Google Assistant can remember family members. Head to Account - Settings - Your People and at the bottom you’ve got an option to ‘Remember a family member’ say “My mum’s name is XXX” and Google will remember it. Add more and you can build up a list.

You can even get reminders for family birthdays by saying “My mum’s birthday is XXX”.

Google Home app - Family

That's entertainment!

Manage your News

Catch up on the goings on in the world by saying to your smart speaker “OK Google, listen to news”. To choose where Google gets this news go to Account Settings - Services and under News you can see a list of sources. Move these around by tapping ‘Change order’, ‘X’ to remove and ‘Add news sources’ to find new ones.

There are lots to choose from including specialist categories such as Health, Technology and Politics.

Google Home app - News

Set up parental filters

If you’ve got the Google Home Hub, which has a screen, your children could access unsuitable content such as explicit songs or YouTube videos intended for older viewers. You can set parental filters to stop this happening.

Tap Home - Settings - Digital Wellbeing. The first time you use it, it will walk you through the process of setting up filters, choose who they apply to, what videos to allow and whether to block explicit music.

You’ll then have the option to set up Digital Wellbeing.

Digital Wellbeing

Digital Wellbeing lets you schedule downtime, when your Google Home device won’t respond to questions or play music or videos.

Select your Google Home device, and the days and times you want Downtime to be active and you can enjoy a mini digital detox.

Google Home app - downtime

Choosing a music service

Syncing subscriptions to your music services like Spotify and YouTube Music to your Google Home means you can play them through the speaker and control them using the app.

The speaker will always use the default service first; you can set your preferred default by going to Account - Settings - Services - Music. Under ‘More music services’ you can add other music services, you’ll be directed to your log-in details.

To play a song, say “OK Google, play Hard Day’s Night by the Beatles on Spotify" or “Play some music to relax me”.

Google Home app music

Build a smarter home

Find new apps

Adding apps to Google Home means you can get information about things that interest you, using only your voice.

Go to Profile - Settings, select the Services menu at the top and scroll right down to Explore to see a list of apps available for Google Assistant.

Suggested apps based on your use of Google and your phone appear at the top, followed by apps that are popular with other users and new apps.

Scroll down to the bottom of the screen to see apps divided into categories, and scroll left and right to view groups such as Arts & lifestyle, Business & finance and Food & drink. Tap a category to see the apps on offer, and tap an app card to find out more about the service on offer.

[Read more: Google Home - how to set up your smart speaker]

Google Home app - Explore new apps

Broadcasting messages

Whether it's dinner time or time for bed, if you struggle to make yourself heard in a big house, Broadcast turns the Google Home units dotted around your home into a PA system so you can make announcements to everyone without risking losing your voice.

On the Home screen, click the blue Broadcast option at the top. Google will say ‘What’s the message?’; speak or type your message and what you say will be relayed to your Google Home devices. 

Speak clearly and slowly, the recipient will hear a beep and the message will be read out.

Setting up routines

Routines let you combine a multiple tasks into a single instruction. For instance you could say “OK Google, Good morning” and Google Home will give you information about your commute, the weather and your calendar entries for the day.

To set up a routine, head to Home and tap the purple Routines button at the top to see those pre-set by Google. Tap Manage routines to customise them, removing commands that aren’t relevant for your needs. For instance in the ‘Good morning routine’ you could remove the commute option and add an option to play your favourite radio station.

Google Home app - routines

Share your Google Home

If you are having a dinner party and you want guests to use your smart speaker but you don’t want to share your wi-fi password, you can set them up as guest users.

Tap Home and find the speaker you want to share, then tap Settings and turn Guest Mode on. They’ll be able to cast using apps that support Chromecast, pairing by audio or using a four-digit PIN code.

Get wall-to-wall wi-fi coverage and seamlessly use Google Home throughout your house with Complete Wi-Fi

*BT Modern Families report

More from BT