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10 Tips and Tricks to Get the Most Out of Your New Google Home

Variety logo Variety 12/25/2016 Janko Roettgers

Maybe there was a Google Home speaker under your Christmas tree, or you decided to buy one yourself. You’ve unpacked the device, asked Google a few quick questions, maybe even had the device tell you some jokes. Now you’re wondering: What else can it do?

A lot, actually. Google Home taps into Google’s smarts, connects to a growing number of third-party services, and can even be taught some new tricks that the folks at Google didn’t even think about. Here are just 10 tips for things to do with your new voice-controlled speaker:

Control Netflix with your voice. Google Home works seamlessly in concert with Google’s Chromecast video streaming adapter, as well as a growing number of TVs that have Chromecast built-in. “Okay Google, play a video of baby pandas on your TV” automatically starts a YouTube stream of cute little panda pups. However, YouTube voice search can be hit or miss, if only for the sheer size of YouTube’s catalog.

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Okay Google, play “Stranger Things” from Netflix on TV. Courtesy of Netflix.

Voice control for your television becomes even more useful with Netflix. To do this, simply connect your Netflix account to your Google account in the Google Home app (Settings > More Settings > Videos and Photos). After doing his once, you can simply say things like “Okay Google, play “The OA” from Netflix on TV, and the device will oblige. You can even ask Google Home to pause playback, or skip back a minute if you’ve missed anything.

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Okay Google, add berries to my shopping list. Janko Roettgers / Variety

Manage a family shopping list. “Okay Google, add coffee to my shopping list” automatically adds the item to a list called “Google Assistant shopping list” that can be accessed on your phone with the Google Keep app (available for both Android and iOS). Unfortunately, that list is only associated with the primary account holder that set up the Google Home device in the first place.

However, there’s an easy work-around to give everyone in your family access to the list: In Google Keep, simply select the three-dots button in the right corner of the list, select “collaborator,” and invite other family members to the list as well.

Find your displaced phone. Ready to leave your home, but don’t know where your phone is? Google Home can help — if you first teach it a few extra tricks, that is. Out of the box, Google Home can’t help locate mobile devices just yet, but once you link the device with a service called IFTTT, you can select a so-called recipe that will automatically call your number whenever you say “Okay Google, find my phone.” This requires getting an account for IFTTT, but as a reward, you’ll have access to a number of extra features, including posting updates to Facebook or Twitter simply by speaking to your Google Home device.

Check if the drugstore is still open. Google Home can’t just be queried for random bits of Google knowledge; it also taps into the information Google has saved about businesses and places in your town. “Okay Google, check when the nearest CVS is closing” can be extremely useful when you realize you’ve forgotten to buy something, and “Okay Google, what’s the traffic to CVS” help’s you to figure out whether you’ll actually make it before it closes.

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Okay Google, let me talk to Akinator. Courtesy of Elokence

Play 20 questions. Google started to add support for third-party services earlier this month. These services actually come with a different voice — it’s as if Google Home was connecting you to another person. One of the most entertaining ones can be triggered with the phrase “Okay Google, let me talk to Akinator,” and is basically the classic 20 questions game. Think of a celebrity, answer Akinator’s questions with yes or no, and in a couple of tries, it actually guesses who you were thinking of. It’s impressive and fun at the same time.

Beam your vacation photos to your TV. Google Home can’t just control Netflix on your TV, it’s also a great voice control for Google Photos, the company’s free cloud photo storage service. Google Photos has long relied on machine-learning technology to actually understand who and what is in every image. Combined with voice control, the results are close to magic.

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Okay Google, show me photos of lake Tahoe on TV. Courtesy of Google.

“Okay Google, show me photos from summer 2015 on TV” results in great vacation slide shows, “Okay Google, show me photos of my pets on TV” is delightful, “Okay Google, show me photos of snow on TV” brings back memories, and “Okay Google, show me photos of (name of a person) on TV” can be truly heartwarming.

Play podcasts. Google Home is a great podcast player. Not only does “Okay Google, Play ‘This American Life’” fire up the most recent episode of the show, but Google Home actually remembers if you have to interrupt your listening halfway through an episode. The next time you ask for that podcast, Google Home is going to start playing where you left off. There are also special commands to skip to a different episode and more. What’s more, there’s a special playlist of constantly updated news podcasts accessible simply by saying “Okay Google, tell me the news.” You can personalize your news briefing in the Google Home app (Settings > More Settings > News).

Order an Uber. After linking your Google and Uber accounts in the Google Home app (Settings > More Settings > Services), you’ll be able to request a ride with a simple “Okay Google, get me an Uber.”

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Okay Google, get me an Uber. Piotr Adamowicz / Shutterstock

Google Home can even deliver updates on the car on its way to your house with “Okay Google, where’s my Uber.” And if you change your mind and decide to stay in after all, you can always say “Okay Google, cancel my Uber.”

Use it as the ultimate music player. Google Home isn’t just great for podcasts, it’s also the ultimate music player, and can tap directly into your Spotify, Google Music or Pandora account to play songs, playlists and genre-based mixes with voice commands like “Okay Google, play some jazz.” The experience becomes even better if you add Google’s $35 Chromecast Audio adapter to the mix. Connect it to speakers and stereo systems around the house, and you’ll be able to blast your favorite tunes in every room, perfectly synchronized. Also great: Google Home also has Chromecast tech built-in, so you can use the Spotify, iHeartRadio or SoundCloud app on your phone to start playback of songs or shows on the device.

Turn off the lights. Google Home can also be used to control a small but growing list of internet-connected appliances around your home. The best use case so far: lightbulbs like Philips Hue, which can not only be turned on and off, but even change color with commands like “Okay Google, turn the living room purple.” And at the end of the day, you won’t have to walk around your house anymore to manually turn off the light in every room. Just say “Okay Google, turn off all the lights,” and you’re done. It’s so convenient you may even find yourself saying “Okay Google, good night” to stay on good terms with your new favorite electric roommate.

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