Looking for an honest Google Assistant review? You've come to the right place. Despite being one of the youngest of the leading smart assistants – discover more about them in our beginners guide – Google Assistant can now be found in a wide variety of the best smart speakers designed both in-house by Google, as well as from a variety of external companies.
But is Google Assistant worth the hype? And, more importantly, is it the smart assistant for you? If you're taking your first step into the world of smart home tech you'll want to know before committing to a specific smart eco-system. We enlisted the help of tech expert James Peckham to help us cut through the jargon and deliver the cold, hard facts. Here's what we found...
What is Google Assistant?
Released in May 2016, Google Assistant replaced a similar feature called Google Now, bringing a two-way conversation feature to smart enabled devices for the first time. Google's answer to a smart assistant – much like Alexa – Google Assistant 'lives' inside a smart speaker, responding to a variety of voice commands and controlling your wider smart home system.
You can use Google Assistant in phones and tablets as well as the Google Nest range of speakers that includes the Nest Mini and Nest Max (previously known as the Home Mini and Home Max). Google Assistant can also be sound in a variety of third-party products such as Sony, Sonos and JBL speakers, as well as an increasing number of touch screen devices.
Is Google Assistant the smart assistant for you?
With a wide variety of third-party speakers and the whole Google Nest range to choose from, you won’t struggle to find a top-end speaker that allows you to make the most of Google Assistant's ever-increasing capabilities. The smart home control is second to none, and there are lots of apps that support the platform as well.
One of the highlights of Google Assistant is the Chromecast integration that allows you to easily control your TV – including access to Netflix and other streaming platforms – even when you can’t find the remote control.
The search functionality and contextual information Google Assistant offers is also a big highlight. With some clear highlights and very few negatives, the Google Assistant is an easy to use platform that many can embrace easily and we think you’ll be happy with what it offers.
Google Assistant standard features
Much like the other voice assistants, you can just call out to your smart speaker with a command to wake it and use your voice to state your question, query or request.
With Assistant, you’ll have to say 'OK Google'. You can then ask a variety of questions relating to features like playing music or podcasts, directions for your journey, information from the internet, smart home features and more.
Google Assistant will be able to answer your music requests from a variety of services such as Google Play Music, but there’s also support for Spotify, Google Podcasts and services such as TuneIn where you can listen to the radio over the internet.
Do Google Assistant's basic features work?
Where Google excels at the moment is contextual information in your searches. It’s particularly good at answering queries such as 'how long is it until Christmas?' or 'when was Marilyn Monroe’s birthday?'. Amazon Alexa and Apple’s Siri are slowly getting better at this, but the power of Google’s search engine currently makes it consistently the best for these sorts of searches.
It even has conversations with you, so it’ll remember your last search and it’ll often understand the context of a follow up question. For example, we asked 'how old is Taylor Swift' and got the correct answer from Google. We then said 'play her music from Spotify' and it managed to remember we had been talking about Taylor Swift and played a playlist of her music.
This is useful for a variety of searches and isn’t something that’s offered to such a high hit rate on the other voice assistants at the moment.
If you use a lot of Google services such as Gmail or the calendar, you may find the Assistant suited to you as it connects with your accounts and means you can set up reminders and more from your speaker.
For example, if you have a calendar meeting set up, the Google Home (or other speaker) can remind you of it on a morning. You can also set it up so the speaker will remember your commute and let you know on a morning if there’s a delay on your normal route.
Plus if you own the Google Home speaker, you can use it as a way to make phone calls to other speakers in other people’s homes too. It’s a useful way of having a conversation in your home when you can’t find your phone.
One nifty feature is if you have a TV with a Chromecast plugged in – those are the affordable streaming dongles from the company that connect your telly to the internet – you can even use Google Assistant to play things on your TV.
For example, if you’re in the room with your speaker you can ask 'Play Orange is the New Black from Netflix on my TV'. It’ll then connect to your Chromecast and automatically play it for you. It may sound lazy, but this is good when you don’t want to spend time sifting through all the menus on your favourite streaming services and just want to dive straight into the action.
Smart home compatibility
Google has done well to get its voice assistant to support a wide variety of smart home gadgets. It means you should be able to control your smart home tools with a Google Assistant ready speaker without much hassle at all.
If you’ve got Nest set up in your home, for instance, you’ll find you’ll be able to ask your speaker to set the perfect temperature or you can turn it all off together. It’ll also control Philips Hue lighting gadgets in a similar way too.
Google has support for over 200 brands of smart home tools, and that adds up to around 1,500 products across its range. Examples include Philips Hue, Roomba, TP-Link, LIFX, Nanoleaf, Arlo, Swann Security and many, many more.
Google Assistant makes it easy to control your smart home gadgets with your voice, plus the new selection of smart speakers with screens allows you to play around with the settings of your home on the tablet-like interface as well.