Google Assistant: What It Is and How To Use It

A guide to Google's conversational personal assistant

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Google Assistant is a smart digital assistant that can understand your voice and respond to commands or questions.

The voice assistant joins Apple's Siri, Amazon's Alexa, Samsung's Bixby, and Microsoft's Cortana world of smart digital assistants available in the palm of your hand. All of these assistants will respond to questions and voice commands but each has its own flavor.

What Google Assistant Is

While Google Assistant shares some features with the aforementioned assistants, Google's version is more conversational, which means you can ask it follow-up questions if you need more information about a particular question or search.

Google Assistant is built into the Google Pixel line of devices, the Android TV streaming platform, and Google Home, the company's smart home hub. It also powers most smartphones in general.

If you aren't familiar with Google Home, think of it akin to the Amazon Echo and Alexa. Google Assistant can also be accessed as a chat bot in the Google Allo messaging app.

The directions below should apply no matter who made your Android phone: Samsung, Google, Huawei, Xiaomi, etc.

Google Assistant Settings Offer Intelligent Features

To launch Google Assistant, you can either long press your home button or say "Hey, Google" or "Okay Google." You should typically only have to do this the first time you open a conversation with the Assistant; enhancements to the original Assistant include a feature that allows you to ask multiple questions within the same request. However, once an interaction has ended, you'll need to say "Okay, Google" or "Hey, Google" again to start a new session.

As we mentioned, you can actually have a conversation with it, either via chat or voice.

For instance, if you ask to see nearby restaurants, you can then filter that list to just see Italian restaurants or ask for a particular restaurant's hours. You can pretty much ask it anything you'd ask a search engine, including information like state capitals, local weather, movie times, and train schedules. For example, you can ask for the capital of Vermont, and then get directions to the city of Montpelier or find out its population.

You can also ask the Assistant to do things for you such as setting a reminder, sending a message, or getting directions. If you use Google Home, you can even ask it to play music or turn on the lights. Google Assistant can even make a dinner reservation for you using an app like OpenTable.

However, if you find the Google Assistant responds even when you weren't trying to access it, or it may just be using too much of your available resources. In cases like that, you can use these simple steps to turn off OK Google.

Subscription Settings Offer Daily or Weekly Options

Like any good real-life assistant, it's great when they can be proactive. You can set up subscriptions for certain information, such as daily weather and traffic updates, news alerts, sports scores, and the like. Just type or say "show me the weather" and then select Send me daily to subscribe.

At any time, you can call up your subscriptions by saying, not surprisingly, "show my subscriptions" and they'll show up as a series of cards; tap a card to get more information or to cancel. You can tell the Assistant what time you'd like to receive your subscriptions, so you can get weather information before you leave for work or school and news alerts while you're drinking your morning coffee or taking lunch, for example.

Like many Google products, the Assistant will learn from your behavior and will tailor its responses based on past activity. These are called smart replies. For example, it may try to predict a response to a text from your spouse asking what you want for dinner or if you want to see a movie by suggesting relevant searches or canned responses like "I don't know."

Even if you have a burning question when you're not online, you can still talk to the Google Assistant. It will save your query and then answer you as soon as you get back to civilization or find a Wi-Fi hotspot. If you're on the road and spot something you can't identify, you can take a picture of it and ask the Assistant what it is or what it's made of using a reverse image search. The Assistant can also read QR codes.

How To Get Google Assistant

You can go to Google Play to get the Google Assistant app and download it to your Android 7.0 (Nougat) or higher device. That's the simplest step for most people. 

If you're willing to take a few steps, including rooting your device, you may be able to get Google Assistant on a handful of older and/or non-Pixel Android devices, including some Google Nexus and Moto G devices, as well as the OnePlus One and Samsung Galaxy S5.

To start, you'll need to update your device to Android 7.0 Nougat, have the latest version of the Google app and download the BuildProp Editor (by JRummy Apps Inc.) and KingoRoot (by FingerPower Digital Technology Ltd.) apps.

The first step is to root your smartphone, which is also a way you can update your operating system without waiting for your carrier to push it through. The KingoRoot app will help with this process, but it's not available in the Google Play Store, so you'll have to go into your security settings and allow downloading apps from unknown sources first. The app will walk you through the process. See our guide to rooting your Android device if you run into any issues. 

Next, you'll use the BuildProp Editor to essentially trick Android into thinking your phone is actually a Google Pixel device. BuildProp is available in the Google Play Store. Once you make a few edits, you should be able to download Google Assistant; be warned that some of your apps may not work properly after doing so, though if you're using a Google Nexus device, it should be okay. 

Techradar has a detailed step-by-step guide if you decide to go this route. Rooting your device and modifying it this way always involves risk, so be sure to backup your device before proceeding and always take precautions to avoid downloading a malignant app.