What Is Google Home and How Does It Work?

Learn all about the staple of Google's smart speaker lineup

Google Home is a line of smart speakers that includes the original Google Home, Google Home Hub, Google Home Mini, and others. The line is marketed under the Google Nest brand, which includes a variety of smart home devices like the Nest thermostat. With Google Assistant built right in, Google Home is able to answer informational queries, provide weather reports, manage your calendar, and more.

A Google Home smart speaker in a kitchen.

What Is Google Home?

Google Home refers to two things: the original Google Home smart speaker, and the entire product line, including Google Home Hub, Google Mini, and other products.

The original Google Home device is essentially a single two-inch speaker and some computer hardware packaged up in a housing that looks something like an air freshener. It has Wi-Fi connectivity built right in, which it uses to access your Wi-Fi network and connect to the internet.

Google Home was originally designed to compete with the Amazon Echo. It has similar capabilities and functionality, but it's built around Google Assistant instead of Amazon's Alexa virtual assistant.

In addition to the original Google Home smart speaker, Google has created a variety of other devices in the Google Home line that provide access to Google Assistant:

  • Google Home Mini: A miniaturized version of the Google Home smart speaker. It takes up less space, and the speaker quality isn't as good, but it still provides full access to Google Assistant.
  • Nest Mini: An improved version of the Google Home Mini. It has a similar form factor, but the sound quality is better.
  • Google Home Max: A larger version of Google Home that has more speakers and provides superior sound quality.
  • Nest Hub: Essentially a Google Home with a built-in screen. It can do everything Google Home does, but it can also display photos, do video calling, and more.
  • Nest Hub Max: A version of Nest Hub with a bigger screen, better sound, and some more perks.

Aside from Google Home devices, you can also access Google Assistant on your phone. It comes built right into modern Android phones, but you can also download Google Assistant for your iPhone.

What Can Google Home Do?

Without being connected to the internet, Google Home can't do a whole lot. You can use it as a wireless speaker for local media, but most of the useful functionality relies on an internet connection. While Google Home is a decent enough speaker, you can find better wireless speakers for less money if you don't plan on connecting to the internet.

When you do connect Google Home to the internet, you unlock the functionality of Google Assistant. The way it works is you say "OK Google" or "Hey Google," and then talk to the device almost like you would talk to a person.

This natural language interface allows you to ask questions like, "What is the weather today?" or make requests like, "Play my morning playlist on Spotify." Google Home will respond appropriately.

If you aren't completely on board with talking to a speaker, Google Home has an app for both Android and iOS that allows you to configure and control your Google Home speakers remotely.

Some of the things you can do with a Google Home device include:

  • Listen to music and podcasts on a variety of streaming services.
  • Hear the latest news briefs for your area.
  • Play TV shows and other video content on your TV if you have a Chromecast.
  • Control your smart home devices, like lights, thermostats, and more.
  • Manage your Google calendar.
  • Get your local weather report.
  • Create shopping lists.
  • Find and make recipes with step-by-step instructions.
  • Use Google Assistant to complete your online food order, automatically filling out your contact and payment details.
  • Set up routines, including sunrise/sunset routines like turning on your lights in the evening automatically.
  • Get the inside scoop on the Academy Awards by saying things like, "Hey Google, who's nominated for Best Actress at the Oscars?"

This list is far from exhaustive, and you can even add to the basic functionality of Google Home skills and commands.

Can Google Home Eavesdrop on Your Conversations?

Since Google Home is always listening for its wake word, you may wonder if Google home is able to spy on you, and that's a valid concern. (By the way, you can turn off OK Google.)

Investigations have found that Google Home does record and transmit every time it hears its wake word, and it can activate accidentally if it hears something similar to its wake word. Any audio that is overheard during such an event is stored on Google's servers, and about two percent of that audio is listened to and transcribed by human contractors. (Google says users have to opt in to have Google Assistant interactions recorded to their account.)

While Google Home is likely to record things it shouldn't, it isn't likely that anyone will ever hear those recordings. If you have privacy concerns, disable voice recording on your Google Home, although doing so does disable some features. In the next section, we'll address more ways to safeguard your privacy.

Guest Mode and Privacy Issues

By default, Google doesn't save users' audio recordings. If you're interested in learning about how the search giant guards your privacy, ask Google Assistant on any enabled device, "How do you keep my information private?" If you're still concerned, tell Google Assistant, "Hey Google, delete everything I said to you this week."

In another effort to boost Goole Home's privacy and security features, Google launched a function called Guest Mode for Google Assistant, and it's available on any Google Assistant-enabled smart speakers and displays. When you're in this mode, Google won't save any Google Assistant communications to your account and won't include your personal information, such as contacts or calendar items, when it's answering queries or issuing search results.

Guest Mode is a great tool if you have friends in your home and you don't want their Google Assistant interactions on your account. Or, turn it on if you're planning a surprise for a family member and don't want to leave any evidence behind.

To learn more, say:

  • Hey Google, tell me about Guest Mode.

To turn it on, you or any visitor in your home would say:

  • Hey Google, turn on Guest Mode.

When you turn on Guest Mode, you'll hear a unique chime and see an icon on the display. To turn off Guest Mode, anyone can say:

  • Hey Google, turn off Guest Mode.

If you're ever unsure which mode you're in, say:

  • Is Guest Mode on?

How to Use Google Home for Entertainment

As a smart speaker, Google Home excels when used for entertainment purposes. Use several Google Home devices together to create a stereo entertainment system, have one in each room of your house to listen to music wherever you go, or arrange these devices in any other way you like.

Some of the streaming services Google Home works with include:

To use any of these services, all you have to do is say "OK, Google. Play (song name) on YouTube Music," or "OK, Google. Play (radio station name) on Pandora."

If you have a Chromecast, use natural language commands to ask your Google Home to play video content on your TV from any supported streaming service.

Google Home also supports a variety of trivia and game activities.

How to Use Google Home for Productivity

Beyond its entertainment uses, use Google Home to obtain a vast amount of information. Since Google Assistant is plugged into the Google search engine, it's capable of answering a dizzying variety of questions with varying levels of success.

Ask Google Home for information about the weather, local sports teams, news, traffic, and more. It can also manage your Google Calendar and interface with Google Keep to help you schedule appointments and events, create shopping lists, and perform other useful tasks.

Since Google Home leverages Google Assistant, take advantage of all these useful features on your phone when you leave the house. Make an appointment at home, and your plans change later? Ask Google Assistant on your phone to make the change, just as you would with your Google Home.

Google Home in Your Smart Home

If you're sold on the whole concept of talking to your virtual assistant, control your entire smart home through Google Home with voice commands. With Google Home as the centerpiece of your smart home, use voice commands to turn your lights on and off, control your television and other smart electronics, adjust your thermostat, and more.

Some smart home devices work natively with Google Home, and others require some kind of hub to act as a bridge. Check out our guide to what works with Google Home for more information.

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