10 surprising things Google Home can’t yet do – CNET

While the Google Home ($109.99 at Dell Home) smart speaker can hold its own in many rights, when compared to the Echo, Echo Dot ($89.99 at Amazon.com) or Amazon Tap ($99.99 at Amazon.com), it understandably falls short. The brains of Amazon’s speakers, the virtual assistant Alexa, has been learning and developing for more than two years now, while Google’s version, Assistant, is still quite new.

If Google ever wants to compete squarely with Amazon’s smart speaker, it will have to add new features. Here are 10 things the Google Home could add that would catch it up.

Editors’ note: Originally published November 24, 2016, this is regularly updated to include new information and remove features from the list that have been added to Google Home’s capabilities. Since launch, Google has added shopping with Google Homesending Netflix shows to Chromecast using your voice, Logitech Harmony supportmulti-user support, voice calling and Bluetooth. Four features — sending directions to your phone, notifications, music alarms and reminders — were added to the list.

Track packages

Despite the new ability to shop with Google Home or the fact that Google Now has had the ability to cherry-pick tracking numbers and travel info from your email for years now, you cannot track packages with Google Home.

Google Assistant, the brains behind the Google Home speaker, can provide you with upcoming flight information. But for some reason, you can’t get any package tracking information yet.

Sleep timer

While it’s understandable that some features are missing from the Home at launch, it’s kind of surprising that a smart speaker shipped without a sleep timer. If you tell Google Home to play one of the built-in white noise sounds, it will play for just one hour before stopping on its own. That said, you can’t tell Google Home to stop playing a podcast or stream music after 30 minutes or an hour has passed.

You can say, “OK, Google, set a sleep timer for 30 minutes.” The speaker will respond in the affirmative, stating that it’s set a timer for 30 minutes, named Sleep. Not exactly helpful.

Hopefully, this is a feature that gets addressed in an upcoming update.

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Taylor Martin/CNET

Take notes or voice memos

Still a shortcoming of the Alexa speakers is the inability to make notes using dictation or store voice memos.

Likewise, you can’t create notes or memos with the Google Home either. This is odd, considering Google has integrated its “Keep shopping list” app with Assistant.

The functionality is there and it seems like note-taking wouldn’t be very difficult for Google to implement. Yet, if you say, “OK, Google, add a new note,” it responds with “Sorry, I can’t take notes yet.”

A workaround to this that has been hit or miss in our experience is to create an IFTTT applet that will let you create a note in Evernote, OneNote or Google Drive.

Actions on IFTTT

Much like Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant has a channel on the IFTTT online connection service that greatly extends what the smart speaker can do. It connects it to devices and services that aren’t natively supported, like Lifx bulbs or the Ecobee thermostat.

The IFTTT Applets you can make with Google Assistant are far more in-depth and customizable than those for the Amazon Alexa channel. However, there are no actions for the Google Home channel, meaning you can only use the speaker for the trigger part of Applets.

I could think of at least a dozen reasons why Google Home actions would be useful, such as playing music when I get home or telling me when my Egg Minder has fewer than three eggs.

String commands together

Also like Alexa, Google Home is not yet capable of taking a string of commands and separating them. You must separate each command into its own statement.

Think of how much more natural it would be to say, “OK, Google, play the Lumineers and set volume to 50 percent.” Instead, you have to issue two separate commands to achieve this — “OK, Google, play the Lumineers. [Pause.] OK, Google, set the volume to 50 percent.”

Having to speak two commands isn’t so bad. But if you’ve got three or more commands you often speak together, the user experience definitely begins to suffer.

The only alternative is to create multiple IFTTT Applets with the same trigger phrase. Even then, the trigger phrase will only control external devices and services. You can’t begin playing music or change the volume of Google Home using IFTTT.

Custom wake phrases

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James Martin/CNET

There is also no way to set custom wake phrases. And each of Google Home’s induction phrases are three- or four-syllable phrases that aren’t exactly very natural to say:

  • “OK, Google.”
  • “Hi, Google.”
  • “Hey, Google.”

Yes, I’m used to saying “OK, Google,” but only because Google has forced me to use that phrase since the introduction of Google Now. But it doesn’t make it any more natural to speak.

I found that “Hey, boo boo” also works as a wake word, likely by coincidence. Even if it’s not any more natural or shorter to say, my Yogi Bear impression is really coming along. You can also wake Google Home by saying, “Okie dokie, Google.”

Send directions to your phone

Surprisingly, while Google Home will give you results on the nearest coffee shop or pizza joint, it can’t send that information to your phone, which seems like a pretty big oversight, considering it’s one of the most useful features found in Google Maps. With more Android phones now equipped with Google Assistant, there’s hope something like this might happen in the future, but there is no official word on such features on the horizon.

Even something like Amazon’s way of prominently displaying informational cards for recent requests available in the Alexa app would be a step in the right direction. You can check out your Google Assistant history by opening the Google Home app and going to More settings > My Activity. There, you can click on the cards, but they will just launch a new Google search for your request.

Notifications

Amazon recently rolled out notifications for Alexa speakers, which will alert users of missed calls and messages and, for now, delivery status updates for items ordered from Amazon. As of right now, notifications are not possible on Google Home, unless you consider this workaround.

However, notifications were one of the upcoming features announced for Google Home at Google I/O in May. These notifications are called Proactive Assistance and will alert you of reminders, status changes for upcoming flights, unusual traffic for your commute and more. When notifications will be officially added to Google Home is still unknown. 

Music alarms

You might imagine a connected speaker like Google Home would ship with fancy alarm features. You would also be wrong. Google Home’s alarm function is very basic.

You can set an alarm, give it a name, have it recur daily, control the alarm volume, and snooze it. You can’t choose a different alarm sound, and you especially can’t set a custom alarm, such as music.

Reminders

This is a big one. Reminders are one of the most-complained-about missing features among Google Home owners. You can create timers, alarms, calendar events and even to-do lists, but you cannot create reminders with Google Home or in the Google Home app.

That said, if you have created reminders using Google Calendar, Inbox, the Google Search app or by typing a reminder in the search bar at google.com, Google Home can tell you about those reminders. Just say, “OK, Google, tell me about my day.”

Reminders for Google Home were announced at Google IO back in May, but no given release date was given.

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