Google has had voice search features in Android for years, but when Google Assistant rolled out on the Pixel in October 2016, everything finally came together. You can now get Assistant on all modern Android devices, and Google has already announced new Assistant features at I/O 2018 that will make it even better (okay, and maybe a little too real, in the case of Duplex).
It can be easy to miss the improvements if you don’t obsessively keep an eye on the news, so here they are in one place: the 12 coolest new features in Google Assistant.Sync connected smart home devices
Google Assistant supports numerous smart home devices, but you might notice that devices you’ve just added to your account don’t always work right away. That’s because Assistant isn’t constantly scanning for new connections. You can give it a kickstart.
After adding a new smart home device like a camera or thermostat, open up Assistant and say, “Sync my devices.” Assistant tells you it’s syncing with your connected accounts, and a few seconds later any newly added devices will appear in your list. Make sure to add them to rooms in Assistant for full functionality.Send daily info
Assistant is great for calling up little tidbits like the weather, stock quotes, or even jokes. You don’t even have to ask every time, though. You can have Assistant proactively send you certain bits of information as a daily update.
To configure a daily update, start by asking your question normally—ask it for the weather, a dad joke, whatever. After Assistant pulls up the content, you can follow up with “Send this to me daily.” Assistant asks what time you want the update, and you’re all set. To change or cancel a daily update, just say, “See my subscriptions.”Have Assistant remember things for you
Your squishy human brain is fallible, but Google Assistant can remember things without fail. All you have to do is ask it. You can tell Assistant to remember things just by saying “Remember that [some piece of information].” You could tell Google to remember where you parked, what you did with the spare house key, your high score in Tetris, or anything else. As a handy bonus, Assistant also saves maps when you tell it where you parked.
Later, you can ask Google to recall the information in various ways. You can be direct, like asking Assistant “Where did I park?” You can recall factoids you’ve saved with “What did I say about [x]?” or “Remind me about [x].”Search your Google Photos uploads
Google Photos is a fantastic backup solution for all your snapshots. Google offers unlimited storage of images and videos, provided you’re okay with a little compression, and Pixel owners get free full-quality backups. If you want to look for specific photos you’ve taken, you can do it right from Google Assistant. All you have to do is ask.
Assistant plugs into the amazing search capabilities of Google Photos, so you can ask to see almost anything. You can ask Assistant to pull up pictures of specific people, locations, and even objects. Tap the image results to scroll through them immediately, or open Google Photos via the shortcut under your pics. Just make sure you preface your request with something like “my photos” to ensure you get images from your Google Photos library rather than images from a Google search.Routines
Using Assistant to do the same few things all the time can be tedious, but Routines might be able to help. This feature allows you to connect multiple actions to a single command. There are only a few pre-determined routine commands right now, but they could still save you a lot of time.
To get started, open the Assistant settings and scroll down to Routines. In this menu, Google provides six commands right now: good morning, bedtime, I’m leaving (leaving home), I’m home, let’s go to work, and let’s go home. Say any of those, and you’ll trigger the associated Routine. Each one includes a few customization options including smart home devices, travel info, and audio playback. You can also modify the trigger phrase at the top of the Routine settings page.Take and share screenshots
You can capture screenshots on Android phones by holding the power and volume buttons, but Assistant can do it, too. In fact, it might be faster if you intend to share the screenshot right away. Open Assistant and say, “take a screenshot” or “share a screenshot.”
It takes a moment to capture the screenshot, but you’ll get a preview as soon as it’s done. Assistant then immediately brings up the sharing interface so you can send the screen to a message or upload it someplace. The screenshots taken via Assistant aren’t saved locally, so you won’t end up with clutter from repeated screenshot captures.Listen to podcasts
Google has built a basic podcast interface into the Google app, and the easiest way to access it is via Assistant. You might want to listen to podcasts in this fashion because Google’s solution is quick and easy. Just say, “listen to [podcast name]” to fire up the latest episode. If you were in the middle of an episode, Assistant picks up where you left off.
Your progress is not device-specific, either. You can start listening to a podcast on your phone, then tell Assistant on Google Home you want to listen to the same podcast. Rather than start, over, it starts where you last listened on your phone.Explore menu
Google used to hide all of Assistant’s features in a series of esoteric, buried menus. Now, there’s a much more sensible way to find out what sort of cool things you can do with Assistant in the Explore menu.
To access this menu, open Assistant and tap the blue drawer icon in the upper right corner. Here, you can find all the services supported by Assistant broken down into categories like Social & Communication, Education & Reference, Games & Fun, and more. Each tile links to a full info page where you can see sample commands and (if necessary) link your account. Bottom line: Checking out the Explore menu is the easiest way to keep track of newly added apps and services.
There are also some general Assistant command suggestion at the top. You don’t even have to speak the suggestions, just tap the bubble and they’ll be dropped right into Assistant.Typing to Assistant
Google Assistant first appeared in the Allo app, and in that iteration, you could input text to “chat” with the Google’s bot. But the more powerful baked-in phone version of Assistant began its life with only voice input. That’s fine when you’re in a situation where you can talk to your phone, but voice dictation isn’t always appropriate. Well, you can type your questions and commands, too.
To access the keyboard in Assistant, just long-press your home button as you normally would. But instead of speaking right away, tap the keyboard icon in the lower-left corner. Assistant will expand to fill the screen, and you can begin typing. Assistant will respond to all the same commands that you’d use in a voice-dictation situation, and you’ll also find contextual suggestions above the keyboard. And because these suggestions are part of Assistant, they appear no matter which keyboard app you’re using.Editable history
Google Assistant used to be a transient experience—whatever you said to Assistant would be lost to the ether as soon as you left the Assistant UI. But now there’s a full history of your commands, and you can edit them too.
To access your Assistant history, you need only drag up on the overlay when Assistant pops up. This will drop you into a full-screen interface that shows your recent queries. Scroll up to see everything you’ve asked and how Assistant answered.
Editing is a snap, too. Long-press on a query, and it will be highlighted along with Assistant’s reply. From there, you can either delete or edit it. Deleting will completely remove the query (and associated activity) from the history. This is just like removing something from your Google search history, so it won’t be used to inform future search and Assistant predictions.
If you choose to edit a query, the text is dropped into the text field along with an open keyboard. You can tap send to immediately repeat the command, or make some changes and send it again. Just note that none of this undoes the actions performed when the command was first issued.Shortcuts
There are dozens of services and apps integrated with Assistant already, but some of them get preferential treatment. For example, you can tell Google to control your Hue lights directly, but lights connected through Homey require you to preface all commands with “Tell Homey.” It can get a bit tedious, but shortcuts are here to help.
To create a shortcut, go to the Assistant settings and open the settings. Scroll down and tap on the Shortcuts optionThe shortcut screen has a box for what you want to say, and one below that for what you want Assistant to actually do in response.
In the top box, input whatever snappy shortcut phrase you want. It tends to work better if you use the microphone button to speak the shortcut. Assistant will sometimes put a sample command in the bottom box, but you can change that to the command you want. It has to be the full phrase you’d say to Assistant, including the “Tell [X]” part if needed. Once your shortcut is saved, it’ll work by voice and text.Google Express shopping list
Google Assistant has always been able to add items to a shopping list, but that list used to live solely in Google Keep. As such, it was just a list. But Google recently changed the shopping list functionality to plug directly into its Google Express delivery service, which could be very useful if you use it.
All you have to do is say, “Add [item name] to my shopping list.” It will show up in your Google Express shopping list instantly. You can access that list in the Google Express app, or simply say “Show me my shopping list.” That takes you to the online version of your list, which can be shared with any of your contacts. If you’re a Google Express subscriber, you can tap “Shop your list” to get filtered search results from supported local retailers. Add items to your cart, and you’re done.To comment on this article and other PCWorld content, visit our Facebook page or our Twitter feed.