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Google Home: Try these other mobile apps to unleash its full power



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Google Home requires only one app, but several others can also be useful.

James Martin / CNET

If you dig around in Google Home ecosystem long enough, you find that the Google Home app alone does not handle everything you want to do with your smart speakers. Lots of great features require you to download even more Google apps like Google Assistant and even Gmail, but there is nothing in the Google Home app that tells you about these apps.

To make things more confusing, there are some apps that you might think you need, but either you actually do not, or you do, just not for the reasons you think. Rest assured; I will arrange it all for you.

I’ll show you which app you absolutely need, which ones are not critical but definitely worth having, and finally which one you can leave on the app store shelf (unless of course you need it for some other reason than setting up your smart speakers).

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To create a morning routine, use the Google Home app to do so.

Dale Smith / CNET

The Google Home app does almost everything, but not completely

Everyone needs to download the Google Home app to set up their Google-branded smart speakers, making it by far the most ubiquitous of these apps. The Google Home app is the one you spend the vast majority of the time when you need to accomplish something you can’t easily handle with voice commands. For example, use the app to Create custom commands or routines, organize your smart home into rooms or create speaker groups to play music throughout your house.

It is also incredibly useful as a centralized place to see the status of all your smart home appliances at any time. Do you want to check if you have left the lights on at home? Instead of opening a bunch of apps for all the different smart bulbs or Wi-Fi stores you have, you can open the Google Home app to get a snapshot of your entire smart home (and control it all with touch).

Google Assistant app: Not required, but quite useful

Even if you have the Google Home app on your phone, you also need to install the Google Assistant app to fully bridge the gap between your smart speakers and your mobile device. For example, without it, you will not receive notifications on your phone about reminders you have created on Google Home. You can also not tell Google Home that send information to your phone without the Google Assistant app – things like answering random questions, a store’s uptime, or even driving directions.

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Google Home is the device name, but it’s Google Assistant that you talk to when you say “Hello, Google.”

James Martin / CNET

Most importantly, though, you need the Google Assistant app to see which third-party apps (called “Actions”) you have enabled, which is an important step in tightening your privacy and security (see our more comprehensive guide to Google Home privacy and security here).

The Gmail app can help iPhone users tighten Google Home security

If you really, really want to squeeze in security and privacy with your Google Home setup, you want to enable two-factor authentication, also called “2FA”. This means that whenever you (or someone who is not you) tries to sign in to your Google Home account, you will need to allow it via a push notification (our full step-by-step guide to how to set up two-factor authentication is here).

If you have an Android device, 2FA is baked into Google Home in the operating system. But if you have an iPhone (like me), download the Gmail app, which generates the notification when someone (hopefully you) tries to sign in to your Google Home account. Why Gmail and not another app like Google Assistant? Your guess is as good as mine.

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Download the Nest app to set up and control Nest devices other than smart speakers, but use the Google Home speaker app.

Tyler Lizenby / CNET

The Nest app is useless for speakers, but great for other Nest gadgets

A common mistake for people entering the Google Home ecosystem right now is to download the Nest mobile app when trying to set up their new speakers. The confusion naturally arises from Google’s slow renaming of Google Home as Google Nest. Last year, Google renamed the Google Home Hub as the Nest Hub ($ 50 at Walmart)as well as the updated Google Home Mini ($ 39 in Adorama) like the new Nest Mini ($ 29 at Walmart). Then, this year, Google discontinued the original Google Home speaker and replaced it with a new option called Nest Audio ($ 100 at Walmart). However, the Nest app does not help you configure any of these Nest devices, nor do you need it for Nest Wifi. You only need to use the Google Home app for all of the above.

However, you must have the Nest app if you have a Nest Learning Thermostat ($ 248 at Amazon), Nest Protect ($ 119 on Amazon) smoke alarm, Nest Secure ($ 407 at HP) Alarm, Nest x Yale lock or Nest security cameras, including Nest Hello ($ 218 at HP) Doorbell.

A Nest feature that was finally transferred to the Google Home app: Home and magazine based routines. They took Google Home Broadcast feature that allows you to send messages across your entire house, plus my recent discovery of Google Home’s hidden “short state, “all add up to make Google Home a formidable opponent in the ongoing smart speaker wars.


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