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How to use Google Assistant and Google Now

Written by  Francis Rees Nov 04, 2017

Google Now is a smart feature you might not know you already have on your smartphone or tablet, but it certainly worth finding out more about it.

It's a really handy source of information so here's where we show you how to use Google Assistant and Google Now.

What phones use Google Assistant?

Google Assistant is not built into all Android phones, though some more recent models such as the Samsung Galaxy S8 and LG G6 include it.

Fortunately, you can now download it for any phone running Android 6.0 or later - it's free from Google Play.

The Google Assistant is also available for iPhones running iOS 9.3 or later - it's free from the App Store.

What other devices have Google Assistant?

Google has two (actually three, but the Max is not yet available in the UK) smart speakers that build in the Google Assistant. We've reviewed Google Home and the Google Home Mini.

Google has also built it into Android Wear 2.0, which is for smartwatches.

At Google I/O 2017 in May it also announced an updated SDK that will enable any developer to add it to any tech - keep your eyes peeled for the 'Google Assistant built-in' logo in the near future.

google android assistant

What's new in Google Assistant?

The ability to understand multiple user voices was recently added to the Google Assistant, which is of appeal primarily to Google Home users. However, sometimes it's not convenient to speak to the Assistant, so now you can type your request into the phone, too.

Google Assistant will also be able to work with new Google Lens to have a conversation about what you see, for example translating foreign text or saving events you've seen on a poster or elsewhere.

New language-support is coming to the Assistant, too, with French, German, Brazilian, Portugal, Italian, Spanish and Korean coming before the end of 2017.

Google Actions, which are third-party applications for the Google Assistant, will now be available on phones as well as Google Home.

How to use the Google Assistant

Google Assistant is the new way to interact with Google and is essentially a souped up version of Google Now. It’s the same search engine and knowledge graph underneath but with a new interface which is like a message thread.

One of the main ideas behind having a conversational style of interaction is not so you can simply enjoy chatting to Google, but the importance of context. For example, if you’re talking to someone about a possible concert and eat out beforehand it will know that the two relate to each other and give you helpful information like how far apart they are.

Context also goes as far as to whatever’s on your screen like Google Now on Tap so try long pressing the home button on the Pixel phone and swiping up – you’ll automatically get the information that you need.


You can use the Google Assistant for all kinds of things, many of which are existing commands like creating a reminder or setting an alarm . It goes further though so you can get it to remember a bike lock combination, for example.

A bit like Siri you can ask the Google Assistant for a joke, poems or even games. It will talk to you about the weather and what you’re day looks like, too.

Sadly not everything Google touts as features are available in the UK so we’ve been unable to do things like book a table at a restaurant or order an Uber ride. It can get confusing at times what you can and can’t do so either just attempt it or ask ‘what can you do’.

The Google Assistant is personalised like Google Now and will be more helpful if it knows things about you like where your workplace is or what sports you follow. It will also, Google says, get better over time as it learns.

What is Google Now?

Google Now is a service which provides you with information. By getting to know you and using other information like your location, it will serve up data which it thinks you'll want. The general idea is that it will display things which you are going to search for, therefore saving you the hassle of actually conducting said search.

As Google states, "See helpful cards with information that you need throughout your day, before you even ask."

Information is displayed in cards so you will likely see a card for a weather forecast and this might show information for different locations like home and work. The more you use Google Now, the more it can help you out with everything from football scores, stocks and shares, suggested articles, flight information and hole lot more.

The service will also provide notifications: for example, it might tell you that your train is late if you catch it daily or remind you that you need to leave the office if you're going to arrive on time for a meeting. A more detailed explanation of Google Now and how to get the most out of Google Now can be seen below.

The Google Now brand is going away somewhat with an update to the app simply called 'Google', the firm announced a few months ago.

The update puts a focus on 'the feed' which provided information tailored to your interested. You can also 'follow' topics from search results. On 7th September, Google rolled out this update globally starting with Android devices. Read more on Google's blog.


On how many devices can I use Google Now?

Although Google Now is primarily an Android feature for both smartphones and tablets, the firm has made is available for iOS, which is impressive In the same way in which you can get apps like Google Maps and Gmail for Apple products, Google Now is on the App Store for iPhones and iPads running iOS 7 or later.

On Android, you'll need a smartphone or tablet running Android 4.1 Jelly Bean or later for Google Now to work. You can still get the Google Now Launcher to make your device like Pixel or Nexus.


How to launch Google Now

Google Now is part of the Google Search app which is likely to be aleady installed on your Android device. However, Google Now won't start showing you cards unless you opt into the service. To do this, tap on the Google search bar which is probably already on your homescreen and follow the instructions.

Once you've opted in, you can open Google Now by swiping upwards from the bottom of the screen and selecting the Google options (some phones have other items in this hidden menu).

Alternatively, you can install the Google Now launcher which puts the service one swipe away from the main homescreen. On iOS you're only option is to simply open the app.

What can Google Now show you?

We've already talked about some of the cards which Google Now can show so let's take an in-depth look at everything which is currently on offer. We say currently as Google occasionally adds functionality.

Google splits the available cards into three categories: Daily management, Stay connected and Location as explained below.

Daily management cards

This section makes up core of Google Now and accounts for a large majority of the cards that it will show – although some require access to Gmail, calendar, Google+, web history or location (or a combination) to work.

The most common card is weather which will show you the forecast for current location and work or home depending on where you are. Other core cards include traffic and events.

Here's a full list of the daily management cards which might pop up: Activity summary, next appointment, weather, traffic, flights, hotels, restaurant reservations, events, packages, friend's birthday and your birthday.


Stay connected cards

This section is about keeping you informed of the things you're interested in and includes sports, shares and research topics (pretty much anything you google). In the settings you can choose which ones you want to see and which teams you follow.


Location-based Cards

As we mentioned earlier Google Now can provide you with information specific to where you are. If you switch location services on then you'll get cards detailing places (bars, clubs, restaurants etc), nearby attractions and nearby photo spots.

If you're abroad, it will also show you cards for translation, currency and the time back home.

How to interact with Google Now

We already explained how to open and access Google Now. So once you've open it, a vertical list of cards will be displayed which you can scroll though – pull down to refresh the list. Any card which you're done with can be removed by swiping it to either side.

All cards have three dots in the top right corner which you can click to inform Google Now if that card type or subject area is of interest to you. At the very bottom is also three dots which will take you to the main settings menu for Google Now.


However, tap the magic wand icon at the bottom to customise things like your important places, sports teams, and other things. The remaining hand icon on the left is for reminders.

Google Now voice commands: OK Google

As well as simply viewing the cards, customising them and swiping them away, you can interact with Google Now by voice. There's a search bar at the top which you can type in or hit the microphone icon to start a voice command.

Once you've activated a voice search, which you do by saying "Ok Google", you can ask a question and you'll be given a list of search results in card form. Where appropriate and possible, you'll be shown an information card at the very top.


As well as regular web searches, you can use Google Now as an assistant a bit like Siri on the iPhone. You can ask it to do all kinds of things, most of which you probably didn't know about. Below is a list of things you can say. This is not an exhaustive list, but includes the main commands:

• Open (eg. Netflix app)
• Take a picture/photo
• Record a video
• Set an alarm for…
• Set a timer for…
• Remind me to… (includes times and locations)
• Make a note
• Create a calendar event
• What is my schedule for tomorrow?
• Where's my package?
• Find…
• Call…
• Text…
• Send email to…
• Post to…
• Where is the nearest…?
• Navigate to…
• Directions to…
• Where is…?
• Show me my flight info
• Where's my hotel?
• What are some attractions around here?
• How do you say [hello] in [Japanese]?
• What is [100 pounts] in [dollars]?
• What's the flight status of…?
• Play some music (opens "I'm feeling lucky" radio station in Google Play Music)
• Next Song / Pause Song
• Play/watch/read… (content must be in Google Play library)
• What's this song?
• Up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right (audio response)
• Who are you? (audio response)
• When am I? (audio response)

Also see: Google Pixel 2 XL UK Review: A phone worth some serious thought

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