Catch up on the basics of Google's virtual assistant.
The Google Home Mini, Google Home Max and Google Home all respond to your commands given via Google Assistant.Chris Monroe/CNET
Google Assistant is a voice-activated helper similar to Apple's Siri or Amazon's Alexa. It's built into newer Android phones like the Google Pixel 3 and 3A. It also powers the Google Home line of smart speakers and smart displays like the Google Nest Hub (formerly the Google Home Hub).
Google Assistant is the voice that speaks to you and answers your questions whenever you say the wake words "OK, Google" and "Hey, Google." Say those words to a compatible device, and you can command Google Assistant to read you a recipe, set a timer, check your calendar, give you directions or control your smart home devices.
Here's our list of voice commands Google Assistant responds to and the list keeps growing. Here's everything you need to know about the Google Home to catch up on what Google's smart speakers and smart displays can do. On phones, you can talk to Google Assistant by typing if you don't feel like talking, and it responds to some touch commands on smart displays in addition to the usual voice commands.
Google debuted Google Assistant at the company's annual developer conference in 2016. Initially, you could only access Assistant on the company's own Pixel phones and the Google Home. As of now, it's available on many more Android phones. It's also built into a variety of third-party smart speakers and smart displays as well as Google's. You can even download it as an app for your iPhone.
On most smart speakers and smart displays, Google Assistant can respond to voice commands given from across a room because of finely tuned far-field microphones built into the devices. If more than one smart speaker hears your command, only the closest one will respond.
Video: The Google Nest Hub Max soups up the smart display
Google Assistant can also recognize your voice and customize responses accordingly. You can train it on one device to recognize six different voices, so everyone in your family can get tailored responses if they ask your Google Home about their calendar for the day. You can pick from a variety of voices for Google Assistant, including John Legend. You can customize its voice for each person in the family as well.
Our favorite Google Assistant devices are the $50 Google Home Mini for an affordable starting point and the $130 Google Nest Hub for a handy touchscreen if you want a visual reference. Here's how to get started with a Google-powered smart home.