Google Home Hub, Google Assistant get a handful of quality of life upgrades for the holidays


Chris Monroe/Techhnews

Google Assistant just got smarter… again. 

Google updates its digital voice assistant frequently with new features and integrations, but it feels like the search giant is cramming in the updates this month. It’s as though this holiday is the big exam to see if Google can finally keep up with Amazon and Alexa in sales.

A couple of weeks ago, Google announced a handful of new features for the Assistant both on the company’s smart displays and on phones. On Thursday, Google debuted another batch of quality of life changes. Most of these most recent updates will start rolling out to customers now.

Here are the upgrades:

  • You’ll be able to talk back to your Nest Hello video doorbell using Google Assistant. You could previously see who was at the door with Google Assistant. The Assistant could even announce a guest and show you a live feed on your Google Home Hub or other Google Assistant smart displays. You could only ignore it or send a simple response from the Assistant such as “we’ll be right there.” Now, you’ll actually be able to talk to the person right from your smart display.

  • Google Home Hub (and third-party smart displays such as the Lenovo Smart Display) will show song lyrics when you play music. You’ll need to play songs from Google Play Music for the feature to work. Hopefully, this feature eventually rolls out to other compatible music streaming platforms like Spotify too. At least Google will help you sing along to the company’s first party platform now.

  • Google Assistant is no longer limited to just shopping lists. You can create to-do lists, notes and gift lists with a voice command. Google also promised to integrate this feature with note-taking and list-making apps such as Google Keep, Any.do, Bring!, and Todoist.

  • Google’s “Pretty Please” feature announced at the company’s developer conference in May is finally rolling out. If you or your child say “please” or “thank you” as part of a voice command, Google will reinforce the behavior by thanking you for asking nicely.

  • You can quickly set an alarm with a shortcut on the touchscreen of your smart display.

  • Your smart display can already scroll through your personal photos while in ambient mode. If you see one that’s particularly good or bad, you can now quickly hide it or share it with someone in your contact list through a voice command.

  • Google announced a handful of new kid-friendly integrations. You could already read along with a number of kids books while Google Assistant on your smart speaker such as Google Home Mini plays background music and sound effects that trigger as your reach certain words in the story. Google’s adding a bunch of new Disney books to this feature, with several aimed specifically at the holidays including Mickey’s Christmas Carol. Google Assistant can also tell you a story, and Google announced several holiday-themed new entries from Nickelodeon. Finally, if your child would like to call Santa, Google Assistant will oblige, and your smart display will have fun visuals ready.

All of these upgrades could certainly come in handy, but I’d have liked to be able to answer my video doorbell with my Google Home Hub when it launched. Plus, Amazon’s smart display, the Amazon Echo Show, has long been able to show song lyrics when it plays music. The main new features of Thursday’s announcement feel more like fixing omissions than pushing the tech forward, but they’re welcome changes nonetheless. Now we’ll see if Google’s push to add features in November truly does make a difference for prospective customers in December.


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