Google Home goes on sale in retail locations across Canada today, so let’s talk about everything you’ll want to do after unboxing your new smart home assistant to absolutely maximize its capabilities.

Google Home is different from setting up a new smartphone, tablet, or laptop in that it doesn’t provide a visual interface. So you can’t explore the context menus and settings on the device in the same way you normally would with new hardware – you have to discover is capabilities through conversation. The app does a good job of helping that along, but we’re going to save you time by providing exactly what steps to take for a better-than-average setup. Including some things that Google isn’t telling you.

Google Home retails for $179.99. Unlike other hardware, there are advantages to buying it in multiples. The main one being a sound system that’s in sync throughout your home. Also, being able to speak commands to it in more than one area is useful. I use two in my condo – one placed in the bedroom, and one in kitchen / living room area.

Setting up for setup

Before we get started here’s what you’ll need to follow these setup instructions:

  • Account with If This Than That (IFTTT)
  • Accounts for your smart home lights / locks / cameras etc. with the hardware properly installed
  • Accounts for Google, Netflix, Spotify, and Uber.
  • Optional Chromecast devices for your TV and speakers.
  • You’ve installed the Google Home app (Android or iOS available) on your smartphone and have set up the device(s) and trained them to recognize your voice. (The app guides you through this process.)
  • Know your trigger phrases: Say “OK Google” or “Hey Google” before giving commands to your Google Home unit.

Ok, Google and reader. Let’s get started.

Tailor your content preferences

You’ll want to set up your preferred music service and queue up your daily news briefings.

Add your Spotify account

  • In the Google Home app tap on the Setting context menu (top left corner)
  • Open “Account Preferences” and then tap “Linked media accounts.” You should see Google Play as an option and Spotify as well. Both can be used with free or premium accounts. Tap on Spotify and enter your credentials to add it. You’ve just extended your music library.

Choose your news briefings

  • From the settings menu, tap “More settings” and then under the Services list tap “News.”
  • Tap “Add news sources” here and select English (Canada) at the top to see content tailored to Canada. Select your favourite media brands.
  • Go back and tap “change order” next to your news sources and organize them how you like. This determines what will play first when you ask Google to “play the news” or give your “daily briefing.”

Customize “my day”

  • Back at the main settings menu, select “My Day.” (Hint you can specifically ask Google “Tell me about my day” to listen to this feature).
  • Select your weather preferences (Celsius or Farenheit temperature read out) by tapping the gear icon next to weather
  • Set up your work commute ETA by tapping the gear next to Work commute. Here, you’ll be asked to type in locations for work and home.
  • Under “My Day summary ends with…” tap the gear icon next to “News” to select what news briefing you’ll hear here. You’ll be selecting from the new ssources that you chose in our last section.

Pro tip: Tap the three-dot icon in the top-right corner of the “My Day” window to see the log of your personal activity with Google Home. If you come across strange behaviour, this is the place to check and see what commands Google Home was following.

Set up your smart home devices

There’s a long list of connected light bulbs, switches, cameras, thermostats, etc. that you can connect to Google Home and control with your voice. To do so, you’ll connect the account you use to manage these devices to the Google Home app. This is done under Settings -> Home control -> the “+” button in the bottom-right corner. Some smart home brands require you to use a hub to control all the devices. I opted for TP-Link brand smart bulbs and switches for my lights, since no hub is required.

Name your devices and assign them to rooms

  • In the Home control screen, tap on “Rooms” to see a list of available rooms. You can create new rooms by tapping “+”
  • Tap on the rooms and add your devices. Keep in mind a device can only belong to one room at a time.
  • If you have multiple lights in the kitchen that are WiFi enabled, and you’ve added them all to your “kitchen” room in Google Home, you can now just say “Turn on the kitchen lights” to turn them all on at once, instead of individually.
  • In the “Devices” tab of the Home control screen, you’ll see all the devices you have connected under the accounts they belong to. The names you see were assigned by your account connected to Google Home. (Eg. TP-Link Kasa or Wink).
  • Tap on the device to give it a nickname. This can be used to control a group of lights without them being in the same room. Just put a common term in the nickname of all the devices, such as “first floor” or “main,” and now when you say “Turn on the first floor lights” all of these devices should turn on.
  • You can always say “turn on all the lights” or “turn off all the lights” to switch all your lights on or off at once

Connect your Ecobee to Google Home

Google Home offers native integration with Nest, of course, the smart thermostat in the Alphabet Inc. family. If you’re like me and you have an Ecobee thermostat, support for Google Home isn’t available at present. But there’s a workaround to access it through the Wink app.

  • Install the Wink app on your smartphone.
  • Link your Ecobee account to the Wink app. You won’t need the Wink hub to do this.
  • Link your Wink account to Google Home using the “Home control” settings.
  • Now you can ask Google Home to “set the temperature” or “turn the temperature up/down” and your Ecobee will be adjusted.

Connect Chromecast devices and group them

Chromecast TV or audio devices If you use in your house and you’ve set them up on the same Wi-Fi network as Google Home, then your Google Home app should discover them automatically. You should see them in the “Devices” tab of the Google Home app which is accessed by tapping the icon in the top right corner of the main screen, or Settings -> Devices.

  • Create a group by pressing the context menu (three vertical dots icon) of your device and tapping “create a new group.” You can add Google Home devices and Chromecast Audio devices to belong to the same group.
  • For example, you might want a group that’s all of the speakers on your first floor and name it “first floor.” Now you can tell Google to play music or the radio on “first floor” speakers and it will stream it across those devices in sync.

You can’t group Chromecast TV devices together, probably because people normally watch someone on one screen at a time. You can access any Youtube video natively through Google Home on your Chromecast device, or Netflix once you’ve connected your account, or you can see photos you have stored with Google Photos.

Connect your Netflix account

  • In the Google Home app, tap Settings -> More Settings -> Videos and Photos
  • Now you can ask Google to “Play *show or movie name* Netflix on *device name*” (If you have just one Chromecast TV, then saying “TV” will suffice)
  • Once you’re playing Netflix on your Chromecast, you can give Google Home commands in context. For example you can say “next episode” or “pause” to control Netflix.

Train your Google Photos library for voice control

I find one of the more entertaining features of Google Home is to have it show you photos from your collection via a Chromecast TV. Thanks to the smart Assistant AI in Google Photos, you can ask to see all the photos in your collection of “cats” and the image recognition will work the magic. You can also call up photos based on album name, when and where they were taken, and even based on who you’re with. This experience can be a lot better if you take some time to train the Assistant to recognize your friends. (Here I will note that according to Google when you apply a name label to your collection of photos, that stays local to your account for privacy reasons. So you’re not training Google to recognize your friend’s faces everywhere it sees them on the wider Internet.)

  • In your web browser go to photos.google.com and make sure you’re signed into the same account you use with Google Home.
  • Upload all the photos you want to access via Google Home.
  • Click in the “Search your photos” field and wait until the contextual options appears. You should see faces from your photos appear below the search bar.
  • Click on the face you want to label and type in a name. (You can type in the person’s name or just something like “Dad” – whatever you want really.)
  • If you don’t see this bar, go to Settings and find the “Group similar faces” section. Expand the options here and make sure “Face grouping” is on.

The best IFTTT recipes for Google Home

For this section, I’ll be assuming that you’ve already created an IFTTT account and connected the required services to it. If you’re never tried IFTTT, don’t be intimidated, it’s a point-and-click service that lets us muggles (re: non-programmers) set up simple trigger and response systems. With the Google Assistant service, we can set it up as a trigger (in other words, the “if” part of the applet).

With the Google Assistant service, we can set it up as a trigger (in other words, the “if” part of the applet). But not the response (the “that” part of the applet.) So it can be used to control other connected services, but not as a way to push you information from those services. I’m sharing here my most useful applets that I’ve discovered so far. To do the same, create a new applet and select “Google Assistant” for the “If” part of the applet. Then follow the steps in sequence.

Schedule an event in Google Calendar

  • Select “Say a phrase with a text ingredient.”
  • For options of what you want to say write “Schedule $,” or “Add to calendar $” or “Add $ to calendar.”
  • For the response, I have “OK boss, $ added to your calendar”
  • For “Then” select Google Calendar and the “Quick add event” option
  • In the “Quick add text” field select “Add ingredient” and select “TextField” (This will be the $ variable that we created in the steps above)
  • Save your applet.
  • Test it. Say something like “Read ITWorldCanada.com tonight at 8 P.M.”

Find your phone

  • Select “Say a simple phrase”
  • For the trigger write “Where’s my phone?” or “Find my phone.”
  • For the response write “OK, calling your phone.”
  • Select the “Phone call” service for “Then” (and yes, it says U.S. only, but it works in Canada)
  • Select “Call my phone” and write whatever you like in the text box. A computer voice will read it to you when you answer your phone.
  • Now when you can’t find your phone around the house, you know what to do.

Write something down

  • Select “Say a phrase with a text ingredient”
  • What do you want to say? triggers can be “Write down $,” or “Take a note $.” or “Write this down $.”
  • Response can be “Got it. Wrote down $.”
  • Select “Google Drive” as the “Then” trigger.
  • Select “Append to a document”
  • In Document name write “Google Home notes.” (Note if the document doesn’t exist, it will be created on the first trigger.)
  • In Content click the Add ingredient button and select “TextField”
  • Select a drive folder path if you like.
  • Save it.
  • Now you can write down reminders, creative thoughts, or whatever you like with Google Home.

Change your Ecobee comfort settings

Earlier in this tutorial, we covered how to control Ecobee through the Wink app. But that doesn’t allow you to change the comfort profile on your Ecobee with your voice. This will enable those features.

  • Select “Say a simple phrase”
  • Set the trigger to “I’m back” or “Set Ecobee to home”
  • Set response to “Welcome home. Ecobee is in home mode.”
  • Select Ecobee for the Then part of the applet.
  • Choose “Set comfort profile until next transition.”
  • Select your thermostat’s name and the comfort profile (in this example, “home”)
  • Save. Now when you tell Ecobee that you’re back, it will set it to your home comfort profile until the next scheduled change.

Access third-party services in Canada

At launch, Google says that most of the third-party services available in the U.S. won’t be accessible in Canada. To see some of these services, select “Assistant apps” from the Settings menu. Ask Google to “talk to” any of these and it will politely apologize and tell you that it’s not set up for devices set up on Canadian English.  That’s a big hint.

Change your Google Home language to U.S. English and it will give you access to those Assistant apps, including Uber. Try saying “talk to *service name*” or “ask *service name* X” to use these apps. Google says they’ll be available on Canadian English eventually.

  • Go to the “Devices” screen in Google Home (Settings -> Devices)
  • Hit “More” and then select your Google Home unit from under the Devices list.
  • Tap “Assistant language” at the bottom and select U.S. English.
  • Explore what developers have created for a voice-first experience.

One last resource I’ll leave you with is the /googlehome sub-Reddit. Check out the sticky posts at the top for even more in-depth integrations and elaborate Google Home setups. If you’re willing to set up a server and write some Python code, you’ll really push the boundaries of the Google Home experience.

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