If you'e new to Android - or simply just haven't thought to give Google Now a try before - you may be wondering why exactly you need a digital assistant to help you get the most from your device. But once you get started with Google Now, it's hard to imagine ever going back.
Below is a complete overview of how to get up and running with Google Now, what you can use it for, and a few other tips that just might come in handy.
Make sure your version of Android and the Google Search app are both up to date. Head to the Play Store to see if there’s an update to install – you’ll need Android 4.1 or newer.
You can open Google Now by selecting the Google app , or swiping up from the home button at the bottom of your screen. When you open Google Search, you’ll be asked if you wish to use Google Now. Select Yes, and you’ll be taken to the Google Now feed.
Google Now will display what it calls Cards, which are bits of useful info that it thinks you’ll need or be interested in. It gathers this information from your personal data and how you use your phone – the more you use Google Now and your phone, the more accurate it will be in predicting snippets of info relevant to you. It finds info based on your web and search history, location, emails, and so on.
You can customise how Google Now works by heading to the bottom of your feed and selecting the small magic wand button. Here, you can input info for things like your fave sports teams, stocks you’re following, home and work addresses, etc.
By tapping Settings at the bottom of your feed you can turn Now on or off and decide which updates and notifications you’ll receive, what info it can access, and voice settings.
One of the big aces up Google Now’s sleeve is the Cards feature. Rather than operating merely as a digital personal assistant, like Apple’s Siri, Now has also been designed to pre-empt a user’s needs and provide potentially important information before a phone owner needs to search for it – kind of like Siri with added precognitive abilities.
Cards themselves are merely summarised pieces of useful info that will pop up when Google thinks you might need them. These can include everything from up-to-date weather reports and traffic information, to a quick reminder of how your stocks or favourite sports teams are currently performing.
By monitoring how you use your phone and your web history, Google comes up with a list of information about your hobbies, routines and interests. So Google Now will automatically remind you of upcoming appointments or events, and provide helpful additional info such as the quickest route there.
How Cards work
For Cards to work efficiently, Google will usually need a week or more to track your phone-using habits, and figure out things you like and what info may be of use to you.
When Cards pop up, you can swipe them away to delete them or view them later, tap them to get more details, and tap the Menu icon to give Google feedback on whether you found the card helpful. Leaving feedback is a great way of letting Google Now learn what types of Cards you’d like to receive, and which bits of info don’t interest you.
Google Now also likes to deliver monthly fitness updates. If you enable Location Reporting and Location History, you’ll receive a monthly pop-up Card with statistics on how far you’ve walked or biked over the last four weeks. Google Now collects this information by using your phone’s accelerometer, although this only works for compatible devices running Android Jelly Bean and up.
A very cool feature you’ll find as part of Cards is the inclusion of Research Topics. Basically, Google Now pays attention to the things you search for and the websites you browse. If you run several searches related to the one topic, Google will pick up on the trend, and look for relevant web pages and information that you haven’t yet browsed. You’ll then be presented with a Card, full of links to related sites for you to view to further your ‘research’.
For this feature to work, you’ll need to have Web History enabled for your Google account. You can tap the History tab in your browser for a summary of your recent internet activity, and Explore at the bottom of the Research Topics card to view more information.
Like a good personal assistant, Google Now responds to your voice commands, and you can ask the feature to search for just about anything and complete pretty much any standard smartphone task.
To make a voice command, either say ‘ Ok Google’ when in the Google Now app or your home screen, or tap the small microphone icon to the right of your Google search bar.
Things to ask
Types of questions include general knowledge queries; asking Now to open a specific web page or app, or show you YouTube videos or images; asking for weather, sports and news updates; and searching for media such as music or videos.
You can also use Google Now to set alarms and reminders; make voice calls and send text messages and emails; open Maps and get directions; check flight information and make calculations.
Some examples of things you can ask, and how to word them:
'Call my husband.'
'What is my schedule for Friday?'
'Play some music.'
'Show me the nearest library.'
'Set an an alarm for 7 a.m.'
'Take a photo.'
Basically, anything that you'd normally do by tapping the touchscreen, you can try by voice through Google Now.
As always, there's a bunch of 'Easter eggs' that Google Now will respond amusingly to. These include lots of nerdy questions such as 'When am I'?, finding 'Bacon numbers', and asking your phone to do a barrel roll.
There's plenty of lists of surprise responses to Google Now questions and commands if you search online; you can even ask Google Now what the fox says, if you weren't already sick of the biggest YouTube video of 2013.