Google’s smart speaker can now pull double duty as a phone for voice calls. The company just confirmed that it’s rolling out Google Home’s calling feature in the US and Canada beginning today. Users can dial anyone in their contacts and local businesses for free — so long as the call recipient is in one of those two countries. The calling feature was first announced back in May.
In turning its speaker into a phone, Google is taking another step to challenge Amazon and its Echo devices, which introduced calling and messaging features earlier this year. But the two companies take a significantly different approach in how the feature actually works and who you’re able to communicate with.
How to call someone with your Google Home speaker
To place calls with Home, you just say “OK Google, call (recipient).” You can also do “Hey Google” if that’s your preferred phrase for activating the speaker. The person you’re calling needs to be stored in Google Contacts for things to work right, so if you’re using another app or service for contact management, you’ll want to make sure those numbers are also in Google’s cloud. You can also tell Home to call a business or just speak aloud a specific number you want to dial.
Though it might seem like Home is basically just acting as a speakerphone, that’s not the case. Calls are made over Wi-Fi, so they don’t use your phone plan’s minutes. In fact, Google Home calling is entirely separate from your smartphone. That’s both good and bad at the moment, which I’ll get into next.
What are the differences between Google Home and Amazon Alexa calling?
- Google Home lets you call anyone in your contacts; it doesn’t matter if they also own a Google Home speaker or not. You’re calling their actual phone. With Alexa calling, you’re always calling someone else’s Echo device or their Alexa smartphone app. That’s the major difference between the two, and definitely swings in Google’s favor.
- There’s no way to call someone else’s Google Home like you can make Echo to Echo calls with Alexa. Google only supports outgoing calls. If you’re a fan of video chat, Amazon wins this one since you can make face-to-face calls with two Echo Shows or an Echo Show and the Alexa app.
- If you’re not a Google Voice or Project Fi user, the person you’re calling from Google Home won’t see a recognizable phone number. Instead, they’ll see “unknown” or “no caller ID,” which might make someone hesitant to pick up. Just think of all the mobile spam calls we’re dealing with these days. You might find yourself leaving a lot of voicemails! Users of Google’s phone-related services Voice and Fi can link their number to Home right away to avoid this inconvenience and have that number displayed to recipients. Google has promised to have it working for everyone else by the end of the year. Please hurry, Google.
- The only way to use Google Home voice calling is with your Google Home device. Amazon’s Alexa calling and messaging can be done using the Alexa app when away from your speaker, but again, since that’s uniquely between Echo devices, it doesn’t really make sense for Google’s approach.
- Unless you’re linking a Google Voice or Project Fi number, you don’t need to configure any settings before placing your first call; Home has access to your Google Contacts and is also smart enough to call the right businesses you request.
- Google Home can identify different users in your house by voice, so if you say “OK Google, call dad” it will call your dad without needing to ask which user is making the request. Pretty neat. Though even a single slip-up there could get awkward...
Wait, what? I don’t want people to think I’m a spammer. How do I link my Google Voice or Project Fi number to Google Home?
You can tell Google Home to display the phone number you’ve got tied to either Google Voice or Project Fi by going to the Assistant settings in your Google Home smartphone app for Android or iOS. Once that’s done, recipients will see your number show up instead of the terrible “no caller ID” thing.
911 calls are not supported yet
It’s super important to know that you cannot initiate emergency calls to 911 using Google Home at this time. This is probably because calls are actually made over Wi-Fi and not with your mobile device, so 911 might have trouble pinpointing an accurate location for whoever’s calling. Still, this seems like something Google should work to resolve. Being able to yell out for 911’s help if you can’t make it to a phone seems like a pretty critical use case for a device inside your house that can now do voice calling.