Hands, Er, Off with Google Home Hands-Free Calling

Posted on September 7, 2017 by Paul Thurrott in Cloud, Hardware, Smart Home with 13 Comments

Google recently announced that hands-free phone calling had come to Google Home, its Google Assistant-based smart speaker.

I spent some time using it to place test phones calls to my other phone this week. Here’s what you need to know.

It’s only available in the U.S. and Canada. As Google notes, hands-free calling is only available in the U.S. and Canada right now. I expect that to improve over time.

It’s free. Anyone can use Google Home to make free hands-free calls to the U.S. and Canada.

You can only call phones that are in the U.S. or Canada. Unless you’re a Project Fi or Google Voice customer, in which case international calls will work fine and your normal calling rates will apply.

It works with G Suite accounts. While G Suite and its custom domains sometime cause issues with certain Google services—including Google Home, by the way, which doesn’t let me access my calendar—hands-free phone calling does work.

It works like you’d expect. You can say something like “OK, Google, call Stephanie” to call a contact named Stephanie. If that contact has more than one phone number, Home will ask, “Home or mobile?” You can also call numbers (“Call 123, 456, 7890”) or businesses (by name). It also supports related commands like “Redial,” and Google Home volume commands work normally.

It works with multiple users. As is the case with Google Home generally, hands-free calling supports multiple users. So if you’ve configured the device to recognize your voice, it will use your contacts and not someone else’s.

You should be specific. If you have multiple contacts with the same first name, you should say the full name. Otherwise, you will be prompted with, “There are two people with that name, Paul Thurrott and Paul McKiernan. Which do you want to call?” (Or similar.) Likewise, you can just complete the thought to not be prompted: “Call Paul Thurrott on mobile.”

You can end the call. You can do so with your voice—“OK, Google, hang up” (or similar; “disconnect,” “end call,” and “stop” all work)—or by pressing the top of your Google Home.

You can issue other commands while in a call, too. While you’re speaking to someone via Google Home, you can still control the device by saying “OK, Google” or by pressing and holding on the top of Google Home. The other party won’t hear what you say to Google Home, and after it completes your request, the call will resume normally.

No, you can’t use it to answer the phone. Hands-free calling is outbound-only right now, and Google says it “doesn’t have additional details to share regarding inbound calls” at this time. This means you can’t block calls with Google Home, either.

You (probably) won’t be correctly identified by Caller ID. For the short term, those you’re calling will not see your Caller ID; instead, they will see “Unknown” or “No Caller ID.” But Google Voice and Project Fi users are an exception. To enable Caller ID for Project Fi, for example, open the Google Home app on your phone and navigate to Devices. Then, select the “More” (“…”) item and then Settings > Google Assistant Settings/More > Calls and then choose “Google Voice” or “Project Fi.”

It doesn’t record you. Google Home doesn’t offer any call recording capabilities, and despite Google’s reputation, it doesn’t secretly record you either. However, it does record the commands you use to initiate calls, as it does with all “OK, Google” commands.

Overall, this is pretty impressive, and I bet it emerges as a key use for Google Home. My wife has already used it to call her mother while in the kitchen, for example, and it’s very natural.

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Comments (13)

13 responses to “Hands, Er, Off with Google Home Hands-Free Calling”

  1. red.radar

    That is a logical feature for such a device and makes these speakers more attractive. I am kinda of surprised this wasnt a launch feature.

  2. MikeGalos

    Of course it doesn't "record" you. That'd be horribly data expensive for Google.

    Much more likely it does a speech2text in real time and tags the words you say to your profile the same way they did a decade ago when they tried to compete with Skype in the VoIP market.

    The interesting question is whether they tag all the word in the conversation to your profile or all words by everyone in the conversation to your profile or are they sophisticated enough to look up the phone number you called in their user database and add each side's keywords to their own profile.

    Of course, if they do tag other people in the conversation does that violate that person's privacy rights if they haven't "signed" the latest Google license terms?

  3. maethorechannen

    hands-free calling is only available in the U.S. and Canada right now. I expect that to improve over time.

    I don't.

    • JerryH

      In reply to maethorechannen:

      You are probably right. How long has Google Voice been available in the US only? Is it 8 years now or longer? I imagine it must be difficult to get this stuff working elsewhere or they would have done it after all this time. Certainly the Google Home uses the same back end infrastructure as Google Voice calling from the PC does - so maybe it won't improve to other countries as quickly as some might think.

      • maethorechannen

        In reply to JerryH:

        I'm pretty certain it's been longer than 8 years. I think it's more like 10 or 12.

        I used to have a GrandCentral account so that my grandfather could call me on a local number in the US. Worked great until Google bought them and turned it into Google Voice - it became practically impossible to use outside the US after that.

  4. wunderbar

    proper caller ID will be the game changer for this. I Know a lot of people will not pick up a phone call from an "unknown" caller and let it go to voicemail because a lot of spam calls come from unknown numbers. I know that I won't be able to call my parents with this, because they won't pick up the phone.

  5. Stooks

    It doesn't record you....

    ""When you upload, submit, store, send or receive content to or through our Services, you give Google (and those we work with) a worldwide license to use, host, store, reproduce, modify, create derivative works (such as those resulting from translations, adaptations or other changes we make so that your content works better with our Services), communicate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute such content. The rights you grant in this license are for the limited purpose of operating, promoting, and improving our Services, and to develop new ones. This license continues even if you stop using our Services (for example, for a business listing you have added to Google Maps). Some Services may offer you ways to access and remove content that has been provided to that Service. Also, in some of our Services, there are terms or settings that narrow the scope of our use of the content submitted in those Services. Make sure you have the necessary rights to grant us this license for any content that you submit to our Services.""

  6. Corbey

    Can it make a 911 call in the U.S.? That could be useful in emergencies, when you can't reach your phone for some reason.

  7. jgraebner

    My son discovered that he could call our home phone from the Google Home and turn it into a very expensive Mr. Microphone.

  8. Jack Smith

    You can set number by just getting a free Google Voice account. We moved our home # to Google Voice years ago.

  9. dcdevito

    I've had the feature for a few weeks now and I use it occasionally. It's more convenient for business lookups and calls than anything else. Calls are loud and relatively clear.