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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