Google's new Pixel phone comes with a number of bells and whistles that you cannot find in other iterations of Android. One such feature is Google Assistant, an intelligent personal assistant that allows you to use a very powerful AI to engage in sort of Google Now powered two-way conversations.
If you don't own one of the coveted Pixel phones, you can gain some semblance of Google Assistant by way of Google Allo. Unlike the official Assistant app, Google Allo is a smart messaging app that has a bit of Google Assistant baked in. With Google Allo's Assistant, you can get some features that are available on the Pixel phone. Let's look at what you can and cannot do with the Allo iteration of Google Assistant.
SEE: Amid security concerns, Google's Allo virtual assistant is still worth a look (TechRepublic)
What you can do with Google Assistant through Google Allo
One of the more useful things you can do with Allo's Google Assistant is have a conversation about a topic. Say, for instance, you want to know the capital of Zimbabwe. Ask Google Assistant, and it will answer, "Harare." Want to know what the weather is like in Harare? Simply ask Google Assistant "and what is the weather there?" (Figure A).
Follow-up questions is one of the areas in which Allo's Google Assistant shines—so much so that you'll find yourself leaning on the pared-down version of Assistant before you opt for a standard Google search. It's that good.
Add calendar appointments
Another incredibly handy feature in Allo's Google Assistant is the ability to add calendar appointments via conversational mode. Open Allo, tap Google Assistant, tap the microphone button, and say "Add a calendar event for tomorrow." Google Assistant will ask for specifics about the appointment, and then it will add the event to your calendar (Figure B).
Search your history in Google Assistant
If you've already run a search or received any information from Google Assistant in a conversation, you can quickly recall that information by running a search. When you're in the Google Assistant chat, tap the menu button on the upper right corner and then tap Search. In the Search field, type what you're looking for, and Allo's Google Assistant will reveal all of the related results (Figure C).
Read bar codes and recognize landmarks
While in Allo's Google Assistant conversation, tap the + button and then snap a photo of a bar code. Once the photo is taken, tap the Send button to send the photo to Assistant. In return, Google Assistant will provide information about the product associated with that bar code, such as a purchase link and ratings (Figure D).
Assistant can also recognize landmarks, products, and logos. Snap a photo, send it to Google Assistant, and you'll get information about that photo.
Access your photos on Google Drive
If you use Google Photos, Allo's Assistant can present you with your photos. Tap the mic button and say "my photos from yesterday," and Allo's Google Assistant will show all of the photos you uploaded to Google Drive yesterday, or whatever date you specify (Figure E).
The "my day" command
Although originally not part of Allo's Google Assistant, the "my day" command has managed to cross the divide between the official Google Assistant and Allo. From within Allo's Google Assistant, speak the command "my day," and Assistant will list all of the appointments scheduled for the next several days that are in your Google Calendar.
SEE: Google Allo: Don't use it, says Edward Snowden (ZDNet)
What Allo's Google Assistant cannot do
You may be wondering, "So what can the official Google Assistant do that Allo's Assistant cannot?" I'm glad you asked.
Here's the short list of what you cannot do with Allo's Google Assistant; it's interesting to note that, a few months ago, this list was significantly longer. There are more tricks up Google Assistant's sleeve (regardless of how you access it), but this list will get you up and running.
Access Google Assistant from any screen
With the non-Pixel version of Google Assistant, you can only access the app from within Allo; on a Google Pixel phone, you can access Assistant in the same way as you can access Google Now on a regular Android device—from any screen, the "Okay Google" command will call up Assistant. That's a pretty convenient feature.
On Allo's Google Assistant, you can say "Open Facebook," and Assistant will present you with an app launcher that you must tap to launch. With the Pixel iteration, you can simply say "Open Facebook," and the app will launch. This convenience goes a long way to bringing true hands-free operation to life.
The Pixel version of Google Assistant allows you to take truly hands-free photos. Just say "take a photo" or "take a selfie," and Assistant will take a photo using either the front-facing camera (for photo) or the rear-facing camera (for selfie). No more having to use a camera timer.
Add to Google Keep
If you use Google Keep for things like shopping lists, Google Assistant can add to them. Say "add to shopping list," and Google Assistant will ask what to add. Sadly, Allo's Google Assistant cannot handle lists.
The future of Android
Google Assistant is the future of the Android platform. My guess is Google will eventually roll out the full-blown app baked into Android so you won't have to purchase a Pixel to enjoy the complete feature set.
- 8 tips for using Google Allo (CNET)
- Goodbye Google Now Launcher, hello Pixel Launcher (TechRepublic)
- How to use Instant Tethering on your Google Pixel or Nexus device (TechRepublic)
- I love my Pixel XL camera (but I still carry my DSLR) (TechRepublic)
- Google Assistant: The smart person's guide (TechRepublic)
- Google Pixel phone: The smart person's guide (TechRepublic)
Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen.com.