Sure, it’s cool to say, “OK Google” to your Android phone and ask questions like, “What’s the best sushi place nearby?” or “How did Mount Everest get its name?” But once the novelty of gimmicky voice commands like those wears off, you may find yourself hardly ever speaking to your Android device—well, unless you’re chatting with a human.
That’s a shame, though, because some Android voice commands can be quite useful, simple, and even time-saving.
Such everyday activities as creating a reminder or setting your Android alarm clock are (I’d argue, anyway) actually easier and faster to do by voice than by swiping and tapping. Same goes for finding where you’re going, adding an event to your calendar, or even sending a brief text message.
Read on for eight Android voice commands that are actually really useful, starting with…
1. Open an app
With a single tap, you can open Gmail, Chrome, Google Maps, or any other app that you happen to have sitting front-and-center on a home screen or in the app dock. But hunting for an app that’s buried deep down in the application drawer can be a real pain.
If you’d rather not waste time sifting through all your apps for just the right one, try this: Say (for example), “Open Kindle app” or “Open Skitch app.”
When you do (and assuming the app you asked for is installed on your device, of course), Google will simply open the app. If it’s not sure which app you want to open, it’ll present you with the icon for the app it thinks you requested; just tap the blue confirmation button, and the app will open.
Bonus tip: You can set your Android phone or tablet to start listening the moment you say “OK Google” by opening the Google app and tapping Settings > Voice > “OK Google” detection.
2. Set up a reminder
If you need to remind yourself to stop by the ATM on the way home from work, there are a couple ways to do it on an Android handset: the easy way, and the hard way.
Here’s the hard way: You visit the Google app, tap the “hamburger” button in the top-left corner of the screen, tap Reminders, tap the little blue “+” button in the bottom corner, then tap in a title, pick a time from the drop-down menu…and so on and so forth.
The easy way? Say, “OK Google,” then, “Remind me to stop at the ATM.” The Google app will ask you when or where you’d like to be reminded; just say, “At 5 p.m.” or, “At Citibank on Court and First,” then say, “Yes” when you’re asked whether you want to save your new reminder. Easy—and fast.
3. Set your alarm clock
Click-click-click-click-click! Yep, that’s the sound of repeatedly pressing the hour and minute buttons on a vintage Sony Dream Machine—and if you miss the hour or minute by a single click, you’ll have to cycle all the way around again.
Sadly, the process is only slightly easier on Google’s official Alarm Clock app. First, you open the app, then you tap the Alarm tab, tap the + sign, then dial in the time when you need to roll out of bed.
My advice: Skip all that and simply say this to your Android device: “Wake me up at 7:15 tomorrow.” Google will immediately set your alarm for the appropriate time, and it’ll even be smart enough to get the “AM” part right.
4. Send a quick text message
It might not be the best choice for, say, transcribing a deep and meaningful communication, but the Google app will do just nicely when it comes to firing off simple text messages via voice command.
Just say something like, “Text Susan do you want to have lunch,” and Google will compose a quick text message and double-check which Susan (and which of her various numbers) you’d like to send the text to. Confirm the message, and you’re done—no tapping required.
5. Send an email message
Just as you can send a simple text message via voice, so can you send an email message—although again, the shorter the email, the better.
Say something like, “Email Susan let’s have dinner after work” and Google will put an email message together, help you pick the right Susan, and send it.
Nice, but there’s a downside to sending an email message via voice command: You can’t add a subject line.
6. Get Google Maps directions
There might be a quicker way of getting driving directions other than using Google voice commands, but I doubt it.
Say something along the lines of, “Give me directions to the Empire State Building,” and Google will quickly put up a map with all the details. Tap the map to see your directions in the Google Maps app, or tap Start to launch driving directions.
If you want walking or public transit directions rather than driving directions, just say so.
And to plot a street address on Google Maps, just say the address.
7. Play some tunes
If you feel like you could use a little Johnny Cash to boost your day, there’s an easier way to do it than digging through the Play Music app.
Just say, “Play Johnny Cash,” and Android will immediately queue up one of your saved Johnny Cash albums (assuming you’ve got some in your Play account).
You can also ask Google to play an album or a particular song; unfortunately, asking for a music shuffle doesn’t quite work.
8. Set up a calendar appointment
Adding a quick event to the Calendar app is—in a manner of speaking, anyway—easier said than done.
Just say (for example), “Set up an appointment for noon tomorrow.” Google will create a new appointment, ask you for a title, and request a verbal confirmation.
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Ben has been writing about technology and consumer electronics for more than 20 years. A PCWorld contributor since 2014, Ben joined TechHive in 2019, where he covers smart speakers, soundbars, and other smart and home-theater devices. You can follow Ben on Twitter.