December 4, 2020
Google Home finally gets the Alexa feature I've been waiting ages for

Bye, Alexa. Google Home finally gets the Amazon Echo feature I’ve been waiting for


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Turn lights off when you leave and back on when you return using Google Home’s long-awaited presence sensing feature.


Juan Garzon/CNET

When Google unveiled the new Home & Away location awareness feature for its Google Home and Nest smart speakers, I breathed a sigh of relief. Maybe I can finally say goodbye to Alexa on my Amazon Echo ($40 at Amazon) once and for all. 

I have an embarrassment of smart home devices, so I need them to do their job with as little involvement from me as possible. For example, rather than running around shouting at everything before I leave the house, I want all the lights and other devices in my home to automatically turn off when I leave. Same for when I come back home, I want my smart home to fire up again. Up until now, Google Home had no way of automating anything like that, so I had Alexa handle it.

The first thing I noticed when setting up Home & Away on the Google Home app was that it uses more information than Alexa to determine whether someone is home. With the Amazon Echo, all you can do is create a routine that triggers when a specific device (like your phone) leaves or arrives at a particular location (like where you live). Google Home, on the other hand, can keep an eye on several devices belonging to anyone and everyone in your household. But not only that — Google Home can have certain devices keep an eye on you as well.

Now that Home & Away has appeared to roll out to iPhones ($699 at Amazon) and Android phones everywhere, here’s everything you need to do to set it up and start basking in home automation glory.

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Google Home can use the motion sensor in your Nest Learning Thermostat to determine if anyone’s home.


Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Your Google Home app should prompt you to set it up

If you open the Google Home app and see a tab at the top that reads Set Up Home & Away Routines, tap that to get started. If you closed out that tab without setting it up, just tap the Routines tab on the Google Home app’s home screen, then under Home Routines tap Home. (If you already set it up but want to make changes, skip ahead to the next section.)

The first time you set up Home & Away, the app will ask a bunch of permissions, prompt you to set up your home and away routines and add your home address. Go ahead and tap Agree, Set up and Next until you get to the Add your home address screen (there’s an easier, better way to set up both presence setting and home and away routines once setup is complete, so skip those for now). Enter your home address, tap Next then Finish to exit setup. Now for the fun part.

Set up your home and away routines

From the Google Home app home screen, tap Routines then tap either Home or Away. Beneath How to start, it should say When someone comes home or When everyone’s away. You can tap that to adjust presence settings (more on that in a bit), but for now let’s look at what you want to happen when everyone leaves or someone comes home.

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Google Home can monitor the location of your phone to trigger home and away routines.


Google

Tap Add action to see a list of all the devices you can control with these routines. Smart bulbs will be listed first, under Lights. You can set them to turn off or on and you can change their brightness, but you can’t, unfortunately, set what color you want them to be (at least not with the Philips Hue bulbs I have). 

You should see smart plugs ($25 at Amazon) next under Plugs. I have a hodgepodge of brands, but they all can only be set to turn on or off. My Nest Learning Thermostat ($159 at Back Market) is next on the list — it has an Eco mode to save on utility costs when you’re not home, but I don’t use it in case I leave my puppers behind. You should also see any Nest Aware cameras and any other smart home device you can control with this routine.

You can select multiple devices of the same kind if you want to, for example, have a whole set of lights turn on or off. Just tap the check boxes besides the gadgets you want to control, then tap next. Decide what you want them to do (on, off, brightness) then tap Add Action.

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Google Home’s new home and away routines create location triggers to control other smart home devices, like smart bulbs.


Chris Monroe/CNET

Help Google know when someone’s home

For any of this to work, your Presence sensing settings need to be on point. Open the Google Home app and tap the Settings tab, then tap Presence sensing. Make sure the tab is turned on for Allow this home to use phone locations. Under the heading Phones, you should see your own phone plus others (including tablets) associated with everyone in your household, each with a toggle. You may want to turn off the toggle for any devices that get left behind when everyone leaves — Wi-Fi-only tablets, for example.

At the bottom of the screen you’ll see a list of any Google Home or Google Nest smart home devices that can also help determine if anyone is home. For example, I have a third-gen Nest Learning Thermostat, which has a motion sensor, so I have a toggle for that. You may want to toggle some or all of these off if, for example, you have a free-range pet who might set them off. My dog either goes with me or in his crate, so I’ve left mine on.

For more tips and tricks to help make your life easier, here’s how to use Google Home like an intercomhow to turn it into a speakerphone and all the ways Google Home is a wiz with words.



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