Google Assistant is making its way into a lot of our electronics, from home appliances to small gadgets, but until now, it has been very selective in how it slides into our ears. Most Bluetooth buds and headphones just offer a basic tap-and-hold action to activate the digital helper instead of also letting us hear incoming notifications and interact with them. That functionality remains restricted to a few select Bluetooth models, but wired headsets are now lapping them by adding proper Assistant integration with spoken notifications.
The moment you plug your wired headset, be it a USB-C or 3.5mm model, you might get a notification asking you if you want to set it up with Assistant. I noticed it this morning, but if, like me, you dismissed the notifcation a little too quickly, you should find the option again by triggering Assistant and looking for a hint bubble that says "Finish headphone setup" or "Headphone settings."
This will take you through the onboarding experience, which requires allowing the Google app to access your notifications (so it can read them to you), and enabling personal results on the headphones while your device is locked. You can then see the shortcuts that let you hear notifications by just tapping and holding the middle button, or issue new commands by tapping and holding then releasing and speaking your request.
You can always control the feature in Assistant settings (here are several ways to get there) > Devices > Wired headphones (under Personal). This lets you enable or disable the advanced Assistant integration, check the shortcuts again, and the headset's connection status.
But most importantly, this is where you pick which apps trigger spoken notifications on your headset. Keep in mind, though, that in order to hear a chime, your phone needs to be off DND. If you set it to DND, and even if you allow notifications to come through silently on your phone, they won't ping your headset.
There's one last setting, but it's not accessible from this screen. You'll have to go back to Assistant settings and look for Personal results > On headphones. Turning that on lets you ask about your Calendar (and other personal info) and get answers without unlocking your phone first. If it's off, you'll be told to unlock your device before you can hear all the details.
If you've ever used Pixel USB-C Buds with your phone, you're likely familiar with all these features. They're pretty similar, but they're now available for most wired headsets and phones. I only had trouble getting the feature to show up when using an old 3.5mm Sennheiser headset without an in-line action button when connected via a USB-C to 3.5mm adapter to my OnePlus 7 Pro. With other headsets and without the adapter, things are usually smoother. This lines up with a statement given by Google to 9to5Google where the company said that Assistant support is officially rolling out to all wired headsets.
If you use wired headsets with your phone, you should check out the feature now. It'll give you a taste of all those expensive and rare Assistant headphones without any admission fee.
- Nick Cipriani