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(Pocket-lint) - Google introduced Hands-Free Calling for its Google Home and Nest speakers in 2017, making its smart speakers and displays a more compelling rival to Amazon Echo, if you're in the US or Canada.

Amazon's Echo devices have Alexa Calling, giving Echo users the ability to phone other Echo users and users of the Alexa app, or video call using Echo Show. Google's Hands-Free Calling - or Google's Supported Calling - alternative doesn't work in quite the same way though.

Here's everything you need to know about calling with Google Nest speakers and displays, including how it works, how to set it up and how to make a call using your Nest Mini, Nest Audio or Nest Hub devices.

How does Google Home calling work?

Google's Hands-Free Calling feature allows you to call anyone for free, including personal contacts or local businesses if you are in the US or Canada. As of mid-December 2020, you can only use Google Duo for making calls using a Nest speaker or display in the UK with the Google Supported Calling feature no longer supported. 

All calls using Hands-Free Calling are made over Wi-Fi and are separate from your smartphone. There's no way to call someone else's Nest speaker or smart display however. Google's Hands-Free calling feature only supports outgoing calls, and the only way to use the feature is with your Nest speaker or smart display device.

In other words, Google's hands-free calling does not work like Amazon's Alexa calling feature, which lets you call from one Echo to another Echo and even call someone's Alexa app. That said, Nest speakers and smart displays can identify different users in your house by voice, or your face if you have the Nest Hub Max, so if you say "OK Google, call mom" it will call your mom without even asking who is making the call.

How do you set Google Home calling up?

Google's smart speakers and displays, like the Google Nest Audio and Mini will allow you to make calls to businesses listed on Google straight out of the box, without you needing to do anything.

If you want to use your Nest speakers or displays to make calls to personal contacts though, there are a couple of steps you need to do first. Remember, the feature is only available in the US and Canada. If you're in the UK, we have a separate feature for how to set up Google Duo calling on your Nest speakers and displays.

For those in the US or Canada though, you need to turn on Personal Results in the Google Home app first. To do this, follow the steps below:

  1. Open the Google Home app
  2. Make sure your phone or tablet is connected to the same Wi-Fi network as your Nest speakers
  3. Tap on your profile icon in the top right corner 
  4. Make sure the Google Account listed is the same as the one you used to set up your Nest speakers
  5. Tap on Assistant Settings
  6. Tap on Devices
  7. Choose the Nest speaker or Hub you want to make calls from
  8. Toggle on Personal results
  9. Repeat steps 7 and 8 for each speaker or hub you want to make calls from.

The person you're calling needs to be stored in Google Contacts for things to work so the next step is to sync your contacts to your Google Nest speaker or hub. If you're using another contacts app, make sure those numbers are stored in Google's cloud. Go here to learn how to sync contacts with your Google account.

For iOS users, follow these steps to sync your contacts to your Google Nest speaker or hub:

  1. Download and open the Google Assistant app
  2. Say "Ok Google, call mum"
  3. If Google Assistant doesn't have access to your contacts, a pop up screen will appear
  4. Give Google Assistant permission to access your contacts

You can also open the Google Home app > Tap on settings > Voice and video calls > Call Providers > Turn on contacts uploading > Upload Now. 

For Android users:

  1. Open the Google Home app
  2. Tap on 'Manage your Google Account'
  3. Tap on 'People and sharing'
  4. Tap on 'Contact info from your devices'
  5. Turn on 'Save contacts from your signed-in devices'

How to make calls on your Nest Audio, Mini, or Hub

Once set up following the steps above, to place Google Supported calls with Nest speakers or smart displays, all you have to do is say "OK Google, call [name of contact]." You can also say "Hey Google" if that's your preference.

Remember that for calling contacts, you will need to have setup Personal Results and given access to your contacts. For calling a Google-listed business, you can just search for them and say "Hey Google, call them". 

If you've set up household contacts on a Google Nest display, you can also choose a contact by tapping 'Call' on the "Household contacts" card. The calling method used with household contacts will depend upon the contact selected.

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It's also worth noting that if you link an account through mobile calling, calls you make will be placed using mobile calling instead of Google supported calling and will be charged according to your plan.

To end a call, either say "Ok Google, end call" or "Hang up". You can also tap the top of your Google Home or Home Max, or the centre of your Nest Audio, Nest Mini or Nest Wifi point. For those with a Google Home Mini, tap the side to hang up, while those with a Nest Hub or Nest Hub Max can tap "End call" on the display.

Who can you call with Google Home?

You can call any landline or mobile number in the US or Canada for free. Calls to 911 or 1-900 numbers are not supported.

With just your voice, you can call millions of businesses in the US and Canada, thanks to built-in Google Search on Google Nest speakers and displays. You can also call your own personal contacts. So, you'll be able to say "Hey Google, call Bob's Pizza" or "Hey Google, call mum".

How much do calls cost?

Calls to the US Canada are free. 

Where is Google Home Hands-Free Calling available?

Hands-free Calling for Google Home and Nest speakers is available in the US and Canada only.

Writing by Britta O'Boyle. Originally published on 19 May 2017.