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How to Use Voice Search and Google Now in Chrome on Your Desktop

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Chrome is gradually becoming more of a platform, and some of the best features of Android are making their way to Windows. With voice search and Google Now support, Google beat Microsoft’s own Cortana service to Windows.

These features allow you to search and ask questions with your voice, just like on a phone — you can even have your browser listen for you to say OK Google. You can also view Google Now notifications without pulling out your phone.

Voice Search

To perform a voice search, open a new tab in Chrome (press Ctrl + T) or visit Google’s front page at google.com. Click the microphone icon in the search bar.

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Google will start listening, so just speak into your microphone. You can speak a search term instead of writing it or ask a question like “How many people live on Earth?”. You don’t have to click anything when you’re done — just stop speaking and Google will notice you’re done talking.

If nothing happens when you speak, be sure your microphone is set up correctly. If you don’t have a microphone and you’re using a laptop, that’s okay — your laptop probably has a built-in microphone it will use by default.

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Google will perform the search you spoke. If you asked a question, Google will even speak the results to you — just like it would if you performed a voice search on a smartphone or tablet.

The search engine will also use some smart tricks when you perform certain types of searches. For example, you can ask “Who is the president of the United States?” and Google will tell you the answer. You can then click the voice search icon and ask “How old is he?”. Google will tell you the president’s age, inferring who you’re talking about from your previous search.

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Always-Listening Voice Search

This feature is cool, but it’s not completely hands-free. You still have to click a button before speaking your voice search. To skip the clicking step, you can install Google’s official Google Voice Search Hotword (Beta) extension.

This extension only works when you start searching from google.com . Say OK Google with this page open and Google will start listening for your search. Google is likely using this extension to test the feature and may roll it out to a wider audience in the future.

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Google Now

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Chrome also has integrated Google Now notifications. These are available in Chrome’s notification center. Note that you can only see these notifications if you also use Google Now on an Android or iOS device.

On Windows, you’ll find the notification center in your system tray — be sure to look under the arrow icon in your system tray if it’s hidden. On Mac OS X, you’ll find the notification icon on the bar at the top of your screen. On Chrome OS, you’ll find a notification center icon near the bottom-right corner of your screen.

Click the notification icon and you’ll see the same sort of Google Now notifications you’ll see on your mobile device. This includes weather information for your current location, directions to locations you’ve searched for, package tracking information from tracking emails sent to your Gmail address, sports scores, flight information, and more. This is all tied to the Google account you log into Chrome with, so be sure you’re logging into Chrome for desktops and Chrome on your Android or iOS device with the same Google account.

Google will be adding more Google Now cards to Chrome over time.

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These features are available in the stable version of Chrome today, so you don’t need anything special to use them. Of course, they’re not as powerful as they are elsewhere — some Google Now cards aren’t yet available and you can’t use Google Voice Search to perform system-wide actions like you can on an Android device.

Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.

  • Published 05/12/14