How to make your Google/Nest smart speakers, displays, and cameras listen for suspicious sounds

Thanks to Google’s new Nest Aware plans, Google Home and Nest devices can now keep an ear out for the sounds of smoke alarms and breaking glass.

google nest hub
Adam Patrick Murray/IDG

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Google just relaunched its Nest Aware home security plans, complete with a simplified pricing structure and a host of new features. Chief among them: the ability for Google smart displays and speakers to alert you if they hear something suspicious.

Users who pony up $6 a month ($60 if paid annually) for the standard Nest Aware plan will be able to set their Google Home and Nest devices to detect the sound of breaking glass and smoke alarms. The subscription covers all the Nest devices in your home and includes 30 days of cloud storage for event recordings made by Nest security cameras (“events” are recordings triggered by motion or sound). A $12-per-month/$120-per-year plan gives you 60 days of event storage in the cloud, plus 10 days of 24/7 video recording.

It’s a nifty feature that essentially turns a dumb smoke detector into a smart one, and it matches the similar (but free) Guard feature for Amazon’s Alexa-powered Echo speakers and displays.

Turning on Nest Aware’s sound detection feature is easy, and there’s even a 30-day Nest Aware trial for new users and those moving over from the first-generation Nest Aware service.

google home nest aware sound detection settings Ben Patterson/IDG

Using the Google Home app, you can pick which of your Google Home and Nest devices will listen for smoke alarms and breaking glass.

How to turn on sound detection for your Google Home or Nest smart device

  1. First, fire up the Google Home app for iOS or Android, tap Settings, then scroll down and tap Nest Aware.
  2. If you haven’t signed up for a Nest Aware plan, now’s your chance to get a 30-day free trial. Just tap the Start Trial button and follow the prompts, which will guide you through a series of key Nest Aware features including sound detection. Meanwhile, existing users can tap Sound detection from the main Nest Aware screen to customize their settings, while new users should dip back into the Sound detection options to customize their preferences.
  3. On the Sound detection screen, check the boxes next to the sounds that you want your Google devices to listen for. Smoke alarms and breaking glass are currently the only options.
  4. Next, pick which of your Google Home and Nest devices will—or won’t—be listening for suspicious sounds. For example, you’d probably want to turn on sound detection for a Google display that’s near the smoke alarm in your kitchen, but you might turn off sound detection for a Google Nest Mini that’s in a room without an alarm or a window. All of your Google devices that are capable of sound detection will appear in a list; just toggle each device on or off.
  5. If you like (and as you probably should), you can set the Google Home app to send you notifications if one of your Google devices hears something suspicious. Tap Sound detection notifications, then toggle the Smoke alarms and Glass breaking options.

What will happen when a Google/Nest device hears a suspicious sound

  • If one of your Google Nest or Home devices hears a smoke alarm or glass breaking, you’ll see an alert under the Priority events heading in your Google Home feed and (optionally) get a notification. For an “in progress” sound event, the alert will appear at the top of the feed.
  • You’ll be able to play back the detected sound or listen in live on the device that heard the sound. If you tap the Listen live button, the device in question will announce that someone is listening. You can listen in for up to three minutes, and you can also tap the Microphone button to speak.
  • Last but not least, you can dismiss a sound clip or delete it.
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