Google finally decided that we were worthy enough to experience the goodness of its smart display products on these shores. And we will say we are honored to have the goodness of Google’s ecosystem now making our homes smarter. It is also good to see some competition in a space where Amazon has had a free run for a while now, with its Echo line-up of Alexa enabled smart speakers and smart displays. And to that effect, the Google Nest Hub priced at Rs 9,999 just hits the sweet spot for many users who may had been eyeing an Amazon Echo Show 5 (also around the same price point) for a while now, but yet needed some convincing. The proverbial cherry on the cake has to be the fact that Google already knows so much more about you, which makes the responses to your queries and the information stream coming your way, a lot more tuned for your needs.
What really is a smart display? Well, it is like a smart speaker, except that it also has a display. That display real estate comes in handy as a bedside alarm clock, for viewing videos, for using this as a photo frame or even for a visual guide to recipes while you cook. You interact with it the same way as you would with a smart speaker, which is call out to it with your query and expect a response. More in anticipation than plain hope, mercifully. In this case, you could also get a visual response, which just adds a lot of value to the entire proposition.
The perfect angles
That neatly leads me to what the Google Nest Hub is all about. What you get is a 7-inch touchscreen and you will notice it sits at a slight upward angle. Reclining, in a way, on the integrated kickstand at the back, which also hosts crucial internals such as the speaker. Google will let you choose between chalk and charcoal colour options, depending on what you feel looks better in your home. There is a 2-microphone array which is listening out for your voice commands, and from what I experienced, this works seamlessly well irrespective of where you are standing in the room. In fact, the Google Nest Hub homes in on your voice signature and you can continue a conversation with it even though there may be ambient noise or other people talking amongst themselves in your vicinity. True to the Google Assistant style, it will also show text corresponding to what you say, which means you can correct immediately if you notice that the Assistant has gone wrong with a pronunciation.
The power port is at the very back of the kickstand-esque design, but weirdly enough, the straight-line design of this adapter means you really cannot push this up properly against a wall—there will always be that gap. An angled implementation of the adapter might have worked. Little details that pinch my obsession with straight lines and what not, but most people won’t even bother.
The display of unbridled smartness
The display itself is a well-balanced piece of canvas. It does colours rather well, and the sharpness is adequate too. White colours look pure (and yes, there is a lot of white colour in all of Google’s interface layouts) and the other colours remain well distinguished. The resolution of 1024 x 600 pixels may not seem much on paper, but remember, this isn’t a 4K media consumption device. For its purpose, the Google Nest Hub’s display does a very good job. Yes, at some angles you might notice a few reflections, but that’s a small tradeoff.
Google has given this screen some genuine smarts. There is an Ambient EQ sensor in the Google Nest Hub, which not only does auto brightness (that’s a basic requirement, isn’t it?) but also alters the colours on the screen according to the tone and temperature of the ambient lighting in the room at the time. Lots of evening sun streaming into the room? No problem sir, the display tone leans slightly towards the warmer side. A cool white LED bulb illuminating the room for dinner? No stress, the display switches to a cooler temperature. Google says this display sensor detects as many as 16 million colour and light combinations to make the display blend in with the surroundings. Yes, we have seen this sort of brilliance in an Apple iPad Pro for instance, but to get this sort of fine attention to detail in a smart display is something I must give full credit to Google for. And when you finally turn off the lights for a good night’s sleep, the display goes very close to dark and switches to a large digital clock—easy for a peek as you momentarily wake up in the middle of the night.
Goodie, no camera
But did you notice what is missing above the display? Yes, there is no camera! While the promise of video calls on smart displays is all fine and good, to be honest, the experience has always been clunky at best. And this should also help reassure those who are worried about privacy—a fear that comes naturally when a device with a front facing camera makes a space for itself in your bedroom or living room. I didn’t miss it one bit, safe to say. There is a toggle to turn off the microphone too, if that is what you prefer before embarking on an important discussion with someone in the room.
The Ok, Google routine
Setting this up is a breeze with the Google Home app (free for Android and iOS). Sign in with your Google account, and everything sets up on the Nest Hub without needing your intervention. That means all your Google services are signed in seamlessly. You can get the usual suspects up and running on this in no time at all—weather updates, news, routines, calendar, alarms and voice-based web searches.
Houston, we have found the baby photos
I have a feeling that you will really use this as a digital photo frame. And with good reason too. It is incredibly simple to get your favorite photos on to the Google Nest Hub, provided you are using the Google Photos app on your Android phone or iPhone to regularly backup on the cloud storage. The Hub can be set up to show photos from specific albums that you may have made or even Live albums that Google Photos regularly updates after deploying the smartness of facial recognition on every new photo that you click and upload. It is good to know that my wife and I already have some 5000 photos of our baby girl, which have been configured to loop with some photos from recent trips to London, New York and San Francisco. In fact, the Google Nest Hub is smart enough to show two vertical photos side by side, stitched together seamlessly. There is no unnecessary cropping or changes to aspect ratio, and that is priceless. It is quite a sight to see the little one scamper up to the bedside table, look at her own photos from a few months ago while grinning and then gently swipe her fingers on the screen to scroll through the photos. Yes, that can be done too. But what the Google Nest Hub doesn’t show are videos and “Live” photos, from the same albums.
And herein also lies the Google Nest Hub’s biggest advantage—Google Photos. It just isn’t the same with Amazon’s Echo Show and the Echo Show 5, since they don’t have access to Google Photos, despite of the newfound friendship between Google and Amazon. And that is where your memories remain locked out of the Amazon smart display ecosystem.
Swipe left, swipe right
Speaking of swipe gestures, swiping inwards from the right side of the display slides out information cards including Google News, YouTube recommendations and in our case, Spotify as well. While I couldn’t find a way to customize the order of these cards for instance, these remain quite helpful. Again, the simpler and quicker access to YouTube is an advantage over the Amazon Echo Show smart display family—Google lets Echo users access YouTube but only via the web browser, which means the voice commands don’t work.
Not in the groove, yet
While the Google Nest Hub is clearly impressive with most things that one may do with a smart display, the one aspect where it is quite limited is the audio prowess. There is a single speaker sitting behind the display just does a purely acceptable job of playing music. And that is, when you really don’t have any expectations of really high-quality audio. The sound is flat and there really isn’t much excitement when you are listening to music. Pity that then, because I had Spotify set up as the default music source for requests to play any particular track or album. Nevertheless, the sound is perfectly fine for your conversations with Assistant and also for the casual video viewing on the display.
Smartness for your home
It perhaps doesn’t need to be said but we shall say it anyway—the Google Nest Hub can also be the controller in chief for your smart home devices. We expect this support ecosystem to grow over time, but at the moment, smart lights from Yeelight and also smart home accessories from the likes of Oakter and Syska are supported by the Nest Hub. The on-device dashboard for your smart devices as well as the intuitive controls are totally worth the headache of putting together a smart home ecosystem.
Ok Google, let’s get you home
The thing about the Google Nest Hub is that it takes the smart display concept and just adds more common sense in almost every aspect. The slick design, the really smart display management, no front facing camera, a slick interface and the smart home controls are just brought together in such a neat package, that it really becomes hard to find a rough edge. Believe me, there isn’t any that would make you pause and wonder. You can have this as a companion on your bedside, your kitchen counter, the dining table or the living room, that is how versatile the Google Nest Hub is. And that’s how it should be. Music though remains a crushing disappointment, purely because we had hoped for more. And that is a subjective calculation. Yet, it doesn’t really break the deal, simply because the Google Nest Hub is pretty brilliant with most things it does.