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Google Nest Audio Review: a well-priced smart speaker

On: November 29, 2020

By the end of the second day, I knew that Google Nest Audio does not suffer from any pitfalls of the original Google Home smart speaker. The original smart speaker from the search giant launched in 2016. It has a design that was beyond unique but it suffered from issues akin to any first generation device.

Also Read: Google Nest Hub review: a near-perfect smart display with a personal touch

If Google wanted to show its smart assistant for homes then Google Home succeeded to some extent but the speaker part left a lot to be desired. Since then, Amazon has doubled its smart speaker efforts and has expanded its Echo product portfolio in a big way. The Google Nest Audio aims to thwart the competition from Amazon’s mainstream smart speaker and it does a good job of that.

Design

Google Nest Audio

Google Nest Audio uses recycled plastic mesh fabric like the Nest Mini

It is remarkable how smart speaker makers – Google, Amazon and Apple – are taking a different approach to design. Amazon Echo (4th Gen) is basically the one you would want to take to a bowling alley. Apple HomePod Mini looks like a tiny flower pot. Google Nest Audio aims to be a taller and rectangular version of the Nest Mini.

The tall cylindrical design makes it easier to place on a desk or a table or a bookcase. The corners are soft and the edges are rounded, giving it much better grip than the new Amazon Echo. When you hold it in your hand, it feels like a pillow and a huggable one at that thanks to the fabric.

Google has not veered away from the basic design of the Nest Mini. If that one was circular, this one is rectangular but the basics remain the same. There are three capacitive touch zones integrated into the fabric. The center is for play or pause, the left is volume down and the right is for volume up. I like Amazon Echo’s tactile buttons better because when someone sees the Nest Audio for the first time, they end up looking for buttons.

Google Nest Audio

The microphone mute switch and power port are at the back of the device

At the front, there are four more LEDs to indicate volume level, whether the speaker is listening or muted. These are placed at the centre and are easily visible. While Google is using white LEDs, the colourful LED option on original Google Home would have been a good homage to that air freshener design.

In India, Google Nest Audio is available in chalk and charcoal colours. Our charcoal review unit looks pale when placed to the Nest Mini, which looks darker. The mute button and the power port are at the back along with Google logo.

Design is subjective and I like Amazon’s spherical design for 4th generation Echo lineup better. However, Google’s choice of fabric at the top and aluminium and magnesium enclosure for the speaker shows progress. I wish Google offered those sage, sand and sky colour options in India as well.

Sound quality and smart speaker functions

Google Nest Audio

Google has integrated touch controls into the fabric for volume up or down and play or pause

The Nest Audio is a complete redo of Google‘s original smart speaker in terms of design and sound output. There is a 75mm woofer and a 19mm tweeter. This is obviously better than the single 50mm driver seen on the original Google Home. Google claims “Nest Audio is 75 percent louder than the original Google Home, and has 50 percent stronger bass.”

This shows when you start playing music on the Nest Audio. The dual driver design allows it to balance the treble better than Google Home and the vocals are also crisp and clear. For a smart speaker in this price segment, the Nest Audio does produce fuller sound with audible bass. However, I did not find the bass to be energetic or feel it the same way I did on the Amazon Echo. This becomes clear when you listen to the drum solo in Phil Collins’ In the Air Tonight.

One area where Google Nest Audio comes alive compared to Nest Mini is when you play music at lower volume. This is very useful when you are working and want music in the background just to concentrate. Even at higher volumes, there is no distortion or muddiness with the audio. I found the Amazon Echo (4th generation) had better room-filling sound compared to the Nest Audio did.

This could be because of the form factor or the fact that Echo has an additional tweeter. I could not test stereo setup since the feature is limited to the two same speakers. In a nutshell, I found Google Nest Audio to be a huge improvement over the original Google Home. It is also a great speaker for listening to music and definitely the one you should go for when compared to Nest Mini.

Google Nest Audio

Google Nest Audio is taller and heavier than the Amazon Echo (4th Gen) but lacks depth

As a smart speaker, it seems as well rounded as Amazon Echo (4th Generation). In fact, it was more suited for my needs since I depend on Google services. The integration with YouTube Music alone was a winner for me. Otherwise, you can listen to music via Spotify, Gaana, JioSaavn and Wynk Music but not through Amazon Music. I also like Google Calendar integration and Google Duo calls on the device.

For smart speaker functionality, I was only able to test it with few smart lighting solutions. There was no issue and Google also gives the option to select whether audio is saved at the time of setup. You can activate the speaker by saying “Ok Google” or “Hey Google” and then ask Google Assistant for things like weather report, calendar events or control a smart home device. At times, I just ended up asking the Assistant to tell me a joke. The Assistant’s jokes are much friendlier than Siri.

Google Nest Audio was easily able to catch my voice but there were instances when I had to restart for it to work again. It might be because of the slow internet, which reminds me that you need to have a stable internet connection to extract most out of these smart speakers. These smart speakers really come into their own when you have multiple smart home devices. I don’t have a lot of them right now but these speakers definitely force you to at least get a smart bulb.

This is another area where Amazon has an edge with its smart home bundles that includes Amazon and smart home devices like a smart bulb. Google should partner other players to offer such bundles at discounted prices or offer two Nest Audios like it does in the US. When compared to Amazon, Google is playing its hand much more carefully right now.

Bottomline

Google Nest Audio

The Nest Audio is a great smart speaker if you already use Google services like YouTube Music

Y Combinator’s Paul Graham says “Make something that people want“. In Nest Audio, Google has made a smart speaker that people would want. It has a simple design that does not throw you off and the build quality is excellent. The choice of recycled materials means both you and Google can play their part in saving the environment.

It is not all aesthetics though, Google Nest Audio is also a really good speaker. At the time of writing, it is available for Rs 7,999 on Flipkart. If you are tied into the Google ecosystem, use Google Assistant on your Android phone and have a budget of around Rs 8,000 then the Nest Audio would be the best smart speaker for you.

Pricebaba’s rating: 8 / 10

What works:

  • Conventional design and choice of materials
  • Great pricing in the segment
  • Improved audio performance

What doesn’t:

  • Lack of 3.5mm audio port to connect additional speakers
  • Google Assistant may not work at times
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