Smart speakers are great. I love the ability to ask Alexa or Google to turn off the lights, play a song or album, or answer questions I’m just too lazy to type on my phone. But they have their limitations. Without a display, there’s only so much your smart speaker can do, and that’s where smart displays come in. When you add a screen to a smart speaker, you see visual representations of your queries as well. Whether it’s in the form of album art, the weather, calendar entries or photos and videos, it makes interacting with a smart speaker that much richer. The latest entry to the smart display category in India is the Google Nest Hub. Basically a Google Hub with a 7-inch touchscreen display, the Nest Hub competes against Amazon’s Echo Show. To find out if it’s worth the asking price, I’ve been using it for the last two weeks.
The Google Nest Hub is compact and unobtrusive, and will blend in with pretty much any home décor. You get the 7-inch screen in front surrounded by thick white bezels, and the fabric covered speaker at the rear, which also doubles up as a stand. The speaker is available in two colours in India – Chalk and Charcoal. You get physical volume controls on the side, and a mute switch at the back. Both Wi-Fi (dual-band 802.11ac) and Bluetooth 5.0 are available, but there’s no 3.5mm audio jack to connect an external speaker. The only port on the device is to connect the proprietary charger.
The display is surrounded by thick bezels, and on the top, you’ll find Google’s Ambient EQ Light Sensor flanked by two far field microphones. The Ambient sensor works like magic – adjusting the brightness and warmth based on the light in the room, and automatically dimming the display when it’s dark. Noticeably, the Nest Hub doesn’t come with a camera, unlike its bigger sibling the Nest Hub Max. This also automatically removes any privacy concerns you might have about the camera recording you without your knowledge. Even so, you can make video calls on the Nest Hub using Google Duo, but the person on the other end won’t be able to see you, which defeats the purpose. Being a Google device, you get Assistant as well as built in Chromecast.
The display features a resolution of 1,024 x 600 pixels, and is sharp and vibrant. It’s clearly visible from across a room, and isn’t reflective either. The touchscreen is also very responsive, with swipes and taps registering effortlessly.
In order to set up the Nest Hub, you need to download the Google Home app and connect it to your Wi-Fi network. After this, you can customise various parameters, like naming your device, specifying which room it’s in, what shows on the display when it’s not in use, and more.
Once your Nest Hub is set up, you can go right ahead and ask Assistant a question. If it’s the weather, you’ll see a visual representation of the day’s weather forecast, or if you ask directions, it’ll show you a map and even send directions to your phone. You can even say “Ok Google, show me how to make a paper boat” and the Nest Hub will show you corresponding videos on YouTube. The addition of YouTube is a definite plus, given that competing devices like the Echo Show don’t allow YouTube usage via voice (you can however watch YouTube via the browser).
The recipes feature is also neat. For example, if you say “Show me how to make pizza dough”, you’ll see results of the top recipes for that entry. You can then select the one you want, and select ‘Start Cooking’. Google will then display the recipe and read it out step by step. This makes the Nest Hub a fantastic addition to a kitchen as well.
There’s also fun things you can ask the Nest Hub, like “What sound does an Elephant make”. The Nest Hub will then show you an image of an elephant and play the animal sound. This is a fun learning tool for kids, and something my son particularly enjoyed.
My favourite feature of the Nest Hub is the ability to display Google Photos, turning it into a digital photo frame. I back up all my phone images to Google Photos, but it wasn’t until I started using the Nest Hub that I realised how much I was missing. I ended up revisiting some of my favourite photos, many of which I had forgotten about completely. You can choose to display photos from specific albums, family members or recent highlights.
When the Nest Hub is not in use, it will display a slideshow of the images you’ve selected. Google does a great job with presentation too, cleverly showing you two portrait orientation photos side by side to fill up the screen. Thanks to the touchscreen, you can even swipe through photos. Unfortunately, there’s no option to display videos on the Nest Hub, even as a short clip or without audio. If photos aren’t your thing, or your Nest Hub is in a more public location, you can even choose to display curated artwork or choose from a bunch of preset clock faces.
Thanks to the Ambient display feature, when the Nest Hub recognises the room is dim or dark (you can specify this), it will switch to a clock or turn off the display. I chose the former, and even in a dark room, the clock is completely unobtrusive while continuing to be visible.
The Nest Hub can be connected to music streaming services like YouTube Music, Google Play Music, Spotify, Gaana, JioSaavn, Wynk Music and more. The inbuilt Chromecast lets you cast your phone screen to the Nest Hub, but unfortunately doesn’t let you play content from Netflix. The speaker on the Nest Hub leaves something to be desired though, sounding distorted and tinny at loud volumes. It’s not anywhere close to the Echo Plus for instance, although there is an option to connect it to a Bluetooth speaker.
If you have Wi-Fi smart lights at home, such as the Mi Smart LED Bulb, you can control these via Assistant too. It also works with Philips Hue, although you’d need the Hue Bridge to enable this since there’s no built-in ZigBee hub, something you’ll find on Echo Show. Other smart devices like smart plugs, cameras, etc can be configured too.
A neat feature is routines, which you can customise to perform a series of actions. For example, you can say “Ok Google, I’m home”, and the Nest Hub will turn on the lights and play music of your choice. Or you can say “Ok Google, Goodnight”, which will turn off the lights, ask you when to set your alarm and then play some calming music. The routines are completely customisable, and you can choose either from the templates in the Google Home app, or set them up from scratch. Google also gives you Digital Wellbeing for the Nest Hub, so you specify times where the device won’t respond to commands, or filter out explicit content for guest accounts and kids.
The Google Nest Hub is priced at Rs 9,999 in India, and is available online via Flipkart. At this price, it’s positioned between the compact Echo Show 5 and larger Echo Show. While I prefer Echo devices primarily because saying “Alexa” is easier and more natural than “Ok Google” or “Hey Google”, there’s no denying that Google’s own services are deeply integrated in our daily lives, and that’s where the Nest Hub has the upper hand. Apart from the obvious ones like Calendar, Maps and YouTube, the one feature which has me sold on the Nest Hub is Photos. If you don’t mind the lack of a camera and the average audio quality, the Nest Hub makes a nifty little device to add to your smart home.
Pricebaba’s rating: 8 / 10
- The best digital photo frame thanks to Google Photos
- Deep integration with Google services
- Ambient light sensor works like magic
- Audio quality isn’t great
- No inbuilt camera
- Can’t use Chromecast to stream Netflix