The Google Home Hub is the latest entrant into the market of Smart Displays. I’m going to go over its design and features, and at the end i’ll let you know if it’s worth buying or not.
Google Home Hub Hardware
Let’s start with the design. It’s a 7” touchscreen sitting atop a single full range speaker housing, that is wrapped in a soft mesh fabric. It sort of looks like a screen on a short pedestal. And I personally think that’s a good thing. There are two far-field microphones to make sure they can pick up your voice from across the room, and there’s an ambient light sensor to allow the screen to adapt its brightness to the ambient light. The back of the screen has a single toggle to disable the microphone and a volume rocker to adjust the volume.
You may have noticed I didn’t mention a camera, and that is because the Google Home Hub does not have a camera. Google says this is for privacy, they don’t want people being creeped out by a device that’s going to be in their kitchen or bedroom with a camera on it, which is probably a good strategy by Google. I’m sure the fact they don’t have a good video calling app in place influenced the decision a bit as well, as did the overall cost savings of not including an extra piece of hardware.
You have your choice of four different colors, dark gray, blue, pink, or light gray. I like this addition of character to these tech devices. Mainstream adoption of these devices will certainly improve if they can elegantly fit in with someones home decor, and not stick out as an ugly tech product (cough first gen Echo Show).
At 7” the screen on the Google Home Hub is the smallest among the smart displays on sale today. While I truly appreciate the minimalist design they went with, I would have really liked to see a 10” version of this, similar to the new Echo Show.
It’s fine for smaller kitchens or living rooms, but often the information it presents on the screen is a little cramped, and requires you to be close to it to read; whereas the Echo Show and Portal allow you to be a bit further away.
Even though it is not a large screen, it is a very good screen, thanks in part to the Ambient EQ that Google has placed in it. What this does is it changes the brightness and temperature of the screen depending on the ambient light. So if it’s getting dark the brightness will automatically go down and the screen will transition more into the orangey color which is easier on the eyes. Phones have been doing this for a few years now, and it’s nice to the same technology included in other screens.
The Google Home Hub is almost perfect in size to be placed on a bedside table or dresser, and would be an excellent companion for a morning routine while getting ready. The only drawback I see to having the Home Hub instead of the regular Google Home as the morning routine companion is the speakers.
The Google Home Hub doesn’t have terrible speakers, but it just has a single full range speaker, so music and news sound fine but not special. The regular Google Home however has a 3 speakers, which are both louder and fuller in sound. So if you value audio quality above all else, keep that in mind.
Google Home Hub Software
The Home Hub obviously runs a version of android, and is packed full of features that i’m sure many users have been utilizing on their phones for years now.
Google Assistant is the brains behind the operation, and anything that it can do on your phone, it can do here as well for the most part.
Upon setting up the Home Hub you’ll download the Home app on your phone and link it to your google account, as well as name the device, tell it which room it’s in and all that jazz.
The main screen contains all your relevant information for the day; time and date as well as weather and a three day forecast. It will also show whatever appointments you have coming up that are on your google calendar.
If you swipe to the left you can see further information like top stories, recently played music, youtube suggestions, and various tips and tricks.
Swiping up from the bottom will allow you to quickly adjust the brightness, volume, enable Do Not Disturb, set an alarm, and view the device settings.
Swiping down from the top will show you the Home View; which shows devices that are active and allow you to adjust any devices tied to your Google Home account. (We’ll get more into that later.)
All of the functions work flawlessly; the Home Hub is quick and responsive, and doesn’t leave much to be desired.
With smart displays i’m very uninterested in using the touchscreen if i’m honest. I prefer to use them exclusively with their built in voice assistant, and have the screen there for visual representation.
It’s widely accepted that the Google Assistant is the best AI in terms of holding a Q&A session. More often that not GA will be able to answer the questions you ask it, but more importantly it’s really good with follow up questions and context; whereas Alexa struggles with both of those.
Since Google utilizes the full power of its search engine, it can give you great results when it comes to finding local businesses and restaurants as well; and it will utilize the entire screen when giving results. While it’s not necessarily a feature that everyone will use, it’s nice to see that they put thought into it and delivered a fully baked product.
Google Assistant especially excels at voice recognition; you can set up multiple users within your home, and teach GA their voice. So when I ask what’s next on my calendar, it will know to specifically look at my calendar and not someone else’s in my family. For households with multiple users; this is pretty unbeatable in my opinion.
However there are still a few areas where the Home Hub could improve.
My absolute biggest drawback is the Ambient Mode; you can’t turn it off and I hate it. It’s basically a screensaver type function that turns on when you don’t interact with it. You have your choice of a slideshow of your google photos (which I’m sure many will love), curated artwork, a fullscreen clock, and “experimental sources and content” from Facebook or Flickr.
But there’s not option to turn it off. So basically what this means in that all that useful information like the forecast and my upcoming schedule or news is no longer available to me at a glance, instead I need to go and tap the screen to see it.
I truly don’t understand why I can’t turn this off. My absolute favorite feature of the Echo Show is the constant cycle of relevant news and interesting stories that are shown on the screen, which every other smart display seems to have omitted from their software.
Google Assistant also lacks the tons of “skills” that Alexa has built up over the years and i’m not talking about smart home features, but rather the quirky skills like playing games and telling jokes that make the Echo a more “fun” device.
Google Home Hub Smart Home
Google Assistant, much like Alexa, has built up a very large repertoire of Smart Home skills and compatibilities. Just about every mainstream and non-mainstream smart home device will be compatible with these two ecosystems; just scrolling through the list in the Google Home app is rather impressive.
You can of course also cast your media, so if you have a chromecast or android powered TV, you can have the home hub cast whatever video you’re watching to the TV; as well as use it to launch any streaming service or app. This is also used for multi-room audio, so you can have your music play wherever you are, as well as incorporate this into your routines.
You’ll need to set up your rooms and routines in the Google Home app however; you can’t edit anything in the Home Hub.
The Home View portion of the Home Hub is well done, it allows you to easily monitor and access any smart home devices you have set up. My only gripe is that because the screen is a bit small, if you have a lot of devices, you’ll be doing a lot of swiping.
This probably isn’t a big deal for most people that will just use the Google Assistant to turn or off whatever device they need, but it’s convenient to be able to use it from the bedside table for example.
All smart home commands are executed rather quickly, easy things like turning lights on and off are to be expected, but it was also quick to change my Ecobee temperature. Even pulling up my Arlo security camera feed was reasonably fast, which is usually the slowest function of smart displays.
Google Home Hub Golden Question
Should you buy this?
There’s one big advantage of the Google Home Hub that we haven’t discussed yet; and that’s the price. The Google Home Hub can be had for $99, well bellow what the competition costs.
If you have a very Google oriented life, there’s no doubt Google Home will be very useful to you. The seamless integration with your calendar and google accounts is second to none in terms of productivity. The main drawback is the speaker, but this can be inconsequential if you have a bluetooth speaker you can connect it to, or if you don’t listen to much music.
Ultimately it will come down personal preference, as it always does. I think there’s very little left to be desired from the Google Home Hub, for their first smart display they’ve absolutely nailed it, and for half the price of its competition, the Google Home Hub is a no brainer.