The Google Nest Audio is the only new product - out of the four announced at its annual hardware event on Sept 30 - that will be available in Singapore. It is a mid-sized sequel to the original Google Home smart speaker.
Like last year's Nest Mini, this new smart speaker bears the Nest smart home branding.
Despite standing slightly taller and wider than its predecessor, the Nest Audio blends more easily into the background, thanks to its lack of distinctive features.
The speaker enclosure is covered by the same sustainable fabric - only chalk and charcoal colours in Singapore - as the Nest Mini. Hidden under the fabric at the upper front of the Nest Audio are the capacitive touch controls to adjust the volume and play/pause the music.
More importantly, the Nest Audio ($139) is more affordable than the Google Home ($189) while offering better sound (said to be 75 per cent louder and 50 per cent stronger bass).
To play your tunes on the Nest Audio, you can either stream music from a supported streaming music service such as Spotify or YouTube Music, or pair your device to the Nest via Bluetooth.
The fun starts when you have multiple Google smart speakers. For instance, you can group the Nest Audio with the smaller Nest Mini speaker or the Nest Hub smart display to play the same music together.
Planning to move to another part of the home? Issue a voice command to transfer a currently-playing song from one smart speaker to one in the other room.
Two Nest Audio speakers can also be paired together for a stereo experience with separate left and right audio channels.
While I do not have a Google Home speaker on hand to verify Google's claims, the Nest Audio is a clear upgrade over my Nest Mini in terms of sound quality.
Not only is the Nest Audio noticeably louder than the smaller Mini, the former produces a richer and fuller sound that manages to fill my living room. The highs are sufficiently crisp while the bass is significantly better. A basic equaliser in the Google Home app lets you adjust the Nest Audio's treble and bass levels.
Of course, there is still room for improvement. The Nest Audio sounds strained when playing a song at maximum volume. The bass still lacks oomph compared to my Sonos Beam soundbar, which comes with built-in Google Assistant. To be fair, the Beam is also much more expensive at $699.
Like the Nest Mini, the Nest Audio has three far-field microphones that can detect voice commands from a distance. In my experience, I did not have to shout to be heard by the Nest Audio while it was playing a song at 80 per cent volume.
The built-in microphones can be muted for privacy via a physical switch at the back of the speaker. When muted, the Nest Audio's front LEDs will be lit up in orange as a visual cue. The brightness of these LEDs can be adjusted in the settings, but the LEDs cannot be turned off entirely.
The Nest Audio has a dedicated machine learning chip - first introduced in the Nest Mini - that enables Google to move some of its Google Assistant experiences from the cloud to the smart speaker itself.
For instance, the Nest Audio can learn your most common music commands and responds two times faster than its predecessor. But this functionality is currently available only in the US.
As the middle option in Google's smart speaker lineup, the Nest Audio delivers the goods in terms of sound quality and pricing. With the premium Google Home Max speaker unavailable in Singapore, the Nest Audio is as good as it gets for local users. While other brands like Sonos and JBL also offer Google Assistant smart speakers, they are not as affordable as the Nest Audio.
Sounds better and is cheaper than its predecessor
Nondescript appearance lets it blend easily into the home
Machine learning chip not enabled outside US
Connectivity: Bluetooth and Wi-Fi
Value for money: 4.5/5