Google Nest Hub a great helper at home

Watch YouTube videos, play music and get the latest news and reminders of appointments on Google Nest Hub, which has a 7-inch touchscreen.
Watch YouTube videos, play music and get the latest news and reminders of appointments on Google Nest Hub, which has a 7-inch touchscreen.

This past week, I acquired a new kitchen helper, one that can show me how to cook the perfect soft-boiled egg - five minutes for a runny yolk, then cool under cold running water - while waiting for the kettle to boil.

It can also tell me the latest news, remind me of appointments and play my favourite tunes.

I am talking about Google Nest Hub, the latest smart home gadget to host Google Assistant, the tech giant's increasingly ubiquitous virtual assistant.

Unlike the tech giant's other Google Assistant-powered devices, such as its Google Home smart speakers, the Nest Hub has a 7-inch touchscreen mounted on a fabric stand that houses its speakers.

It is a smart display, a genre of smart home devices that has sprung up in the past couple of years. Other examples include the Amazon Echo Show and Facebook Portal, both powered by Amazon's Alexa virtual assistant and unavailable in Singapore.

Those who have used a Google Home smart speaker will find the Nest Hub familiar. The same "Hey Google" phrase triggers Google Assistant to listen for voice commands.

  • FOR

    • Picks up voice commands from across the room 

    • Photos and videos look good 

    • Screen makes it easier to use Google Assistant

  • AGAINST

    • Mediocre audio 

    • No video calls

  • SPECS

    PRICE: $189

    DISPLAY: 7 inches (1,024 x 600 pixels)

    FEATURES: Google Assistant, Chromecast, Multi-room audio

    CONNECTIVITY: Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac), Bluetooth 5.0

    WEIGHT: 480g

  • RATING

    FEATURES: 4/5

    DESIGN: 3.5/5

    PERFORMANCE: 4/5

    VALUE FOR MONEY: 4/5

    OVERALL: 4/5

But the screen changes things up, despite being barely larger than most smartphones and lacking an on-screen keyboard.

For starters, YouTube videos are just a couple of taps away, which makes the Nest Hub handy for recipes and instructional videos.

Swiping from the top of the screen brings up a dashboard for controlling other compatible smart home devices, such as a home security camera.

To view live video feeds from a security camera on the Nest Hub, I had to link the camera to Google Assistant, but this took just a couple of clicks on my cellphone.

Many supported smart home gadgets are unavailable here, but there are a number that will work with Google Assistant, such as Aztech's Kyla smart home devices, Xiaomi security cameras and Philips Hue light bulbs.

My favourite feature is when the Nest Hub becomes a digital photo frame that displays a slideshow of photos from your Google Photos account when it is idle.

Thanks to Google's face-detection technology, it can be set to show only photos with specific people, such as family members. This is convenient as the latest photos are automatically included in the slideshow.

While the display resolution is relatively low (1,024 x 600 pixels), photos and videos look good on the screen. It helps that an ambient light sensor, like the one in smartphones, finetunes the brightness and warmth of images to suit the surroundings.

The gadget does not have a camera, which should assuage privacy concerns. But this also rules out video calls.

For added privacy, you can mute its two built-in microphones via a switch at the back of the device.

I found the Nest Hub excellent at picking up voice commands from across the living room. But its speakers are middling at best. The audio quality lacks depth and is comparable with that of the smaller Google Home Mini smart speaker.

If you are already a fan of Google Assistant or rely heavily on Google services, the Nest Hub is a clear and relatively inexpensive upgrade over a Google Home Mini.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 03, 2019, with the headline 'Google Nest Hub a great helper at home'. Print Edition | Subscribe