Tech review: Google Nest Hub an excellent home helper

Google Nest Hub is the latest smart home gadget to host the Google Assistant, the tech giant's increasingly ubiquitous virtual assistant.
Google Nest Hub is the latest smart home gadget to host the Google Assistant, the tech giant's increasingly ubiquitous virtual assistant.ST PHOTO: TREVOR TAN

A typical morning for me goes like this: I wake up, get up and head straight to the kitchen for my caffeine fix.

But for the past week, I have 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 I'm waiting for the kettle to boil. By the way, it can also tell me the latest news, remind me of my appointments, and play my favourite tunes.

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

Unlike the tech giant's other Google Assistant-powered devices, such as the 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 the Facebook Portal, both of which are powered by Amazon's Alexa virtual assistant and are unavailable in Singapore.

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

But it is the screen that 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 or a smart light bulb.

For instance, I could view the live video feed from a TP-Link security camera on the Nest Hub's display. I had to link the camera to the Google Assistant beforehand, but this takes just a couple of clicks on my smartphone.

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

My favourite feature, by far, is when the Nest Hub becomes a digital photo frame that displays a slideshow of photos from your Google Photos account when the device idles.

  • FOR

    - Picks up voice commands from across the room

    - Photos and videos look good

    - Having a screen makes it easier to use the 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

Thanks to Google's face detection technology, it can be set to show only photos containing specific people, such as your family members. This is really 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 this screen. It helps that an ambient light sensor, like the one in your smartphone, fine-tunes the brightness and warmth of images to suit its surroundings.

The gadget does not have a camera, which should assuage privacy concerns sufficiently that users are comfortable with putting the Nest Hub at their bedside table. 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 to be excellent at picking up my voice commands from across the living room.

I also liked that Google has implemented the Continued Conversations feature in Nest Hub's Google Assistant. As its name suggests, you can follow up a voice command with a related query (within 8 seconds) without having to repeat "Hey Google" again - as if you are having a proper conversation.

Its speakers, though, are middling at best. The audio quality lacks depth and is comparable to the smaller Google Home Mini smart speaker.

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