Google Home Hub Review



Last year, at CES 2018, we saw Google’s first smart display, a competitor for Amazon’s Echo Show, but there was just one quirk – it was made by Lenovo. The Google Home Hub represents the company’s first first-party smart display and the soft, cute aesthetic clearly gives it away as a Google Home device. Does its software betray the fact that it’s also the company’s first in the smart display space?

In the box:

  • Google Home Hub
  • Power Cable
  • Getting Started and Warranty Guides

Design



Google says the Home Hub is designed to fit seamlessly into “the most intimate spaces,” which seems to specifically mean a bedroom. The Home Hub won’t look too out of place in a family room or kitchen either, but the smaller screen and speaker size as well as the lack of any level of water resistance discourage us a bit from placing the Hub in one of those spaces.

The first thing you’ll notice is the device’s small size and soft, round aesthetic. The screen has a white face with rounded corners, while the back and woven fabric base come in pastel colors which Google calls sand, aqua, chalk, and charcoal. The diminutive footprint and soft colors combine to make this a cute device that straddles the line well between high-tech and home décor.

Continuing with the theme of blending in, the company excluded a camera and included a microphone on/off switch into this design, along with a volume rocker and ambient light sensor for automatic adjustments to display brightness and tones to further match its environment. We’re not entirely sure why a sliding camera cover couldn’t have been installed instead of excluding the camera entirely, as we’ve seen on the JBL Link View’s camera implementation, but we suppose this eliminates the worry of remembering to close the shutter when the camera isn’t wanted. Otherwise, a shutter cover would be preferable for those who would like the ability to use two-way video conferencing on supported devices.


Sonically, we’re looking at two far-field mics along the top of the display and a single, rear-facing “full-range” speaker housed within the Home Hub’s base.

Display


This 7-inch, 1024 x 600 px display is of course the main focus of this smart device and Google has achieved some impressively accurate color and brightness tuning here with the so-called Ambient EQ Light Sensor. Whether underneath a bright fluorescent lamp or at your bedside in a dimly-lit room, the Google Home Hub’s display adapts quickly and accurately, making itself easily visible and the text effortlessly readable without over- or under-powering the environment’s lighting.


This display looks exquisite in any light, reminding us a lot of e-ink in that it looks so natural and readable, but unlike e-ink, this is the case in every lighting situation. The display’s automatic adjustment of brightness and tone combine to keep the Google Home Hub looking right at home wherever it is – dimming to a near full blackout in night time darkness and rising to the occasion in the light of day.

Interface and Functionality


On the main screen, you have the option to view a slideshow of your chosen Google Photos album, images from Google’s curated art gallery, or a full-screen clock. Tapping the screen from here will bring you to the Home Hub’s main UI where you’ll find a side-scrollable carousel of interactive cards. These include weather, upcoming calendar events, recipes, top stories, recommended Spotify playlists and YouTube videos, and a widget suggesting various functions or features, usually specific to the time of day, like playing white noise sounds at night, for example. These aren’t specific to your actual habits for those times, though.


Lastly, there’s an “Explore” card which, when tapped, shows you a list of things the Google Assistant can do on the Home Hub, organized in another side-scrolling set of smaller, block-shaped widgets. Tapping these will show you some sample commands you can use for whichever category you select like “find food recipes,” or “have fun” for example.

It’s a simple UI, and the explore tab is really as deep as things get. Swiping up from the bottom of the display offers some quick functions like controls for brightness and volume, as well as a shortcut to the alarm clock app, but tapping any of the cards on the main screen will only bring you to the piece of content you tapped. For instance, tapping a suggested YouTube video will only open and play that particular video; no app interface exists to browse YouTube, and that’s the pretty much the case with every card on the main screen.


There are some small caveats to this. The recipes app can actually take you to the full web page which the recipe is from (but nowhere else on the web) in addition to presenting you the smart-display-optimized format, and YouTube videos give you a short list of related videos you can jump to, but that’s the full extent of these app integrations. You can’t peruse news stories on CNN or new music on Spotify through the Google Home Hub.

While offering a display for some conveniences and features, the Home Hub, above all, is still a device that operates mainly from voice-activated commands and queries. Comparing the number of things that can be controlled by voice versus on the display shows no comparison. In the future, we’d love to see some expansion here to enable some level of browsing, if not on full web pages, then at least through Spotify, YouTube, news stories, and other future app integrations, minimizing the reliance on your phone and voice for full capabilities.

Smart Home Control



One area in which Google did expand some functionalities via the screen is within smart device control. Swiping down from the top pulls down a control panel with access to your compatible smart lights, plugs, thermostats, doorbells, Chromecast-enabled devices, and other compatible smart devices.

Functionality here is still pretty basic, but you can set your Nest Thermostat’s temperature and change Philips Hue light’s colors and brightness. You won’t find Nest Thermostat scheduling or scenes for your Hue lights here, though.


Diving into the Google Home app, you’ll find the typical functions like initial device setup, media streaming options, device group setup, and settings for the Google Home Hub. As no settings appear in the Home Hub’s own interface, here is where you’ll change the photos displayed on the main screen, as well as access controls for digital wellbeing and downtime. These offer parental controls for material as well as an option to stop the assistant from responding and only execute alarms and timers during certain times much like the do not disturb setting which is also schedulable.

Sound Quality



Audio on the Google Home Hub is surprisingly loud and decently balanced. Being a single, rear-facing “full-range” speaker, listening to music isn’t the greatest speaker experience, but it is impressive with the composure and balance of both bass and treble, as well as overall decibel output; it’ll fill a room and sound clear doing so.

Controls exist within the Google Home app to tweak bass and treble balance, but we found that pushing both of these to the max brought no distortion or other such issues, just better, fuller sound.

Connectivity


In terms of connectivity you’ll find goodies like Bluetooth 5.0 and dual-band Wi-Fi for multi-room audio and Chromecast streaming. No Zigbee or Z-Wave hub lies with within for wider, direct smart device interaction as seen in the second-generation Echo Show, for instance, but paired with a Google Chromecast in your TV you’ll enable a bit of TV control. This is mostly limited to on/off functions but also includes the ability to say things like “Hey Google play Stranger Things on my TV” or “Hey Google, play Young Thug on my TV.” This, and whole-home audio control via Chromecast-enabled speakers are great examples of the perks of using the Google ecosystem – first-party or third.

Conclusion



The Google Home Hub makes some appreciable inroads towards being your total “Home Hub” but it’s not quite there yet. The versatile, soft aesthetic helps but the smaller size and lack of water resistance may be somewhat prohibitive for placement in the home. It is, however, perfectly suited as a bed- or desk-side companion with the Ambient Display EQ blending the Home Hub seamlessly into your background, and the useful smart home and music controls placed right at your fingertips. In fact, we almost forget that the Google Assistant is on there waiting to be beckoned – that is until we need to know more than just a 3-day forecast, or find a specific video on YouTube, for instance. Yes, having the display is quite useful at times, but we still found ourselves pulling out our true “home hub” more than we’d like – our phones. Still, the Google Home Hub looks good, and functions well, offering us a savory taste of what could soon be a Google user’s total smart home hub.

Pros

  • Pleasing aesthetic which blends high-tech and home décor well
  • Ambient Display EQ is well-tuned and effective
  • Speaker gets decently loud and is well-composed throughout higher volumes
  • Intuitive UI for smart device and Chromecast speaker control

Cons

  • No camera for video calling
  • UI needs expansion in smart device control and app integrations
  • Smaller size and lack of water resistance detract from the Hub’s room versatility

PhoneArena Rating:

8.5

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9 Comments

1. cmdacos

Posts: 4118; Member since: Nov 01, 2016

Why the hell do you need water resistance on a smart display inside your home??? How water resistant is your toaster? Your tv? Your couch?

2. IT-Engineer

Posts: 535; Member since: Feb 26, 2015

Because its not a product made by apple, these stupid writers need to find absurd negative points.

3. cmdacos

Posts: 4118; Member since: Nov 01, 2016

Yep, no mention of water resistance in the HomePod review. There's a reason why I skip 99% of the articles here and go straight to the comments.

10. Atechguy0

Posts: 918; Member since: Aug 03, 2018

This author doesn't realize that it has all the Google Home apps, and more. Developers can use a browser to program a Google Assistant app for this device. Using Google actions, and dialogflow. It's pretty straight forward. So you can add all kinds of functionality to these devices. Plus all the Google smart displays are Chromecast devices. So you can cast things to the Google Home Hub. Get people to review these devices that actually know what they are doing.

5. Vancetastic

Posts: 1118; Member since: May 17, 2017

So you can use it in the bathroom while you’re taking a dump, I guess? Ok, maybe poolside.

7. CoreyG

Posts: 19; Member since: Jul 04, 2017

The JBL Link View has IPX4 water resistance because it's an electronic smart display meant to aid you while cooking and working in the kitchen, among other things, as the Home Hub is advertised to do, as well. I'm not putting anything with speakers in my cooking area without some level of liquid protection and I (and others) certainly hope manufacturers start taking this into account.

4. EvilAPi

Posts: 116; Member since: Sep 25, 2017

Dear Corey, this is not a smartphone. Why water resistant for smart home speaker is necessary? lmao...

6. applesnapple93

Posts: 302; Member since: Jan 06, 2016

wasnt mentioned in the article really. It is a chromecast enabled device yes. You can also chromecast to the device itself with any chromecast enabled video app. Thought it was pretty awesome to cast Plex to it.

11. japkoslav

Posts: 1500; Member since: Feb 19, 2017

Pretty much half useless without a camera. Even Lenovo Smart Display sounds like a much better deal than this. Google Duo ... and they release smart display without a camera ... brilliant.

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