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Google Home Hub Review: So Simple, So Delightful

by Justin Herrick | November 4, 2018November 4, 2018 12:30 pm PST

Google’s serious about hardware. Last year, we saw two smart speakers on opposite ends of the pricing spectrum join the Home. Now there’s another model to choose from. The Home Hub is much different, though. While you still get all the brilliance of Google Assistant, this experience goes deeper with the addition of a built-in display.

You’re able to see what you hear. Because of the 7-inch screen, the digital assistant has an identity. The format offers detailed insight. However, Google and the Home Hub are not alone in this space.

It’s a battle between two of the world’s largest technology companies. Amazon made the first mainstream smart display, and Google enters as its own digital assistant continues expanding. Google Assistant works on an unbeatable knowledge graph, but we haven’t seen ubiquity like Amazon’s Alexa has.

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The Home Hub could turn out to be a game-changer. Other smart speakers from Google are already climbing in sales, and the original Echo Show proved there’s significant interest in smart displays. That’s why Amazon created a new model and Google’s chasing after it.

Here’s what we think of the Google Home Hub.

Without a doubt, the team behind the rest of the Home family returned for the Home Hub. It looks a lot like its siblings. From the light shades to the fabric-based accents, you’ll know exactly who designed this smart display.

Google took the ‘Goldilocks’ route for its smart speakers. The Home sits in the middle of the Home Mini and the Home Max. As for the Home Hub, you’re locked in with a single model. That’s totally fine because you don’t want a gargantuan display on the living room’s side table, bedside, or in your office. Really, the Home Hub’s a cozy little thing.

No matter the decor, I can’t imagine it’ll be difficult for the Home Hub to fit right in. Again, it’s far from flashy. The Home Hub carries a subtle, light style. Plus, there’s a diverse colorway — Chalk, Charcoal, Aqua, and Sand.

As mentioned earlier, the Home Hub ships with a 7-inch screen. It’s a plain, average display with nothing in particular that impresses. Except Google did include Ambient EQ. Both color temperature and brightness are adjusted for the environment. So your Home Hub won’t get too bright, too dark, or too uneven with the room’s balance.

The Home Hub’s LCD panel lacks sharpness and vibrancy, anyway. You shouldn’t be surprised because it’s a $149 smart display. To expect a cutting-edge OLED panel and an ultra-thin bezel, you’d be foolish.

For its purpose, the 7-inch display is good enough. There’s room for improvement, but you’re taking quick glances and not staring at it for hours a day. When I need to know what’s on my calendar or set a timer, the pixels per inch and true-to-life color accuracy are irrelevant.

The Home Hub doesn’t have a front-facing camera, though. You’re able to make audio calls, but video calls are locked out. That could be a problem for some users.

Maybe it’ll irk you, and in that case get a third-party alternative or choose the Echo Show. But the omission doesn’t bother me because I prefer video calls on phones, tablets, and computers. Yet I won’t speak for you. Most people like complete convenience and might appreciate a camera here.

Also, there are privacy concerns about smart displays. The solution seems to be to offer a physical cover for the front-facing camera, but instead there’s only a physical switch to mute the Home Hub’s microphone. Google should still include a front-facing camera on the next version.

If you do want to make a call, Google’s Duo handles that activity. It’s awkward when the other person chooses video and all they see is your profile picture, but audio-wise there aren’t any hiccups. Duo works the same on any device.

Let your voice do the navigation, but the Home Hub will accept a limited amount of physical interaction as well. You’ll need to speak to submit commands, and then further interaction can be done by voice or touch.

With that said, don’t jump into the Home Hub expecting it to be a stationary tablet meant for tapping and swiping. You and Google Assistant must be buddies.

It makes for a terrific newsreader, a media player for Google Play Music and YouTube, and a central hub. See, if you have connected devices like cameras and light bulbs, the Home Hub serves a manager for it all. Swipe down from the top of the display, and you’ll get an overview of active automation.

There aren’t too many connected devices in my home, though I still found the controls incredibly useful. It’s great to have my Nest Hello’s live feed and alerts. Also, the Home Hub lets me know the status of my Nest x Yale Lock and the front porch’s light.

Not using the Home Hub? It’s the best digital photo frame ever. Google Photos can lend your personal library to the screensaver, which also shows the time and temperature in a corner. The Home Hub can dig into the thousands of photos and videos you have or specific albums.

The home screen, though it’s hardly shown, lines up highlights. You’ll see upcoming items from Google Calendar, top news stories, YouTube recommendations, and suggestions.

If you want to go back, swipe from left to right on the display. Or tell Google Assistant what you’d like to do next. Again, leverage Google Assistant’s brainpower because it makes life so much simpler.

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At its core, the Home Hub is based on the same framework used by other Home devices and the Chromecast. That means you’re able to sling content from your phone or tablet to the smart display in a second. Even if a service doesn’t have proper integration yet, you can use the Cast feature on its app.

So far, you’re forced to do that with most services.

Google didn’t roll out the Home Hub without third-party services by its side, but there aren’t an abundance of choices. You have Crackle, The CW, Deezer, HBO Now, iHeartRadio, Spotify, Starz, and a few others to stream from. Dominos, Uber, Costco, and Reuters are also part of the hodgepodge.

Basically, it’s odd to request programming from Netflix and not gain access to the popular video streaming service. Yet you’re able to Cast from the Netflix app on a mobile device. None of this feels half-baked, but I’m bummed every time I need to use an app as a workaround.

The smart display should pick up steam in the coming months (and years). Google showed an effort to grow support for the Chromecast and then the Home family, and we have to assume the same will occur for the Home Hub. It helps there’s a singular technology shared between them.

Google earned praise when the Home arrived with high-end sound quality. The Home Max was well-received, too. Heck, even the Home Mini does okay for its price. You’d think the Home Hub’s sound quality sits somewhere between the Home’s and the Home Max’s, but this conjures up a very lackluster listening experience.

The excuse could be that this is a smart display, not a smart speaker. Google can say that if it wishes, but the truth is that Amazon’s Echo Show (first generation, mind you) outputs better audio. Perhaps this is why the Home Hub’s cheaper than the Echo Show.

Upon close examination, I think there’s a too-small-for-its-own-good speaker grille around the back. It stifles all audio from being full and immersive. While the Home Hub can get loud, the top volumes are empty and fall short on clarity. Don’t get the Home Hub if you’re relying on it for music streaming more than anything else.

Truthfully, it’s a Home with a display. When you ignore the latter, you’re looking at another smart speaker. So it depends on the desire for a visual as well. Google Assistant’s always performed above expectations with voice alone, but now you get more insight. The digital assistant does its part; however, the rest of the Home Hub’s software could use a boost. More third-party services, to be exact.

As for sound quality, the Home Hub disappoints. Yet there’s a strong possibility you don’t use this as the primary audio device. Regardless, Google could’ve done much better and match the original Home.

The verdict gets decided on how well the Home Hub fits into your life. That’s different for every person, but it tended to serve myself and family members effectively. When I started my day, it had valuable information lined up. It also helped my mother with step-by-step recipes, and my dad enjoyed the immediacy of top news stories.

Maybe the Home Hub can’t be sold in volume like the Echo Show, but it’s another spotlight on Google Assistant that can grow its reach over time.

Disclaimer: Google sent us the Home Hub for review, and we used it for approximately one week.


Justin Herrick

Justin is easily attracted to power buttons. His interest in technology started as a child in the 1990s with the original PlayStation, and two...

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