Google Home Hub review: The best Home device from Google yet
It’s easy to see the Google Home Hub as little more than an attempt to ape Amazon’s success with the Echo Show. Both devices have a screen, both use proprietary AI assistants and both are designed to be the centre of your smart home.
Like with the Echo Show before it, Google’s Home Hub is something of a revelation. Slapping a 7in screen onto a device may not sound all that incredible, but the versatility provides you with is astounding. If you’re simply used to interacting with Google Assistant via Google Home, Home Mini or your Android smartphone, Home Hub will change how you use it altogether.
It also helps that it’s evident that Google is working towards something greater with Home Hub. In its current guise, it feels a tad incomplete. But you just know Google is going to refine the user experience and tinker with it further. Even so, in its current state, the £140 asking price is well worth it.[gallery:2]
Google Home Hub review: Design and display
At first glance, the Google Home Hub looks very much like a Nexus 7 slapped onto a pumice stone-like speaker. It’s really hard to see it as anything other than a tablet on a stand, but it has to be said that it’s oddly elegant in its simplicity, blending into whatever room you place it in, rather than becoming the focal point of it.
It’s small enough to be placed on a bedside table, tucked among the books on your bookshelf or dropped next to a knife rack in the kitchen. It could even be placed next to a TV or on a side table in the living room if you wanted to use it primarily for controlling your home at a glance.
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The big design decision that sets the Home Hub apart from the Home is the addition of its 7in, 1,024 x 600-pixel panel. As a screen, it’s resolution isn’t quite up there with the first-gen Amazon Echo Show’s 1,200 x 800-pixel display, but it more than makes up for it with rich and accurate colours, and a solid contrast ratio.
As you’re likely using the Home Hub from afar, it never really matters either. Your photos still look great, and everything is wonderfully easy to read and interact with from the other side of the room. What’s more, along the top edge of the device is a light sensor that helps the Google Home Hub’s display always appear natural and never overly bright compared to the room’s ambient lighting.[gallery:4]
Known as Ambient EQ, Google’s automatic brightness and colour tone adjuster works wonderfully. Photos look like actual prints in a frame and at night it shifts to cut out blue light and eventually turns the screen off when the lights go out so it’s not going to keep you awake if you opt to put it in your bedroom.
Google Home Hub review: Features
Almost all of what makes the Google Home Hub special is what happens on the devices’ screen when you’re using Google Assistant.
When not in use, you can set the Home Hub to cycle through a gallery of selected Google Photo albums. You can also have it pull new images uploaded to Photos, letting it filter out the rubbish shots so you have a continually updating bank of images to display in your home.
On Home Hub’s main menu you’ll be greeted with a card-based interface showing the weather and your calendar events. Swiping along brings up recommendations from YouTube and Spotify, along with a smattering of Google News “top stories for you” links for Assistant to read out like bulletins or as YouTube videos.
Google Home Hub’s biggest feature, however, is its Home View. Here you can control your lights, media, thermostat, Google Home devices and smart cameras all from one place. You access it by swiping down from the top of the screen at any time, meaning it’s incredibly easy to start interacting with your other smart home systems and casting content to other devices.
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While you can interact with Home Hub via the screen, it’s also a Google Assistant-enabled device so you can get everything done just with your voice. In doing so, it quickly becomes apparent just how much better Home Hub is than its display-less siblings.
Asking how cold it is outside, for instance, gives you a verbal weather report while also displaying a weather forecast for the next six hours in a friendly graphic. If you ask how long it’ll take to drive somewhere, or travel via public transport, it’ll detail your route for you and illustrate areas of bad traffic on a map you can delve into further.
My favourite feature, however, is how it handles recipes. Now you can get visual step-by-step instructions by simply asking for how to make certain dishes. Google Assistant reads out each instruction by step, letting you use your voice to advance further into the recipe or even skip ahead to specific points if you’ve moved on. It’ll also set countdown timers for you when required, measurement calculations when you need to convert things alongside translations and to-do lists. It’s the ultimate kitchen assistant.[gallery:7]
Google also says the Home Hub can play live TV. Unfortunately, this is only via YouTube and not terrestrial services. There’s also no support for Netflix, iPlayer or Prime Video so you can’t watch a show in the background while using the Home Hub in the kitchen. There’s also no web browser here to help you circumvent such issues.
Interestingly, despite Google’s decision to not include a video camera for video chat purposes, the Google Home Hub does offer free calls to UK numbers. Using Wi-Fi calling and your Google account’s contacts book, Home Hub can make and receive calls to UK landlines and mobile numbers for absolutely nothing. It doesn’t even come out of your phone’s inclusive minutes and, if you like, you can even set your Home Hub to mimic your number so people don’t get calls from a number they don’t recognise.
Google Home Hub review: Sound quality
Underneath the Google Home Hub’s 7in screen sits a fabric-covered speaker, much in the same finish and guise as the Google Home and Google Home Mini.
As you’d probably expect from a small-footed £140 device, Home Hub’s sound quality isn’t mindblowing. Having said that, for its size, it certainly packs enough of a punch and is a decent step up from the Home Mini. There’s still a distinct lack of bass, but mid-range frequencies and treble are clear and only start to distort when you push the Home Hub to its volume limits.[gallery:6]
This makes it perfectly adequate as a kitchen or bedroom radio, or even a music player for a quiet evening in the living room. If you want something with more punch, the Google Home Max is worth a look but, if you have your own adequate sound system, a Google Chromecast Audio could be the perfect solution to make your Home Hub interact with your speakers.
That aside, the Google Home Hub’s slightly underwhelming speaker does nothing to tarnish its smart home capabilities. In fact, it’s likely something many of you aren’t even particularly fussed about. If you think the Google Home speaker is good enough for you, you’ll be satisfied with what Home Hub has to offer in the audio department.
Google Home Hub review: Competition
In terms of bang-for-buck, the Google Home Hub is easily the best-priced smart screen smart home device on the market. At just £140 it’s only £10 more than the original Google Home and £80 less than the all-new Amazon Echo. Lenovo’s Smart Display is another viable competitor but, at £180, Google’s Home Hub still beats it on value.
Google Home Hub review: Verdict
Aside from a few gripes regarding just how Google has organised its Home Hub software – which it’s sure to address in a future update – using Home Hub is an absolute delight.
Its feature set may seem limited, but it’s not until you start plugging it into the rest of your smart home that it’s real features come to the fore. I also have a sneaking suspicion that Google is holding back on features until people familiarise themselves with Home Hub, instead of blurring the lines between smart home device and a tablet.
Ultimately, the Google Home Hub achieves everything it sets out to do. It makes it easier to interact with Google Assistant, manage your smart home and manage the general daily tasks in your life. Add in its incredibly low price point, its chops as a digital photo frame and relatively acceptable speaker, it’s hard not to recommend the Google Home Hub as a perfect smart home device.