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Google Home Hub Review

WHILST THE Pixel 3 and Pixel 3 XL grabbed all the headlines, perhaps the most exciting and accessible piece of new hardware that Google offered us at their recent launch was the Home Hub, the first ‘official’ Google Home device to have a screen.

But do we need it? Probably, is the short answer.

Design

The familiar design language of Google’s products is much in appearance with the Home Hub. The screen is clean and white, whilst the base, which doubles as a speaker, is covered by the trademark white (or black) hessian fabric that will be familiar to anyone with a Home Mini or Max.

Google Home Hub

Very noticeable – there’s no camera, which Google has deliberately avoided as it tries to make extra screens seem a bit less threatening. This instantly puts it at a feature disadvantage compared with third-party devices that have already launched, but with the Home Hub boasting a mere 7 screen, it perhaps doesn’t have the advantage for video calling of some of its rivals.

What you do get are two light sensors that help detect the best settings for the screen, and a light to warn you if the two far-field mics are off. On the rear, there’s a mic switch and a volume rocker. Nothing wasted.

Google Home Hub

Features

So, with the risk of this descending into a review of Google Assistant, the question has to be “what else can it do?”. The screen, at rest, can display a variety of clock faces, as well as use your Google Photos library to be a digital frame, and that’s a nice touch.

Swiping down, like an Android notification, will bring you straight to the new home control functions. Google is now able to control devices by type and room, regardless of brand, and this arrangement suddenly makes Assistant a viable central hub for your home. A single swipe and one press to turn off the lights in the room are just brilliant.

Elsewhere, the active screen offers up the local weather, your agenda for the day, and with a bit of swiping, can also give you suggestions for YouTube and Google Play Music.

This is, of course, the tip of the iceberg – Google Assistant does so much more – but, again, there’s a risk of turning this into a review of the cloud-based services and you don’t need to hear it. The real question is what the advantage of having a screen is.

In essence, it’s an alternative to using your voice. Sometimes it might be preferable, other times easier, but fundamentally, Google Home Hub‘s main role appears to be as a sidekick, in the most benign way possible.

It is, of course, also a screen and if you don’t mind squinting, you can Chromecast anything, including the likes of Netflix. The Home Hub can also be made part of a ‘group’ if you use Chromecast’s multiroom audio. All of which is dead handy if you want a visual on something but don’t want to interrupt what’s on the telly.

The next stage will be that video versions of your favorite content will start to appear as default. BBC Headline, for example, will take the form of a video broadcast as they do on the Echo Show and Dot. And that’s where it’ll start to get really interesting.

Google Home Hub

Performance

One thing that’s very noticeable about the Home Hub is how efficient the far-field mics are, and how efficient the speech engine has become at understanding what is being said to us. The screen shows the words appearing in real-time and the whole process is more or less instantaneous.

The lighting control looks so impressive that it is almost unnoticeable and that’s weirdly a good thing.

The speaker punches well above its weight, but nevertheless has a fairly tinny high end that doesn’t make it the ideal choice for being the main audio output from the room in question – fortunately, you can tell the Home Hub to default its output to any Bluetooth speaker, so the problem goes away as quickly as it arrives.

Google Home Hub

In short

When push comes to shove, like any of these home assistants, the Google Home Hub is a ‘nice to have. The home control options are possibly the most exciting aspect of this device. A dedicated tablet is often the best way to control your gadgets and gizmos and knowing that this sat ready and plugged in might actually be its greatest strength.

The decision not to include a camera is actually genius, as it stops us from getting bogged down in what it could do, with caveats, in favor of what it actually does, with far fewer.

For that reason, it’s surprisingly difficult to compare with devices from Lenovo and JBL – but it’s actually a more intriguing prospect to have in your house. And at this price, there aren’t that many reasons why you wouldn’t want it there.

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Nice to have

Our verdict

When push comes to shove, like any of these home assistants, the Google Home Hub is a 'nice to have'. The home control options are possibly the most exciting aspect of this device. A dedicated tablet is often the best way to control your gadgets and gizmos and knowing that this sat ready and plugged in might actually be its greatest strength.

  • Design