What you need to know about the Google Home Hub
The introduction of the Amazon Echo Show proved that the adding of a display to a smart speaker dramatically increased its usability. This next step in innovation meant that the entire market would subsequently be thrown upside down and that competitors would need to develop their own variations at a rapid pace in order to mitigate the fluctuation of market share. With resources stretching for miles regarding financing and manpower, it was never going to be long before Google brought out its rival. With the birth of the Google Home Hub, we finally have significant competition for Amazon, with a smartly-designed, well-thought-out smart display.
Google’s Home Hub is powered by the same virtual assistant that helps with everyday tasks both on your Android smartphone and the company’s range of smart speakers. The only difference is, being accompanied by a 7in touch-sensitive display, it can present info on screen, whether that’s the weather forecast, upcoming events, or Google Maps directions.
As you’d expect, you can use it to play music and YouTube videos, and it can also show cooking instructions and display your best snaps from Google Photos. Its functionality doesn’t stop there, however. The key advantage the Home Hub holds over its smart speaker counterparts is Home View, which lets you manage all your smart devices – lights, thermostats, cameras, media devices, and so on – from one dropdown menu.
Last, but not least, you can also use the Home Hub to make free audio calls to mobiles and landlines. It can also make video calls, although the recipient will be unable to see you (you can see them) because Google has decided not to include a camera. Depending on your opinions on privacy, that could be a good or a bad thing, but at least you never need to worry about the smart screen capturing any embarrassing images.
Setup and Google Assistant
Right, so before you start your smart home odyssey, you’ll need to set up your new device. For Google Home Hub, that will require downloading – or, for some of you, re-installing – the Google Home app. Once that’s locked and loaded on your mobile device of choice, you can simply tap the plus icon under the Home heading, and the app will search for any nearby Made by Google device. After a short pairing process, you’ll need to select which room the Hub is located in as well as add any new smart devices you might have purchased alongside the Home Hub.
The whole setup process takes just a few minutes and, thanks to the great new Google Home app UI, setting up additional devices has never been easier.
That said, if you haven’t yet bought any smart devices or committed to one smart home ecosystem yet, Google makes a compelling case for its Google Assistant and Made by Google platforms which now works with over 5,000 smart devices from 400 companies and dozen-or-so Google devices.
Let’s get into the look and feel of the Google Home Hub.
Google has worked hard coming up with a common design language for its more recent products, combining soft-touch plastic and material across its range, from the Google Home Mini to the new Nest Thermostat E (a company owned by Google).
It’s no surprise to see that the Google Home Hub is designed along the same lines, with a display hanging off the material base. It’s a big step up from the chunky original Echo Show and a bit nicer to look at than the Echo Show (2nd Gen).
With a 7-inch screen, the Google Home Hub has a moderate size (179 x 118 x 67mm). With very thin bezels all around the screen adding to the effect. Around the back of the screen, there are dedicated volume buttons and a switch that turns off the microphone to stop the Home Hub from listening in. For sound, you can just swipe up from the bottom of the display and use the touch controls instead. There’s no webcam on this model, with Google deciding that it wanted privacy first and foremost, giving people the confidence to place the Home Hub wherever they wanted. For night time the light sensor automatically turns the screen off when it gets dark, so you won’t get disturbed if you use the Home Hub as a kind of smart alarm clock. Two far-field microphones sit on top of the display, primed to listen for your voice commands. Quality is pretty good, although one has to be reasonable when wanting to talk to Google.
It’s compact size of 7 inches, the quality of the display is excellent. Sharp, clear and with decent contrast, it has been well-tuned for the touch interface and YouTube video.
Viewing angles are great, and the image quality maintains whether you’re looming above the screen or stood to the side. There’s a light sensor in the middle that enables the Home Hub to alter the display’s brightness and white point based on the ambient light in the room. Google calls this feature Ambient EQ and in practice it works very well, reducing the brightness to the extent that you’d be hard-pushed to know the images on display weren’t prints. This is great for making sure you don’t get too much blue light hitting the back of your retinas at night, but in darker environments, photos can often look as though they’d benefit from some additional backlight. If you find this to be the case, there’s a handy auto-brightness offset tool in the Home app or you can turn Ambient EQ off altogether.
The Home Hub sounds somewhere between the Google Home and the Home Mini for music. It can get pretty loud and clear, but sounds pretty shrill at 100% volume, meaning this isn’t a smart speaker to buy for rocking out.
It does a great job of rendering the Assistant’s voice and works perfectly well for watching YouTube videos and news broadcasts. But it doesn’t really compare to the audio you get from Amazon’s first-generation Echo Show.
Audio is better tuned for voice responses and YouTube video than music. The Google Home Hub definitely can be described as loud and clear. There’s a hint of bass, but certainly not enough to bring the excitement and pump to music or films. The range is somewhat compressed, too, so you don’t hear the subtleties in music tracks.
Ultimately, the Home Hub isn’t designed for music, TV shows, or films, and if you want something specifically designed for those purposes, a smart speaker is a better bet.
Smart Home Control
Smart Home is the one area where Google has made plenty of strides with the Home Hub. For starters, the number of supported devices has grown exponentially.
Google has recently brought custom Routines to everywhere in the world, after an initial US roll-out. Routines let you control several devices at once with a single voice command, say making it easy to shut down your home when you go out.
Google has overhauled and revamped the way that you can interact with smart devices in your home. From the Home Hub, you can swipe down from the top of the screen to show Home View. From here you can tap and control lights, thermostats, and view cameras.
Neatly, with the likes of Philips Hue, Home View can be used to change bulb colour as well as the brightness and toggling lights on and off. The Google Home Hub also has better support for thermostats, and even let me change individual rooms with Honeywell Evohome, Smartly if you use your voice to change a thermostat or light, the Home Hub show the touch controls on the screen. For example, you can turn your kitchen lights on and then use the touch controls to pick the exact brightness you want.
Home View is also available in the Google Home app, giving roughly the same level of control, although it doesn’t currently let you change bulb colour,
If you have a Nest Hello doorbell, the Google Home Hub now displays the video feed alongside an audible announcement when someone presses the button. Thanks to a more recent update, you can now answer the door directly from your Home Hub without having to whip your phone out. As a result, using the Home Hub was far easier and quicker than using my phone.
As well as being able to have a two-way conversation, the Home Hub also allows you to use the quick responses. If you don’t have the time or inclination to deal with someone, you can just let the Nest Hello give a canned response and you’re off. This is a great update to the Google Home Hub, although it also works on all other Google-powered Smart Displays.
Who is it for?
While Amazon’s Echo Show is a buckshot that has both no purpose and every purpose all in the same device, the Google Home Hub has a finite set of what it can – and cannot – do.
Based on our time with the unit, we saw a definite use-case for three types of users: College students, older family members, and smart home enthusiasts with way too many devices to keep track of by name.
Students, short on time and full of questions that need answering will love the Home Hub and its prominent focus on Google Calendar. It’s baked right into the main screen of the app and should always keep them on task.
Even better, they don’t need to be concerned about mom and dad dropping by anytime they have company over, and the device powers down nicely at night so that they can get some shuteye at the end of a busy day.
As for older family members, we found that once the device was set up, it made for a great digital photo frame that worked better than any we’d ever seen. Images that we shot in the afternoon on our phones were uploaded immediately to the cloud via Google Photos, and would then appear on the Home Hub within an hour or two. Add to that basic calling functionality through Duo and some of the oldest members of your family can now keep in touch even when you’re far away.
Last but not least, the Home Hub makes a lot of sense for the smart home enthusiast who’s gone a bit overboard on devices.
If you have more lights than you can keep track of or can barely remember the name of all your smart displays (guilty as charged) the Hub’s Home Menu does a wonderful job showing you every connected device, which room it’s in and if it’s on or off right now. This is an important distinction as this enables you to use commands like “turn off the TV in this room” or “turn of the lights in the living room” without having to remember names like TPLINK BULB 7 or Sengled B8EFS.
To view the Google Home Hub on the website, click here.