Google Home Hub review: Google’s small smart display is the one to buy

Alex Kidman 29 October 2018 NEWS

The Google Home Hub is a compact, easy-to-use smart speaker that makes good use of its visual interface.

Quick Verdict
The Google Home Hub offers a convenient visual and voice-driven way to interact with Google's services as well as enjoy YouTube content. It's not a must-have proposition, but as a gateway to smart home appliances, it's a great first step.

The good

  • Unobtrusive design
  • Surprisingly good speakers
  • Works seamlessly with YouTube
  • Easy operation of smart home appliances

The bad

  • Small display
  • No camera means no video calling
  • Can't cast video to its display

Google introduced its concept for smart displays back at Google I/O in May, with companies such as LG, JBL and Lenovo offering up their take on a combined display/smart speaker device.

Google unveiled the Google Home Hub at its Pixel 3 launch event, and it's a very different take from those earlier devices, with a smaller screen, no camera and a very distinct style.

It's not quite a must-have proposition – you could arguably cover much of what it does with a cheap Android phone and a Bluetooth speaker – but as a complete unit to either set up a smart home or add visual value to an existing Google Assistant-using household, it's a joy to use.

Google Home Hub: Design

  • Smaller than you'd think
  • Screen has good visibility
  • Choice of colours

Where the competing Amazon Echo Show 2nd Gen impresses by including a 10.1-inch LCD, Google's gone a little bit more subtle with the Google Home Hub, which features a 7-inch, 1024x600 pixel LCD display.

That's not quite full HD quality, although on a display that size and with the visual style that Google has chosen for the Google Home Hub, that's not going to matter all that much anyway. The idea here is that the Google Home Hub is meant to be an unobtrusive display rather than one that's in your face in the way that a Chromecast-enabled or Android TV might be.

Google sells the Google Home Hub in four different colours. You get to choose from Chalk, Charcoal, Sand and Aqua. Sand is (more or less) the same kind of colour scheme as that found on the Pixel 3, although there it's called "Not Pink" for some reason.

Your choice of colour only affects the base on which the Google Home Hub's display screen sits, with every colour choice sharing the same white mounted bezel around the Home Hub's 7-inch display. So you can go for a dash of colour, or not, and it's not likely to upset your home decor to any great extent.

You will have to work out how to snake the Google Home Hub's power cable through to it without disrupting your decor, but that's the only cable you have to worry about. The Google Home Hub only works off a wireless network connection, and there's no capability for hooking up external speakers to the Home Hub because there are no other inputs.

Google Home Hub: Speaker/Video quality

  • Wide sound output
  • Great microphone pickup
  • Works well for background music streaming
  • Small screen doesn't lend itself to lengthy YouTube binges

The Google Home Hub is equipped with relatively small speakers, as befits its tiny nature, but they've got quite decent audio reproduction despite that. You're not going to mistake it for the mighty sound output of the Google Home Max, but at the same time, it's quite suitable for background listening or catching a quick video recipe if you place the Google Home Hub in your kitchen.

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While it can't boast the same screen size as Amazon's competing Echo Show 2nd Gen, the tight integration of Google's own YouTube service is a real boon for the Google Home Hub. Calling up videos – or even just video playlists – is a snap, and while the small screen means you're unlikely to watch full-length movies on it, as a background playback device it's really rather nice.

However, there's one caveat to that. Despite Google building casting of video and audio content into many of its other devices – from the Chrome browser to the Chromecast and even its iOS apps – there's no functionality to use the Google Home Hub this way. It feels odd that Google's not supporting one of its own video functions on what is so very clearly a video display.

Not that it's all just about watching the latest viral video. The display can also intelligently cycle through your photo galleries stored with Google Photos. Google's claim is that it's using its own AI to intelligently pick the best pictures, without selecting anything blurry or dull. My own Google Photos library is a bit of a mess, but it did this excellently throughout the review process. As long as you don't think too hard about what that means Google knows about your photos, it's a great feature because it's basically a very intelligent photo frame.

Microphone pickup for the Google Home Hub is also very good, and it's helped by the fact that your voice searches and requests are always displayed at the top of the 7-inch LCD, so you can accurately see what Google thinks you're after. It's a small but significant change because you can quickly see if you've been misinterpreted or not.

The Google Home Hub supports alarms and calendar displays, although there's another missing function there that's rather surprising. Put a Pixel 3 on the Pixel Stand next to your bed, and it'll wake you with increasing brightness as you get closer to your alarm time. Despite being a fellow Google product, the Google Home Hub lacks that feature, springing to life when your alarm goes off instead.

Google Home Hub: Smart home quality

  • Good device control via voice or touch
  • No onboard camera means no video calling

Having a visual display does give you a few extra toys to play with when it comes to integrating the Google Home Hub into your smart home environment. Swiping down from the top of the display gives you quick touch-based access to any smart home devices you've already set up through Google Home. I could quickly switch on or off any Philips Hue light bulb or Belkin Wemo switch in my home, and for the bulbs, I could also swipe around to change brightness easily.

You can also get the Google Home Hub to show you what's happening on a Nest camera if you've got one, although here one of the Home Hub's limitations becomes apparent. There's an onboard microphone, but no camera, which means you can't visually interact with any smart home video devices in a two-way sense.

It also means you can't take or make video calls, although voice calling via Google Duo is supported. The competing smart displays using Google Assistant are apparently using different code than the Google Home Hub, which might explain the disparity. Again, though, given how hard Google has tried to make Duo a viable video calling platform, it's downright odd that the Home Hub doesn't support it natively.

Google Home Hub: Verdict

  • Nicely built
  • Intelligent use of video

Where the Amazon Echo Show 2nd Gen impressed me with its hardware, the Google Home Hub feels like more of a complete package, even without video calling. It responds more intelligently than Alexa to queries in the main, fits unobtrusively into most home environments and offers either a nice finishing point to an existing smart home speaker set-up or a great starting point for those wary of the complexity of voice-only smart speakers.

Google Home Hub: Pricing and availability

The Google Home Hub sells in Australia through JB Hi-Fi, Harvey Norman, Officeworks, The Good Guys, Optus, Vodafone and Google Store for $219 outright.

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Google Home Hub: Alternatives

Smart displays are still in their infancy in Australia, with the majority of smart displays shown off at I/O still to emerge. If you're a Google Assistant-based smart home, the Google Home Hub is pretty much your only bet at the time of writing.

However, if you're using Amazon's Alexa, you have a pair of options. You can opt for the similarly small Amazon Echo Spot or the considerably larger Amazon Echo Show 2nd Gen.

Buy Amazon Echo Show 2nd Generation

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Everything you love about Alexa, now with visuals on the new Echo Show, featuring a 10 inch display and Dolby speakers for premium sound.

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Click to buy Amazon Echo Spot - Black

Click to buy Amazon Echo Spot - Black from Amazon AU

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You could achieve much of what the Google Home Hub does with a Google Assistant-based smartphone and simple Bluetooth speakers, although you wouldn't get quite as elegant an overall package if you did.

Google Home Hub: What the other reviewers say

Site Comment Score
SMH "...it could be the perfect fit for baby boomers who don't already own smart speakers, aren't too hung up on sound quality and like the idea of a digital photo frame." N/A
PC Mag "The small, affordable Google Assistant-powered Home Hub smart display is functional and convenient, but won't impress anyone with its sound quality." 3.5/5
Digital Trends "Google’s Home Hub is a great way to keep tabs on your smart home." 3.5/5
TechRadar "Cheaper than an Echo Show and, arguably, even better" 4/5

Specifications

Product Name
Google Home Hub
Assistant
Google Assistant
Wireless network
802.11b/g/n/ac (2.4GHz/5Ghz)
Weight (grams)
480g
Height
118mm
Width
178.5mm
Depth
67.3mm
Speaker information
Full range speaker
Bluetooth
Yes
Min. Frequency Response (Hz)
TBC
Max. Frequency Response (Hz)
TBC
Audio out
No
Water rating
NA

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