Google Home Hub review: The new hub of your smart home? | Apps
It’s the era of smart home, with various intelligent and app-controlled devices now available for your home: from smart cameras and smart thermostats to smart lights and smart plugs. Over the last year or so, ways to control and get these devices to talk to one another more intelligently has increased, negating the need to use multiple apps.
Google Home Hub – the natural competitor for Amazon’s Echo Show – is the one-stop-shop from Google. With Assistant voice-control built-in, access to YouTube – something the Echo Show doesn’t have – and a great design, it’s well worth the £139 asking price for the right smart home user.
- 118 x 67 x 179mm footprint; 480g mass
- 1.5m power cable – always plugged in
- Colours: Sand, Aqua, Chalk, Charcoal
The Google Home Hub is like a 7-inch tablet with stand and speaker built-in that offers a visual display to control your smart home world and display content. Google Assistant is integrated so you can communicate with the power of voice, action your commands via the touchscreen, or combine both.
Its design is simple and elegant with a premium finish that blends into a home environment perfectly. The soft-to-touch premium coating on the rear is just like that of the Nest Thermostat E.
Hub’s small form factor – and it’s significantly smaller than the Amazon Echo Show – makes it ideal as a night-stand style device, or a kitchen-bound product. We’ve used ours in both the kitchen and the bedroom (which kind of makes us want two now).
The option to have Google Photos as the home screen display means the Home Hub can act as an excellent digital photo album too, which is a nice touch – especially if positioned in a bedroom. The Echo Show allows for this feature too, if you use Amazon Prime Photos.
The Home Hub is always wired into a plug socket so it isn’t a portable device and not to be thought of as a tablet: rather it’s a control point for all your smart home goodies. The power port sits at the rear, within the material covered speaker stand, keeping it out of the way.
There’s a microphone off switch directly to the rear of the display too in order to cease the Hub from listening. As there’s no built-in camera there’s no privacy concern from that point of view. In the same breath that also means no video calls like Facebook Portal or Echo Show. We didn’t find ourselves wanting a camera but those who regularly make video calls might see it as an omission.
Display and Functionality
- 7-inch touchscreen display
- Works with: Lights, Media, Broadcast, Thermostat, Cameras, Locks
- 6 months free YouTube Premium subscription
The Google Home Hub’s 7-inch LCD touchscreen sits neatly on top of the full-range speaker and stand, pretty much hiding them from view when looking at the device front-on.
The display offers plenty of vibrancy, punchy colours and text is nice and crisp. There’s an ambient EQ light sensor at the top – not to be mistaken for a camera – that automatically adjusts the screen’s brightness and colours to blend into the room, meaning the display never looks too bright or out of place and photos look great.
During setup, it’s possible to choose what they want the display to show when the device isn’t being actively used. The options are Google Photos, which can be sorted by auto-identified person from your connected gallery; Art Gallery, which is a range of curated images and artwork; or full-screen clock, which offers a range of clock faces. There is also an ‘Experimental’ option that allows you to try out new sources, which currently include Facebook and Flickr.
Swipe left to right on the display and a dimmed-down time screen (like a night clock) appears, with a tap on the clock taking you back to the main display and another tap taking you to the home screen. This home screen displays weather, date, time and an active item like top news stories, which you can then swipe to see other active items, such as Spotify playlists.
A swipe up from the bottom of the home screen offers brightness control, volume control, Do Not Disturb and access to information about your Home Hub.
A swipe down from the top of the home screen loads your rooms and devices and it’s here the Home Hub really shines. Tapping on ‘View Rooms’ allows you to see each of your smart home devices by room (assuming you’ve categorised them into a room in the Google Home app). You can then control all of these devices from the Hub itself, rather than having to open the respective apps individually. This can be done using Google Assistant too, making smart home control an absolute breeze.
Smart home devices are also categorised with Lights, Media, Broadcast, Thermostat, Cameras and Locks, if you have compatible devices within a given category. We don’t have smart locks so the Lock icon doesn’t appear for us, but we do have Ikea smart lights, the Nest Learning E thermostat, Nest Hello video doorbell, Nest Indoor Cam IQ and Netatmo Welcome camera, all of which appear in their respective categories, allowing for very simple, easy control all from the Home Hub.
Once smart home devices are linked to the Home Hub and categorised in a ‘room’, you can ask Home Hub to turn down the lights in the kitchen, show you the front door (if you have a Nest Hello), turn up the temperature, show you the kids’ bedroom, and so on. As you would expect, Nest devices are better integrated than third-party devices in that you don’t need to tell Home Hub the specific device name. But third-party devices work well too: you’ll just have to say, “show me the Netatmo camera view” instead of just “show me the living room” when using voice.
Unlike Amazon, Google Home Hub also offers YouTube access, with six months of the Premium subscription included with purchase. It’s an ideal pairing and a current loss for Amazon for sure (although Show does offer a browser-based semi workaround).
Hardware and Specs
- Works with Android, iOS, Mac, Windows and Chromebook
- Wi-Fi & Bluetooth support
- Google Assistant
- 80dB speaker
The Google Home Hub works across a range of platforms and it offers both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth support, though it requires a Wi-Fi network to function. Unlike Amazon Echo Show or Echo Plus, the Google Home Hub doesn’t have built-in Zigbee support, which means you’ll still need the various manufacturer apps for initial setup. For example, if you have Philips Hue smart bulbs, you’ll need the Philips Hue hub and app to enable control and access through the Home Hub.
The Echo Show and Echo Plus don’t require input from Philips at all – ask them to search for devices and it would find the Philips bulbs, or any compatible ZigBee products and be able to control them. It’s an omission that Google could have offered, but it’s not a massive issue, as you don’t really need the manufacturer apps unless you’re after more complex control – such as setting a different mood on your Ikea lights.
Google Home Hub is compatible with numerous smart home devices, but its list isn’t quite as comprehensive as Amazon’s Alexa. More and more manufacturers are hopping on the Google train though, including Sonos before the end of the year, so the Home Hub will only get better as time goes on. It’s worth checking your existing smart home products are compatible before you invest though, otherwise Hub is limited in purpose.
In terms of sound, the full-range 80dB speaker is more than adequate, although not ground-breaking. It’s everything it needs to be in a product of this type though.
Software and Google Assistant
Google Assistant is very good at conversation and with the power of Google search it often provides detailed answers to your voice-based queries.
Voice commands can also handle routines, actining multiple steps with one command. For example, “Ok Google, Good Morning” could see your lights turn on, the weather read out, your calendar for the day detailed, your thermostat adjusted and music start playing. It works seamlessly and it is great – but if you don’t know where to look, it would take a while to discover (to access routines, you have to go into the profile section of the Google Home App, then into more settings, then into Assistant, then you’ll finally find it – it’s a lot of clicks for a feature that should be easier to find).
As we’ve lightly touched upon, the choice now is down to which system you’re invested in: Amazon Alexa (not found here: go see Echo Show) or Google Assistant (as built-in on the Home Hub)? These main two voice-control assistants are fighting for smart home dominance.
Add the Home Hub to a couple of Google Home Minis around your home and compatible smart home devices (especially Nest devices) and you have a brilliant system, and a very smart home. The same applies for the Echo Show and a couple of Echo Dots or Echo Spots though, so it really is about which system works better with the devices you have or want.
The Google Home Hub brings the smart home experience to life for the whole family. It is for the heart of home, where multiple members of the household can query and request actions, while doubling-up as the smartest digital photo frame out there.
Hub makes perfect sense following the company’s acquisition of Nest too. With a wider portfolio of connected products available to buy, having a hub to control everything from is a logical next step.
Well, assuming you’re the right user. Hub is only sensible if you’ve got ample smart home products, aren’t already invested in Amazon’s ecosystem and don’t want to use it for calls (but we prefer its avoidance of any camera-based privacy issues).
Google Home Hub would be a fantastic addition to any smart home. We absolutely love it.
Amazon Echo Show
The 2018 update to the original might not have YouTube, but it does have a camera and can do video calls. If you’re invested into Amazon, Alexa and Echo then this is the logical choice for you – despite its added size and expense.
Lenovo Smart Display
The Lenovo Smart Display was announced before the Home Hub as the first Google Assistant device to take on the Amazon Echo Show. It has the same software as the Home Hub in a different design so if you don’t like the Google design, you might prefer this one. It will come in 10-inch and 8-inch options.