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Google Home Hub Review

Google finally has its own smart display, giving you another way of interacting with its handy Assistant. It's affordable and could be super helpful. Find our more in our full Home Hub review.

Should I buy the Google Home Hub?
The Google Home Hub is an excellent example of smart display thanks to its affordable price tag, compact and elegant design and the ability to interact with the Google Assistant with visual elements.
There are a number of small quibbles we have, though, and using the Hub can be quite frustrating at times. It's usefulness will also depend on things like what other smart home devices you have around the house.


Price when reviewed
  • $149
It took a while but Google has finally introduced its own smart display which will take on the likes of the Amazon Echo Show. This tablet fused to a speaker aims to help you out by adding a visual element to the Google Assistant. The Home Hub could be a really handy addition to your smart home as you'll discover in our full review.

Although Amazon is already on its second-generation smart display, Google is a little behind despite there being partner devices with the Assistant including the Lenovo Smart Display and LG Smart Display ThinQ.

The firm also announced the Pixel 3 & 3 XL, Pixel Slate and Chromecast 3 at its 'Made by Google' event.

Price & Where to Buy
The Echo Show 2 is £219/$229 from Amazon, so the Google Home Hub is a relative bargain in comparison since it's just £139/$149.

You can order it from Google as well as Carphone Warehouse, Argos, Currys PC World and John Lewis. If you buy and register before 31 December 2018, then you'll get six months of YouTube Premium for free.

This is also cheaper than the Lenovo option which is £179/$199 for the smaller 8in model. The JBL Link View is $249.

Design & Build
The Home Hub is surprisingly diddy in real life, effectively a 7in tablet with medium sized bezels fixed to a small base. It's a pretty simple design, which fits in with Google's other connected home devices like the Home Mini.

The base and rear of the Hub is covered in fabric and you can choose from four colours: Sand, Aqua, Chalk and Charcoal. The first two are sort of peach and mint green.

You can control the Hub with your voice, like with other Home products, but the screen adds touch. There's not many buttons, just a volume rocker on the back along with a switch to mute the microphones.

Since the Home Hub is so small, it should make it easier to find somewhere suitable to put it – whether that's in the kitchen, on a bedside table or somewhere else. The grippy rubber base stops it moving, which is especially handy when using the touchscreen.

It's typical for smart displays, but you can't adjust the position of the screen should you want it at more of an angle. If you do, then you'll have to awkwardly prop it up with something.

Specs & Features
The main reason to buy the Home Hub over the other connected home devices is the screen. It's a 7in touchscreen so you can use it in a similar way to other tablets, although it doesn't simply run Android like Google's old Nexus slates.

Instead it runs a visual representation of the Google Assistant along with it's very own user interface elements. For example, you can swipe down from the top to get a menu and swipe things off to the side like on Wear OS smartwatches.

Overall the interface is clear and intuitive making it easy to use. We just wish you could swipe cards upwards to clear them as you can in Android Pie to close apps. Instead, you have to ask with your voice to quit.
You might find yourself not needing to touch the display, or unable to if your hands are tied up with something like cooking. Two far-field microphones mean you can interact with the Home Hub hands-free and the device heard us every time.

"Ok Google, what can you do?"
Interacting with the Google Assistant is a similar experience to other devices, but you don't just get a spoken response. The screen will show you information, a video or photos depending on what you ask for.

This makes the Home Hub a better choice for certain rooms in the house, particularly the kitchen where you can make use of the display to read recipes or watch a video on YouTube showing you how to poach an egg.

The problem is that it can be difficult to get the right info or video. The Assistant will select one for you but you can't just ask for a different one if it's not quite right. It can be quite frustrating.

You'll also want to switch on 'Continued Conversation' in the app, which is off by default. This keeps the mics listening after responses so you can reply, rather than having to say "Ok Google" every time which gets laborious. 

It could also make a handy desk companion with its ability to keep you up to date of your schedule, the weather, traffic and plenty more info. If nothing else, it serves as a digital photo frame able to pull images from Google Photos which is really nice if you never find time to sort out your photos end up rarely seeing them.

The Home Hub will be exponentially more useful to those with lots of other smart home gadgets like heating and lighting. You'll be able to control compatible devices (like Nest and Philips Hue) with your voice or touch.

Get into the habit
Custom routines are a clever way of automating things you do all the time. For example you can set a phrase like 'good night' to turn the lights off, switch the heating off and give you the weather forecast for tomorrow.

These routines have almost endless combinations and possibilities and could make the Home Hub one of the most useful things in the house. Equally you might find you rarely use it.

It's odd that asking the Hub to set up a routine comes back with nothing. You need to manage these in the Home app but this isn't explained and even searching for them in the app proved difficult.

Also beware that if you have Downtime on, then the Hub won't be able to play music, videos or respond to questions. That's what it's for but you can't even override it without using the app, which is annoying. 

If you're worried about younger users accessing unsuitable content, then there are various restrictions and filters you can switch on to easy your mind.

I can't see you 
One reason why the Home Hub is cheaper than rivals is the lack of a camera. The bit above the display is a light sensor. This might make it more affordable but means you can't video call if that's a feature you would use. You can have an audio call with Duo, though and this works pretty well.

That light sensor monitors the ambient conditions and will adjust the screen accordingly, whether it's dimming at night time or getting the correct setting for the colour temperature. It works very well. In our kitchen, the screen often has an almost E-Ink look to it like it's a physical printed page.

All about the (lack of) bass
The Hub isn't battery powered so you'll need to hook it up to the mains. In terms of connectivity, it's got dual-band 11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 5.0. You might want to make use of the latter, especially if you're planning on using the Hub and a music streamer. 

Inside the base is a single 'full-range' speaker, which faces backwards. The rep at Google's London event said it sits between the Mini and regular Home for audio quality but we're not so sure.

In general, the speaker sounds fine but when listening to music it lacks bass and pushing it to higher volume levels introduces a lot of distortion. Those wanting it predominantly for music should either connect to something better with Bluetooth or simply consider a smart speaker instead.

Verdict
In general, the wait for Google's own smart display has been worth it. We like the compact and chic design which fits in with the other Home devices. It's also great that Google's price point makes this an affordable way of getting a smart display, although we'd like the option to buy a more expensive 10in model.

If you find interacting with a smart speaker frustrating (or the idea of it) then having the display will be a real boon, especially if that's how you process information. Of course, it lends itself to things like weather, watching videos on YouTube and viewing recipes.

There are various times when the Hub is frustrating though, although some of this is simply learning how to interact and what its limitations are.

Whether the Hub will be useful or sit gathering dust depends how you plan to use it. It's potentially an expensive bedside alarm clock, or a lifesaver. Some of this comes down to what smart tech you have which can be controlled by the hub - the more the better.

If you're regularly finding yourself trying to prop a phone or tablet somewhere to get visual info then this is a good sign the Hub will be a good buy.

SPECS
  • Google Assistant
  • 7in LCD touchscreen
  • 2 far-field mics
  • Light sensor
  • Dual-band 11ac Wi-Fi
  • Bluetooth 5.0
  • Full-range rear speaker
  • 178x118x67mm
  • 480g
  • 15W
  • Colours: Sand, Aqua, Chalk, Charcoal



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