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October 23, 2018

Google Home Hub review

by John_A

First there was the Google Home. Then, the Google Home Mini and Home Max. For 2018 it’s the Google Home Hub.

Unlike its predecessors, the Home Hub is the first product in the smart home line to offer up a full display. It’s the same smarts underneath, and features a a decent speaker, and sounds pretty much like the same experience. It’s not. The Google Home Hub changes the game for Google.

Think back over the last decade or so and chances are good that you’ve either owned or known someone who purchased a digital picture frame. Google Home Hub is that, but so much more.

Almost all of us have at least one Bluetooth or Wi-Fi connected speaker that we like to listen to music, podcasts, or audiobooks on. Nothing fancy, just a favorite unit that travels either throughout the house or stays in a convenient location. The Google Home Hub is that, too, but so much more.

Many of us own a smart speaker that we can tap into for reminders, grocery lists, help with cooking or homework, or general search. Google Home Hub is… well, you already know.

Falling Fast in Love

After just a few days with the Home Hub we’ve already come to appreciate it for so many reasons. From the simple, intuitive design to the technical prowess under the hood, it’s one of those devices we can see in each room of the home.

The Home Hub is more compact than you’d imagine, but it doesn’t feel small. It’s comprised of a 7-inch display with a white bezel and a speaker. The former sits in landscape mode at a reclined angle while the latter is your base. The speaker is wrapped in a fabric not unlike what Google has on the Home Mini.

The front side features two far-field microphones, and “Ambient EQ” light sensor. Around back is the volume rocker and the microphone toggle. There’s no camera to be found, but you won’t really need, or miss that option.

The light sensor automatically adjusts brightness and color temperature based on the ambient lighting in environment. Place it in a well-lit kitchen or living room area and it pushes out a brighter image. Dim the lights, or keep it on the nightstand, and it dials things down so they’re not jarring or harsh.

Display

Surprisingly, the display resolution is relatively low at 1024 x 600, which is far less than what you’re getting in today’s smartphones. What’s more, the pictures you’re capturing tend to have exponentially higher pixels. That’s hardly noticeable here as pictures still pop right off and look every bit as sharp as you’d like.

Color balance and saturation are tuned to our liking and we never really felt like we needed to dial something up or back. Brightness, thanks to the sensor, is always what the room calls for and doesn’t distract.

Tips and tricks every Google Home user should know

If for no other reason than to provide a connected digital picture frame, the Google Home Hub is worth the price. Moreover, it’s incredibly simple to set up and work with; it’s a perfect gift idea for grandparents or long-distance family.

Setup

Setting up the Home Hub is incredibly simple, particularly if you’ve already got a device or two in the home. Our process consisted of plugging and following the prompts in the Google Home apps on our phone. All told, we probably spent 3-4 minutes in setup with some of that coming from an update.

The connected device is designed to work as a passive, always-ready, speaker and display. You can leave it alone for days on end and let it cycle through your Google Photos or a collection of curated pictures. Alternatively, you can opt to show one of a few clock options.

Choosing your pictures to showcase can be a lot of fun as all of your shared albums are ready to go. Additionally, you can just let Google do its magic and pick highlights of your gallery, randomly pulling up your best stuff.

Users have control over how often pictures change with a range of five seconds to ten minutes. Changing the album(s) and speed is a breeze; you’re never stuck with anything.

The Google Home app has really improved over the last few releases, adding in options and a more friendly interface. It’s insanely easy to configure your connected speaker or display.

If anything, the Google Home Hub is the easiest device we’ve added to a network. Why? Maybe it’s the visuals that help us see where we are in the process.

What Else?

The Google Home Hub is ready for you to Cast to it. That’s an awesome feature and one we’ve found ourselves using quite a bit. Depending on where you’ve placed the unit you might want to send YouTube TV or Hulu over to it to act as a second or third screen in the room.

You can cast pretty much anything you want to the Home Hub save for Netflix. This isn’t a limitation on the side of Google so much as an Netflix decision. Nevertheless, as much as we’ve enjoyed watching small bursts of news or sports as we go about chores, we don’t see ourselves binge-watching our way through Ozark on it.

Sound is good, but it’s not great. If you’re primarily concerned with pumping out music, you’ll want to pair a separate Bluetooth speaker to it. Generally speaking, we’re okay with the somewhat flat audio experience as it’s right in line with the Google Home or Google Home Mini.

The more we’ve used Google Assistant over the last few years, the more we’ve come to appreciate it. We’ve evolved from having it on our phones as a Google Search/Google Now on steroids to something we often rely for small things.

Today we’re routinely asking Google Assistant about our day, the weather, our appointments, or commute. Getting that information is helpful not only on a phone, but anywhere we happen to be. Having visuals makes that better.

It cannot be overstated how nice it is to see a graphic representation of the weather, or calendar events. Ask how your day looks and you get a map of the route with any slow downs or accidents to accompany the commute details.

We’re going to have a difficult time getting the Home Hub outside of the kitchen. Not only are we enjoying the manner in which recipes look and work, but we’ve asked it to be our oven timer and conversion tool, too.

Although the Home Hub doesn’t have a camera on it, you can use it for Google Duo calls over voice. By contrast, the Lenovo Smart Display does allow for this, and it’s pretty nice to have. We don’t necessarily need it, though, as it’s not a primary means of communication.

As the name implies, the Home Hub does give you control over the various connected items in your home or office. You can’t set everything up directly from within the app, but it’s a solid way of managing things once they are up and running.

Controls can include things such as dimming lights or switches throughout the house, adjusting the thermostat, or viewing Nest doorbells and cameras. Google has done an excellent job of adding in new controls and hardware partners over the last couple of years. Looking ahead we fully expect that to ramp up, particularly now that we have visuals.

Conclusion

The Google Home Hub is a must-have device for those who rely on Google Assistant. For about $20 more than the Google Home you end up with a 7-inch digital display that compliments search and routines.

We like creating groups of speakers and devices so we can play music, podcasts, and other media throughout the home. As we move from room to room in the morning, as part of readying for bed, we appreciate that we can keep up with the news or a book.

Given how easy it is to install and configure, we’re really itching to add devices like these to other rooms. In fact, we’re already looking ahead to the holidays and outfitting the homes of friends and family.

If you’re considering a connected or smart speaker, you absolutely should put the Google Home Hub on your list. Whether it’s your first foray into the world of Google Assistant or if you’re complimenting your current setup with something visual, it’s the stepping off point.

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