Google’s Home Hub smart display hits store shelves today in the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia. The company’s first device to offer visual interaction with Google Assistant made its debut alongside the Pixel 3, Pixel Slate, and Pixel Stand earlier this month.
At a glance, Home Hub is small and unimposing, standing roughly the same height as a Home speaker.
The device’s 7-inch screen is more in line with a high-end smartphone than with other smart displays, which seem to have adopted a standard 10-inch screen — like the second-generation Amazon Echo Show and Facebook’s Portal.
Lenovo Smart Display and JBL Link View, smart displays with Google Assistant that hit store shelves earlier this year, also have 10-inch screens.
The user interface for those devices is identical to the smart display for the Home Hub, which means that when you ask a factual question you can get visuals in your response.
You can use the Home Hub as a digital photo frame to display your best shots, including those from Live Photos, a recently introduced Google Photos feature that lets you show your best pictures and automatically build albums around your closest friends and family.
It also means you can search YouTube videos with your voice, explore recipes with step-by-step instructions, and control your smart home with a swipe down from the bottom of the screen, thanks to the newly added Home View.
This is a welcome addition, particularly in conjunction with the recently updated Home app. When combined, Google Assistant feels a lot more like a smart home remote control. Amazon’s Echo Show has also introduced a drop-down menu for smart home control.
Google Assistant smart displays can also make it easy to check your lists and timers with quick voice commands.
Knowing you can have effectively the same experience across smart displays with Google Assistant means you’ve got to decide which device best suits your needs and whether not having video call capabilities is a deal breaker.
This is worth highlighting, because — unlike Amazon and Facebook’s displays or other displays with Google Assistant — the Home Hub has the distinction of being the only smart display without a camera for video calls.
Google said the camera was excluded from the Home Hub to address privacy concerns of people considering putting a Home Hub in their bedroom. But as I walked through in a story last week, that seems a bit disingenuous when you consider the fact that the Pixel Stand, which includes a camera, is made to be placed next to your bed.
Inferior sound quality
The Home Hub is the least expensive of the available smart displays, and unfortunately that shows in the screen quality, screen size, lack of camera, and lower quality sound.
When compared to other smart displays on the market, such as the Echo Show or JBL Link View, the Home Hub delivers pretty awful sound quality, with lower volume output and much less bass than either of these devices, or even an original Home speaker.
A unique feature Home Hub does bring to the table is Ambient EQ. Powered by an RGB sensor on the front of the display, this makes the screen change colors based on its environment, so you get a warmer color temperature on the screen when sunlight streams in and blue tones when the device is placed in cooler settings.
This was done to help the device blend into its surroundings and make it unobtrusive, a Google spokesperson told VentureBeat.
A few days with the Home Hub can make you wonder what exactly Google intends to accomplish with the device and how it contributes to the Home brand.
The mission shared between all of the Home speakers, the Pixel Stand, and the integration of Google Assistant in places like car infotainment systems with Android Auto is to give people as many hands-free conversational computing options as possible.
In this respect, Google’s range of smart displays succeeds, with price options ranging from $149 to $229.
As it stands, Google leads the global sale of smart speakers, followed closely by Amazon. Considering the Home Hub is $149, the cheapest smart display on the market, it doesn’t appear Google is trying to sell the best device, but rather to sell more Google Assistant-enabled units.
More visual options could be important. Nearly half of all Google Assistant interactions now include a combination of both voice and touch, Google said earlier this month.
Ultimately, whether you would consider the Home Hub a good device depends on your personal needs.
If you think a device like this is a good idea, but you don’t want to spend too much, the Home Hub is worth considering, just know that you have better choices available. The Home Hub was designed to be the Toyota Camry of smart displays: affordable and decent in value, but not the best car on the road.
The Lenovo Smart Display and JBL Link View are superior products.
The 10-inch $199 JBL Link View seems like the best quality for the value, but both the Link View and Lenovo Smart Display offer better design, larger screens, and video calls.