Is it Google Home? Is it a picture frame? Is it worth splurging SGD 189 of your hard-earned money on?
The Google Nest Hub comes a year after the tech giant brought the Google Home (SGD 169) and Google Home Mini (SGD 79) smart speakers to the Singaporean market. With an all-new branding and a convenient display to boot, the Google Nest Hub is the first smart display available locally – Facebook, Amazon, Lenovo and JBL have yet to surface their options here yet.
As such, the best comparison to the Nest Hub in Singapore would be the Google Home smart speaker. Between the devices, three main differences are obvious. The S$20 markup, the additional 7-inch touchscreen display, and the speakers themselves.
First, the similarities. Both pack Google’s Assistant – the technology giant’s cloud-based artificial intelligence platform that comprehends voice commands and helps control connected devices for added convenience. Both have a similar Google soft touch plastic-and-fabric construction, along with dual far-field microphones for better detection of voice commands.
That’s where most of the similarities end.
Does the display add functionality?
The 7-inch display is touch-enabled, meaning that you can access key controls without having to use your voice. That’s useful if you’re using the Nest Hub in the bedroom to relay the feed from the baby monitor or the surveillance camera at your doorway in the middle of the night.
Despite a relatively low resolution at 1024x600p, the still display delivers great-looking images with ample contrast and detail – especially since it is often viewed from a distance. This is further enhanced by an ambient light sensor up top that allows the display to tune its brightness and colour temperature to its surroundings to better blend in.
Spotify playback, which is what I mostly use Google’s smart speakers for, looks brilliant on the display, letting me know the album and artist information for the current song playing, along with displaying the gorgeous album art on a colour-matched blurred background.
YouTube playback works with both voice commands and casting from all devices, which is perfect for quick instructional videos or convenient entertainment. It also works for internet searches for recipes, conveying them step-by-step on the display.
Asking the Nest Hub to read the news also allows for video content to be displayed. However, this is more dependent on the various news providers. At the time of publishing, Singapore local news is unavailable on the Nest Hub; NPR, Fox News, AP, Bloomberg News provides mostly spoken content, while others like Reuters TV and CNET presents more quality video.
Most importantly, the Nest Hub allows quick access to smart home controls with a simple swipe from the top of the display. This allows for access to lights, routines, media, and video feeds.
The Nest Hub also acts as a bedside smart photo frame, allowing users to set a custom Google Photos album to be displayed on the device. Users can also take advantage of Google’s face detection technology to display photos containing certain family members.
Evidently, most of the S$20 premium was allocated to the display, as the Nest Hub has a noticeable weaker speaker. Given its design, the speakers largely face the rear of the device. Despite this, audio still sounds great and has good audibility even at a distance.
However, the sound emphasises vocals and speech, and lacks the punch of the Google Home – sounds more like the Google Home Mini.
However, unlike the Home Mini, the volume can be controlled with the toggles on the rear of the right side of the device, allowing you to instantly manage unexpected sounds without having to wait for your voice to be processed.
That’s not to say that the Nest Hub was without fault. Many of the issues I faced with the Google Home smart speaker was carried over, or made more noticeable with the inclusion of the display (and added capabilities).
I tried to use the Google Assistant to get cooking instructions for a variety of simple dishes, but had terrible trouble trying to select from the list of recipes it obtained from the web. “OK Google, let me see recipes for french toast”. Perfect: a list of french toast recipes. “OK Google, I want to try the third one”. The Google Nest Hub then responds, “Let me know when you want to start”.
I say “OK, Google, now.” But the interface interprets it as “OK, Google, no.”
Sure, might be my garbled Singaporean pronunciation. I retrace my steps, but now try “OK Google, let’s start.” Inexplicably, Google transcribes “… let’s stop”.
Infuriated, I try another three times before it finally recognises “start”.
But that’s not it. The user interface includes several incongruous prompts that don’t work as they should. After showing me the ingredients list, the Nest Hub displays two “buttons” – to show the “previous ingredients” or tell it “I’m ready”.
I presume my grimy fingers shouldn’t claw at the pristine screen, and command “I’m ready”, only for the screen to be frozen in place. Turns out, I had to say “next” to access the instructions proper.
There’s a few other niggles I had in my experience with the Google Nest Hub. Despite the large touch-screen interface, I wasn’t able to directly navigate my Spotify account – which would have been very enjoyable. The interface, too, was a little laggy and gestures took around half a second to register.
Is that worth the S$20 markup?
In my opinion, a huge yes, especially if you don’t have the Home yet. The Google Nest Hub punches far above its weight, delivering visual content by your bedside, stoveside or tableside.
Sure, there’s no camera for video calls, but we’ve all got smartphones, tablets or laptops that work as well anyway. The speakers lack significant oomph, but the Google Home was never the ideal choice for home audio – lacking stereo support and the additional volume needed for larger, more cavernous rooms.
In my opinion, having the ability to display your favourite pictures in your living room or bedroom strongly justifies the price – especially when some of the other options cost much, much more.
There’s no other Smart Display in the Singaporean market right now, and Google’s Nest Hub is a stellar first attempt. It’s an affordable price for a bedside speaker/alarm clock/video player/photo frame combo, with the added ability to manage your smart home devices if you have any.