If you’ve been caught on the fence mulling over whether to invest in Google Home Hub, there’s never been a better time to buy this smart display…. Our stock has flown off the shelves all throughout the holidays. We thought it was high time we gave you a detailed look at why you should treat yourself to this robust smart speaker with its neat IPS display and the efficient search skills you’d expect from Google. Smart speakers are instrumental in the way all the major tech brands aim to hook you into their ecosystems as we touched on in our recent exploration of Samsung’s Bixby. Realizing many consumers wanted a screen rather than simply a formless voice issuing from a black box, the smart display was born. Amazon rolled out Echo Show back in June 2017 and it’s now rebooted and into its second generation. The tiny Echo Spot is a scaled-down alternative at an almost throwaway price-point. Lenovo built upon its Smart Assistant with the mighty Smart Display making a notable splash in this emerging market. LG’s ThinkQ is another strong presence. While we’ll reference these alternate smart displays today, our primary focus is on Google Home Hub so we’ll get right down to business…
What Is Google Home Hub?
Home Hub is a smart speaker with Google Assistant voice technology onboard. Unlike regular smart speakers, smart displays – as the name makes abundantly clear – feature a screen for added functionality. Google was late to the party with smart displays but wasted no time in strong-arming their way onto the guest list. In early 2018, smart displays from third-party companies like JBL and Lenovo started appearing, while Home Hub is the first from the Google stable itself. Google Home Hub is the cheapest model on offer in a price-sensitive sector so that alone is responsible for a large part of sales. Not only is it priced to sell, it also packs a great deal of the features available on the more expensive competition. We’ll highlight these features briefly then examine Home Hub in more detail before rounding out with a brief guide to getting started the easy way.
Core Features at a Glance
• Screen: 7-inch LCD touchscreen • Dimensions: 2.7 x 7 x 4.6 inches • Speaker: Full-range 80 decibel speaker with 2 mics • Connectivity: WiFi (2.4GHz and 5GHz) and Bluetooth 5.0 • Voice Assistant: Google Assistant • Colors: Aqua, chalk, charcoal, sand
Google Home Hub: Beneath The Surface
Having already mentioned that Home Hub is the cheapest smart display of 2018, we’ll look now at how this nifty little device performs to see what Google has sacrificed in order to achieve that cut-throat price.
The first thing that strikes you about Home Hub is its tiny footprint. The 7-inch screen is raked up at a jaunty angle to largely obscure the fabric-covered speaker in back. This angle is fixed but it’s perfectly designed for easy viewing and you’ll only run into problems if you want to place it up on high. Thing is, that’s pretty unlikely since you’ll want Home Hub close at hand. You can choose from 4 colors and the size means you can pop Home Hub pretty much anywhere from your nightstand to the kitchen counter to the bathroom where it blends in rather than standing out. And thinking of blending in, what looks like a camera on the front is actually an ambient light sensor. This allows the display to automatically adjust itself to the surroundings, eliminating any annoying glow when you’re not using it. We’ll look directly at the impact of no camera in place. Aside from a mute button at the back for the pair of mics and a physical volume rocker, that’s about it on the inputs front.
Unlike Echo Show’s 10-inch high-def display, Home Hub has a far smaller 7-inch LCD. At a glance, this smart display reminds you of the screen you get in the back of airline seats given its dimensions and oversized bezels. Resolution is 1024 x 600 which is more than fit for purpose considering probable usage. Let’s face it, you’re more likely to be watching the occasional YouTube vid, browsing some recipes or getting a weather report than kicking back to take in a full movie. If you do try watching more than previews or brief clips, you’ll probably feel frustrated and revert to another device.
We hate to be negative but we also refuse to gloss over the shortcomings of any product either. Sound quality is, to understate, something of a disappointment. While Amazon are very specific about Echo Show’s pair of 2-inch speakers, Dolby processing, and passive bass radiator, Google are a lot more woolly: all that’s revealed is that it’s a full-range speaker. Sound quality, to be equally general, comes somewhere between Google Home and Google Mini. You certainly won’t fill the room with sound and bass is very underwhelming. If you’re planning to use Home Hub as a standalone speaker, you’ll be sorely disappointed. Volume can be controlled by manipulating the rocker on the back or by issuing voice commands. This is one audio area where Home Hub acquits itself well. What you need to ask yourself is whether you were planning to use this device primarily to listen to music. That’s unlikely but if you were thinking that way, we’d suggest rolling with either Google Home or Amazon Show, both far stronger performers.
Well, there isn’t one! We’re going to pull up at this stage and recap before you start asking yourself what Google Home Hub is good at. We’re just about to get to that part, and we’re not talking about the attractive price. Display and sound could be improved but it’s all about intended usage and, on both counts, Home Hub does the job with limitations. We will admit, though, that the lack of a camera is somewhat perplexing. On the one hand, Google is nudging you toward using Duo app. On the other, you’ll only be able to make voice calls or avail yourself of one-way video on Home Hub. Google admitted they deliberately didn’t include a camera due to perceived security concerns on the part of consumers. Only you know whether you’d want that camera in place or not. If it’s something you’d sooner not do without, Echo Show has an integrated 5 megapixel camera and you’ll be able to enjoy more robust calling functionality but for anyone security-conscious, Google made the right choice leaving the camera out.
Working with Google Photos, you’ll be able to create live albums of your most recent pics so you’ll get the equivalent of a live photo album and digital frame rolled into one. Syncing is automatic in the spirit of smart home automation. Activating this picture frame screensaver is super-simple. Here’s an example if you want a family photo album to showcase all your most recent memories when Home Hub is idle… Select Home Hub within the Google Home app. Just click Personalize ambient then hit Google Photos and Select Family and Friends. If you’ve tagged people in Google Photos, photos will be grouped together for you then Google Assistant chooses the best of your current crop of pictures and toggles them on slideshow. Any good new photos will be automatically added to the mix while any blurred or sub-par images won’t make the cut. If you don’t fancy this idea, you can opt for a broad spread of artwork and general photos for a less personal picture frame. To get the best overall experience, you’ll need to create a Google Photos account if you don’t already have one.
Smart Home Integration
Despite its name, Home Hub doesn’t perform to the same degree as a standalone smart home hub. Nevertheless, you can certainly control and manipulate compatible devices in your connected home. Start by swiping down to access Home View, the command center for your smart devices. You can see all of these clustered by category on the intuitive dashboard. Tapping the icon allows you to control these devices even if you can’t enjoy the full reach of doing so in-app on the device in question. With Nest Learning Thermostat, for example, you’ll be able to toggle between modes but you won’t be able to make more involved adjustments. Not surprisingly, given that Google owns Nest, Home Hub works well with their full range of smart home products. If you have Philips Hue bulbs, you can alter the brightness and, if you have colored bulbs, also toggle between colors. Control varies from device to device but you’ll certainly be able to take charge from Home Hub. The one major limitation here is that connectivity only extends to WiFi and Bluetooth. While support for Z-Wave and Zigbee devices might happen some time in the future, Home Hub right now won’t communicate with devices using those protocols so bear this in mind to avoid disappointment.
We’re not here today for a showdown between Alexa and Google Assistant. Each has their specific strengths and weaknesses and, obviously, it’s Google Assistant that underpins Home Hub. Although Google Assistant doesn’t possess the variety of skills as Alexa, search is intelligent and Assistant is ever so slightly smarter. While you won’t get much scope to customize with Google Assistant, this translates to far less time tinkering with settings. Home Hub links up to your Google account via your voice print meaning you won’t get quite the same security as provided by fingerprint recognition or a passcode. By that we mean that someone could technically trick the system by using a recording of your voice but that’s hardly likely to happen. Also, to prevent any malicious access, functionality is limited so, for example, nobody could read your emails even if they went to the lengths of using a recording to fool Home Hub. Voice commands can be heard at a distance and you’ll get a very user-friendly digital assistant catering to all your search-related needs. The words you speak will appear on screen so you can keep tabs on any mistakes. When you’re done for the day, a neat little Home Hub-specific feature comes to the fore… Say “Goodnight, Google” and Assistant will automatically dim the display before asking you if you’d like an alarm set.
Entertainment: Movies and Music
Although the audio is lacking, you get Pandora, Spotify and iHeartRadio on Home Hub. You can also take full advantage of any streaming service that works with Google Assistant so you have no shortage of music at your disposal. You can access YouTube seamlessly, and you’ll even enjoy a full six months of YouTube Premium… But hurry up since that deal expires at the end of 2018. Who knows what 2019 will bring? For more than a quick video on YouTube, Home Hub really isn’t the best platform for video. There are no media apps and, while you can Cast some apps from your phone – HBO, for instance – there’s no Netflix and the screen is too small and low-res to settle in for a full movie anyway. We’ll round out today with some quickfire tips on getting started with Home Hub the easy way.
Get Started With Google Home Hub in 5 Easy Steps
1. Placement 2. Google Home App 3. Train Google Home Hub to Recognize Your Voiceprint 4. Make Google Home Hub Kid-Friendly 5. Start Controlling Your Smart Home With Google Home Hub
As we mentioned earlier, the slim and compact footprint of Home Hub allows you to pop it on your bedside dresser or in the kitchen, in the bathroom or the living room. If you are tempted to keep one in the bedroom, you’ll have no privacy concerns, no always-on camera to contend with. Beyond that, the sensor will dim the screen so it’s not going to disturb your sleep. Whether you want help with recipes in the kitchen, early morning traffic reports in bed, a digital photo frame in the living room, or music while you take a relaxing bath, the portable nature of Home Hub makes all that possible without eating up too much space.
2) Google Home App
Home app has been facelifted to improve on the old while sprinkling in some new elements. Downloading this is vital and you won’t be able to set up Home Hub without this beating heart in place. Once you’re up and running on iOS or Android, you’ll be able to control your smart devices and much, much more.
3) Train Google Home Hub to Recognize Your Voiceprint
The bulk of your interaction with Home Hub is likely to be through voice commands and it will use your unique voiceprint to automatically associate you with your account so you’ll get personalized search results. Ask for your most recent sunset snapshots and they’ll be duly rustled up from your Google Photos. Ask what’s happening with your Amazon package and you’ll soon find out without doing more than speaking a few words as you prepare dinner or get ready for work. From calendar events to news reports tailored to your likes, Home Hub is an intelligent searcher. You can easily add multiple accounts and, again, these will all be associated with user accounts according to voiceprint.
4) Make Google Home Hub Kid-Friendly
If you’ve got kids and they’re not old enough for the requisite Google account, make use of the Family Link app to create child-centric accounts with full parental controls in place. From blocking or enabling apps through filtering content, make Home Hub child-friendly without diluting your own experience or constantly manipulating settings.
5) Start Controlling Your Smart Home With Google Home Hub
Just swipe down to see Home View and you can see devices grouped by category from thermostats and cameras to locks and lights. When you hit any of these icons, you get simple controls for each of them. Functionality is more limited than you’d get in-app on any given device but you can control the basics. By hitting View Rooms, you can take a glance at any compatible smart devices or appliances linked to Home app. To add more, just click Add then Set Up Device and you’re away laughing.
You should now have a pretty clear idea of whether Google Home Hub makes sense for you… At the risk of sounding like a broken record, we always like to underscore that any smart home purchase is entirely personal. What’s good for your friend or your neighbor might very well make no sense for you. Think about how you plan to use a smart display and consider whether Home Hub is the best fit or whether you might be better off with Echo Show instead. Or Lenovo Smart Display. And don’t worry, we’ll be looking at those in more depth over the coming weeks so you can compare these smart speakers with screens before committing to purchase. Check out our home automation blog for a winning combination of how-to guides, pure informational content and, of course, detailed breakdowns of smart home devices to make your life easier and better every day.