Google Nest Hub review: Google’s Nest Hub smart display is still great

Editors’ note, Oct. 30, 2020: The Nest Hub debuted as the Google Home Hub in 2018. Google changed the product name in May 2019 to Google Nest Hub. The Nest Hub has been an Editors’ Choice winner since it launched, and it remains one of our favorite smart home products here in 2020. The review below has been updated to account for new competition from Amazon’s Echo Show smart display line. 

The Google Nest Hub may be small, but it’s surprisingly useful in lots of ways, from organizing your smart home to walking you through a complex recipe, to finding you a place to eat if your cooking efforts fall short.

The small gadget is made mighty by the great Google Assistant, and the line is blurry between where the actual hardware of the Google Nest Hub shines and where the digital Google Assistant does all of the heavy lifting. That differentiation might not matter for your buying decision. The Hub, at a newly reduced price of $90, down from $130, is a smart display that combines the functionality of a voice-controlled smart speaker like the original Google Home with a touchscreen you can use to look at pictures, watch videos, browse recipes, control your smart home and more.

Read more: The best smart displays of 2020

If you’re a fan of Google and want a Google-centric smart home, or if you just like the idea of a smart speaker with a screen and want to try one out for displaying photos at home, or for the step-by-step recipe guides, I recommend the Google Nest Hub. The seamless touch controls and intuitive voice commands will even help the tech-phobic members of your family get used to it.

The differentiation between hardware and software becomes much more important if you’re able to spend a little more and you’re willing to consider third-party smart displays alongside this Google-branded one. Google added a newer, bigger smart display called the Nest Hub Max, which has a 10-inch screen and a built-in Nest Cam with unique features including gesture control. Both Lenovo and JBL have recommendable 10-inch smart displays with Google Assistant built in and most of the same features as the Nest Hub. 

Read more: The best Google Assistant and Google Home devices of 2020

Unlike most of the other smart displays, the Nest Hub doesn’t have a camera, which might be a negative for some, but privacy-minded folks will appreciate its absence. Otherwise, it offers all the same features as the other smart displays for a reasonable price. The Google Nest Hub is a cute, useful gadget, and an even better value now than it was when it debuted. 

What the Google Home Hub lacks in size, it makes up for in substance
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Good things in small packages

The Google Nest Hub is tiny. It sort of looks like Google stuck a thin, 7-inch tablet onto a Google Home Mini smart speaker. It’s simple — a screen and a stand covered in fabric.

It has two forward-facing microphones on a bezel surrounding the 7-inch screen. The middle dot between the mics is an ambient light sensor, not a camera. On the back of the Nest Hub you’ll find a switch that mutes the microphone and buttons for controlling the volume, and that’s it. If you want to do anything else with the Nest Hub, you’ll need to use its touchscreen or give it a voice command.

That’s an ambient light sensor, not a camera.

Chris Monroe/CNET

You can pick from four colors for the fabric — chalk, charcoal, aqua and sand. We tested the chalk model, but all four colors are otherwise the same and all cost $90. You can buy the Google Nest Hub at Best Buy, Walmart, Target and other electronics retailers as well as online via the Google Store. (See here for the UK and Australia.)

Google bundles a six-month trial of YouTube Premium with the purchase of a Nest Hub. The service costs $12 (£12, AU$15) a month after the trial ends and allows you to listen to YouTube’s music library without ads. 

The four color options for the Google Nest Hub.

James Martin/CNET
An entertainment hub

You don’t need a subscription to watch ordinary YouTube videos on the Nest Hub. You can search for them by voice and scroll through the options with your voice or with touch. YouTube gives the Google Nest Hub an advantage over the Amazon Echo Show. Google pulled the rights to the streaming site from Amazon’s competing smart display over a dispute in 2017. You can watch YouTube on the Echo Show, but only via a browser, which doesn’t respond to voice commands.

Videos also look surprisingly crisp on the petite 7-inch screen. If you have a subscription to YouTube’s live TV service — YouTube TV — you can watch live TV on the Hub as well. It certainly won’t replace your main TV, but again, the picture looks good, so this feature could come in handy if you want to watch the news in the morning while you make breakfast.

Otherwise, you can watch streaming videos through services such as HBO Max and, as of this summer, Netflix. As with any of Google’s smart speakers, you can also issue a voice command to the Hub to start streaming Netflix on any of your TVs with a Chromecast streamer or Chromecast built-in.

You have plenty of options for listening to music on the Hub as well. Other than YouTube music, you can sync your account for Pandora, Spotify, and Deezer. You can also set any of those services as your default, so Google Assistant will search there first when you ask it to play a song.

Once you start playing music, you can use the Google Home app to customize the speaker equalizer settings if you want a little more bass or treble. You can also add the Nest Hub to speaker groups with other Google Assistant smart speakers or speakers connected to a Chromecast audio streamer. If you don’t like the sound quality of the Nest Hub, you can also set another speaker as your default and it will automatically start playing music on that device instead of through its own speakers.

Smaller hardware, smaller sound

From left to right, the Lenovo Smart Display, Google Nest Hub and JBL Link View.

Chris Monroe/CNET

You might not like the sound quality of the Nest Hub if you’re an audiophile. It’s fine if you want to listen to background music, but it’s not particularly loud or crisp. Unfortunately, the sound quality isn’t in the same league as other smart displays such as the Amazon Echo Show or the JBL Link View. In fact, the sound quality is more on par with Google’s smallest smart speaker, the Google Home Mini, which still beat the Nest Hub in our tests.

Thankfully, the Hub’s microphones held up better under scrutiny. The Nest Hub understood my voice commands from across the great room of the CNET Smart Home. It even heard me from an adjacent room as long as I had the door open. It also fared well over background noise while I stood in the same room. Expect to need to speak up if you’re playing loud music, but that’s standard for any smart speaker. The second-gen Amazon Echo Show heard me more often from a greater distance, but the Hub’s mics are on par with those in the smart displays from Lenovo and JBL.

A versatile personal assistant

You can issue a wide variety of voice commands to the Google Nest Hub. Plug it in and set it up on your Wi-Fi using the Google Home app, then, thanks to the built-in Google Assistant, you can ask Google Nest Hub any question you’d ask the original Google Home.

As we saw on the Lenovo Smart Display and the JBL Link View, Google Assistant makes good use of the touchscreen with helpful visuals after you ask a question. Check the weather, and you’ll see illustrations of the forecast for the week. Search for local restaurants and you’ll see pictures of nearby places.

You can use the Google Nest Hub to find a place to eat.

Chris Monroe/CNET

You can then scroll through the options and tap one for more details. Google will even show you how to get there on a map and send the directions to your phone. This will work automatically if you have an Android phone and it works on Apple’s iPhones too, as long as you have the Google Assistant app installed.

You can also make calls with the Nest Hub. Since Google Assistant can recognize your individual voice, it can find numbers from your phone’s list of contacts and dial. The recipient will even see that it’s you calling. You can make video calls with the Hub too, but you’re limited to using Google Duo — Google’s mobile app for video chats. Since the Nest Hub doesn’t have a camera, you’ll be able to look at the recipient but they won’t be able to see you.

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You can always swipe right on the screen to go back a page, or swipe up for quick settings like volume and brightness. You can’t download apps or browse the web as you could on an ordinary tablet, but all of the content of the Google Nest Hub is meant to be visible from across the room.

Other helpful features include routines, which are customizable grouped commands that allow you to play videos or podcasts, get directions to work and turn on your connected lights with a simple command like “good morning.” If you control your smart home with a voice command, you’ll see your device pop up on the screen. Change the temp of your thermostat, and you’ll see buttons and sliders to tweak the temp further or change the mode.

All of these features are the same on all of the Google Assistant-equipped smart displays, and my favorite feature of both the Lenovo Smart Display and the JBL Link View has made its way intact to the Google Nest Hub. Search for a recipe by voice, or find one in your phone and send it to your display. Google Assistant will read the ingredients and directions out loud and you can see them listed on the screen.


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