The MadeByGoogle event last month launched the Pixel 3 as expected. But there was a surprise or two as well, not least the new Home Hub.
What Is It?
The Google Home Hub is a smart home voice assistant with a 7 inch (1024 x 600) touchscreen display. The whole unit is a relatively neat 18cm wide x 12cm high x 7cm deep. It turns out this is a near-perfect size for a bedside table.
I ordered it on release at £139 and it currently comes with a YouTube Premium free trial offer of 6 months of Video and Music services (T&Cs apply).
The hardware list includes 2 far-field microphones, Bluetooth 5.0, 802.11b/g/n/ac (2.4 GHz/5 Ghz) Wi-Fi and a ‘full range’ speaker. The built-in ambient EQ light sensor adjusts the colour temperature of the display (similar to Apple’s True Tone feature) as well as dimming and brightening it when the ambient light changes.
Round the back there’s a volume rocker on the right hand side and an on/off mute switch for the microphones along the top edge, plus the DC power socket for the neat wall-wart PSU that’s include. You can also control the volume and brightness by swiping up from the bottom for on-screen controls.
The speaker housing / stand of the unit is covered in cloth like the other Google Home devices with 4 colours options – Chalk, Charcoal, Aqua or Sand. There’s no IP rating here, not even for splashes, so best not to place it too close to a kitchen or bathroom sink.
Setup requires Android, iOS, Mac, Windows or a Chromebook, plus the the Google Home app (you may have it already if you are using a Chromecast). It’s a simple guided procedure and takes around 5 minutes.
During initialisation there was a firmware update and a chance to setup the photo albums to share on the display. I love Google Photos and use it instead of Apple’s service. At first I chose the ‘recent highlights’ options and while it did pick some of my photos that I’d have expected (left), it also showed me pics of items I was selling on eBay (right) and other rubbish. So much for Google’s AI. In the end I changed it to albums that I chose manually instead.
The Google Assistant can now use its Voice Match feature to recognise individual users.
The market bumph tells us that the unit houses a ‘high excursion speaker with 2″ driver + dual 2″ passive radiators’ and that it ‘delivers clear highs and rich bass’. Hmmm. The speakers is perfectly adequate, and really quite good for voice assistant duties, especially in a regular sized bedroom. There are mid-range frequencies here but as you’d expect, not really any bass. If you want better sound you can always pair it to a Bluetooth speaker though. The unit can also form part of a multi-room audio setup with other Google Home devices.
You’ll find yourself back in that Google Home app to change things like the music service you want to use with the Home Hub. The app is pretty terrible though. It’s not at all friendly and settings and options seem buried in some very unintuitive places.
A feature I really like is Broadcast Message. Record a quick voice message on your phone, or say “Hey Google, tell everyone [your message]” and it gets pushed to all the devices around the house – “Dinner’s ready!”
The kitchen is another obvious location for these devices and with its display the GHH has some cool uses here too. “Show me recipes for chicken curry” brings up a step by step guide – or – “how do I chop onions” gets you a YouTube video to improve your technique.
As well as YouTube you can cast Plex to the screen too which is very nice. Now it feels like something that would benefit from a built-in battery that would allow you to carry it around the house. So far casting is limited though. Netflix doesn’t work – please make this a thing Google!
Google have made the right decision not to included a camera here, making it much easier to live with in our bedroom. And once you turn the lights out the display dims down and switches to a dark clock face. I mean really dark. Perfect.
I’ve also tried it as an alarm clock and it’s very impressive. You can also setup Routines. For example say “Hey Google, good morning” to launch a series of events – Take your phone off silent (only when initiated via an Android device). Adjust lights, plugs, thermostats etc. Tell you about today’s Weather, Commute, Calendar and Reminders. Check out the Google Home Hub features page for more.
Smart Home Controller?
We’re currently in temporary accommodation after selling our house, so I’ve had very little opportunity to set up anything yet.
That said the smart home controller (swipe down from the top) is impressive. It includes a useful By Room function that groups all devices in each area. Of course full voice control is there too – “Hey Google, turn off the bedroom light”.
There’s no built-in Zigbee here (like the Amazon Echo’s), or Z-Wave. But the Home Hub can integrate with nest thermostats and can display images from the Nest camera range too. There’s a list of compatible security cameras here but I’ve also read that only Nest cams work currently.
There seem to be some security issues with the current firmware, hopefully this is something that Google can patch quickly.
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The segment for home assistants with a display is getting busy. Google has already been involved in similar offerings with its partnerships on the Lenovo Smart Display, the JBL Link View and the LG WK9. And that’s in addition the new 2nd gen Amazon Echo Show and the Facebook Portal. The GHH is cheaper than all of the above though, with its aggressive £139 price point.
It distinguishes itself in a few other ways too. Its smaller dimensions are definitely an advantage in the bedroom and makes it a perfect size for a night stand. The lack of camera is a smart decision and makes it much easier to live with too.
The new Google Home Hub has adequate sound and can delight with just the photos it displays. It’s a clock radio, an alarm, a count down timer a TV and has native access to the services I use most. Nice work Google.
Available now for £139 from the Google Store