In March I said I wanted Google to make a smart home hub. Now, Google has one. But the Google Home Hub isn’t the hub I wanted. That’s OK because Google is attempting to make the smart home experience easier instead of trying to cram in more radios to broaden the types of products it works with.
At the MadeByGoogle event in NYC on Tuesday, I spent some time with the new hub. For $149, this may be a compelling purchase for those who were considering similar, but more expensive, products such as the Smart Displays from Lenovo and JBL. Keep in mind though, that both of those devices have larger screens than the 7-inch display on the Google Home Hub. I was downright surprised at how small Google’s hub is: You can literally hold it in one hand.
There’s also no camera on the Google Home Hub, unlike the other smart displays. That’s a plus from a privacy perspective, although Lenovo and JBL do provide a physical camera cover. I have the 10-inch Lenovo model on my bedroom nightstand and I keep the camera covered unless I’m on a Google Duo call, which is rare.
So what does the Google Home Hub bring to the table compared to its hardware partner devices? Aside from four color options, some unique features and some that will arrive on the competing products soon.
The main highlight is a new Home View, which you can see by swiping down on the display at any time. It brings a basic yet powerful set of controls for your smart home devices. In fact, if you have the most recent version of the Google Home mobile app, you can see this for yourself because the interface is cohesive between phones, tablets, and the Google Home Hub.
One swipe shows touchable controls and status of lights — both power and dimming — cameras, thermostats, sensors and any other compatible smart home devices you have. When configured, the Hub knows which room you’re in and provides information on temperature and lighting as well. Essentially, Google is providing an aggregation of your smart home devices in a simple, pleasing arrangement so you can adjust the environment easily with a touch. Of course, you can still use voice controls as well.
And suggested responses will appear on the display: Tap one and it will be announced to your visitor, so they hear, “Sorry, we’re not interested” when a salesperson is trying to hawk their wares. I love this integration because today I have to tap my phone or ask Google to show my front door in order to see who’s ringing my doorbell.
Other smart displays will get these features with a software update.
What I don’t believe they’ll get is the new Live Albums which merges Google’s smart search with Google Photos. Tell Google Home Hub that you’d like to see pictures of a person or people and it will automatically display them as a screensaver that doubles as a digital photo frame. As more pictures of those people are added, Google will dynamically update the album on the Home Hub.
Google is also touting “Ambient EQ” for its own Home Hub: The light sensor is tuned to adjust the display brightness better than on the Lenovo and JBL products. The idea is to remove what Google calls the “billboard effect” where your eyes are drawn to the brightness of the display in a dim room.
Aside from slight software or feature differences between the Google Hub and currently available smart displays, the real star is the single, cohesive interface Google is bringing to the smart home here. Did I want to see a Google hub with Zigbee and/or Z-Wave radios? Sure. But those desires are more for the early smart home adopters and they are still a niche audience.
The smart home consumer at-large however just wants a clean, simple way to interact with the devices they have. And that’s exactly what the Google Home Hub is all about.
So should you pre-order or buy one? I won’t be ordering but not because I think it’s a bad product. It’s just more limited than I’d want because I enjoy watching video on the larger Lenovo Smart Display.
Obviously, if you’re an iOS user, this won’t do anything for your HomeKit Home, so it’s a pass. If you have some older Echo devices and want to change platforms from Amazon to Google, the Home Hub, along with some Google Home Minis perhaps are likely worth the investment.