I was at the Google hardware event in October when the company launched the diminutive Google Home Hub for $149. And my first thought was “This is a miss. The screen is too small and the price is too high compared to existing smart displays that have additional features.” Using the device after the event did nothing to change my mind. But I was wrong.
A few weeks ago, I reluctantly ordered a Google Home Hub at the then sale price of $99. I figured it would be a decent device on our kitchen island where we watch local news on YouTube TV over coffee in the mornings; something we were doing with an old iPad Air. And it certainly has worked well for that. However, that wasn’t the right room for the Google Home Hub.
Due to the 7-inch display, watching the news was like sneaking a free movie experience from outside of a drive-in theater.
So I swapped the Google Home Hub with the larger 10-inch Lenovo Smart Display on my bedroom nightstand. That solved our squinting problems in the morning. And it turns out that the Google Home Hub is much better suited in our bedroom for a few reasons.
First up, the Home Hub has no camera. That’s important in a bedroom for most people, including us, for privacy reasons. Sure, Lenovo’s smart display has a camera sensor cover to disable video capture but not having a camera at all to worry about is even better in a bedroom. And frankly, when I was taking or making Google Duo calls, I always felt silly lying in bed during the conversations. Now, I can have those video chats down in the kitchen where I feel much more comfortable. The Google Home Hub can still use Duo for calls. However, they’re audio only; at least on the caller’s end. I can still see my son, for example, when he calls on the Home Hub but he can only hear me.
Second, the Home Hub handles ambient light much better than most smart displays, which is another important feature in a bedroom. Even though the device has an LCD screen like other smart displays, the ambient light sensor effectively manages brightness so that the screen is much dimmer at night than competing products. And it adjusts the backlighting specifically when viewing Google Photos as well. Forgoing a camera sensor for the “Ambient IQ” hardware was a smart move on Google’s part.
Lastly is one of the main features of the device; the new, whole-home interface. Yes, this feature eventually came to other smart displays, but buying a Google-branded display means you’ll get the newest features first.
And what a feature it is in the bedroom. Think about it: Voice is not always the best interface, depending on the situation. I lost track of how many times I woke my wife up by speaking smart home commands to a voice assistant in the bedroom. Now I don’t have to, thanks to the touch controls on the Google Home Hub.
None of my experience means that Google’s Home Hub is bad in other rooms. I just think it’s ideal for a bedroom due to it’s smaller size and feature set. I could see folks be happy with one of these in their kitchens as well for similar reasons, plus the ability to follow step-by-step recipes. Although the small device won’t provide ear-shattering sound for those that like their music loud, my family thinks the sound levels and quality are at least as good as a Google Home Mini. To fill a few rooms with music, you’ll likely want a larger or dedicated smart speaker.
For everything else though? Google Home Hub is a hit, regardless of my first impressions. I still think Google should consolidate its Home Hub with its Wi-Fi products, but until that happens (if it does at all), the Google Home Hub is a great device in the right rooms.