Google Nest Hub’s arrival in Singapore is long overdue – but what can it really offer the smart home scape?
It is not the first time we have made Google Assistant's acquaintance – the greetings "Hey Google" and "Ok Google" double up as its summons, and by now many are no strangers to the voice-activated assistant. When smart home devices first entered the market, our eyes gleamed with childlike wonder at the possibilities of getting virtual secretaries to do our bidding – but it's been about a year since the Google Home and its Mini version launched in Singapore, and it seems the wonder is fast dwindling.
As if on cue, the Google Nest Hub landed on our shores this June, once more revitalizing interest in developing the smart home – because our aides, originally unseen and omnipresent voices in the clouds, now come with a face. (By that we mean a screen, of course. Unfortunately, human-like robot assistants with actual faces are still some years down the road.) As smart home old-timers taking the Hub for a spin, we discovered that despite the cool factor of your assistant having extra body parts, this new Made by Google arrival is really only suited to a specific type of consumer.
For those developing a smart home for the first time...
...the Google Nest Hub would be a great purchase decision. Home automation is by and large a good step for anyone who struggles to get a messy life organized, and the Google Nest Hub retains most of the wonderful features we love about Google's smart home devices in general. This includes the Routines feature, where a one-line greeting can activate a barrage of preset actions custom to your morning and night-time routines, including schedule reminders, commute details, and the day's weather forecast for the former, and setting alarms, locking the front door and turning off the lights for the latter.
Most conveniently, you can request for a number of things hands-free, like playing a YouTube video on a TV screen (connected through Chromecast) without having to type it out in a pesky search bar. It's a simple process to get your favorite accounts on apps like Spotify and Netflix connected, so your playlists and watchlists are readily available at your fingertips (except you don't even have to use your fingertips). And while we're speaking of entertainment, Google Nest Hub can be quite the comedian – just ask it to tell you a joke, and you might be in for a pleasant surprise.
Plenty of brands have pledged fealty to this tech market conqueror, for obvious reasons; this means it's highly likely that smart home connected devices of different functionalities, many of which are not Google-made, will still be able to be managed by the Google Nest Hub. That's over 3,500 global brands entailing 200 million device options for you, including Android TV, a Xiaomi home security camera, various air-conditioner and smart switches brands, and even automated curtains. Overseeing it all is the monarch of these devices, controlling its subjects with the will of its owners – sounds pretty much accurate, since Google is basically taking over the world.
For smart home veterans...
Alas, everything featured above, while indeed among the selling points of Google Nest Hub, can also be done by the Hub's predecessors (with the exception of accessing a security camera feed). So what could the Hub offer to the seasoned smart living individual – particularly those who have already invested in a Google Home or a Google Home Mini?
The answer is obvious and simple: its screen. One of the handiest functions of verbally communicating with this technology comes through brightest in the kitchen – step-by-step recipe guides read to you at your own pace of cooking. The Google Home was already a tremendous alternative to getting the pages of a recipe book grimy with ingredient-laden fingers or attempting to scroll through a screen with those same hands. But as cooking is a concentration-intensive activity, having the screen of the Google Nest Hub flash the same words read by the Assistant can mean a whole world of difference, as the visual reinforcement greatly eases our comprehension of the instructions. The option to play a video guide is also available, so we can rely on the skills of chefs to show us how to properly julienne a carrot rather than attempt it based on a dubious 'I think this is how it's done'.
Google Nest Hub's screen is great for more reasons than just that – smaller than an average tablet with a 7-inch LCD touchscreen, the Google Nest Hub is designed to be an unobtrusive addition to any room, accomplished with an intelligent Ambient EQ light sensor that matches its environs. Lights out time? Hub will dim itself without needing any prompts; none of that distracting screen glow will assault your vision any time of day, with Hub's superb blend-in ninja abilities. And finally, arguably the biggest attribute of this device is its auto conversion into a photo frame – slideshow style – when you choose an album from Google Photos to act as a kind of screensaver for the device. The picture archives are updated live – so if you've just come back from a whirlwind trip to an exotic place, your home Hub will remind you of the best moments even as you're unpacking and winding down from recent travels. Perfect for the nostalgic types.
Finally, a swipe and tap: that's all the actions needed to get a summarized look at your home's connected devices, which is a visual quick survey the Google Home cannot offer. The Hub's home page shows you each device's status no matter where you are – if you can't shake the tingling paranoia that something is amiss at home, assurance is easily attained through the security cameras part of your home network; the Hub will let you see all. Apologies in advance to the teenagers who were planning to throw that raging house party without their parents' knowledge...
So is it worth getting?
For first-timers, the Google Nest Hub would probably be the better decision than the Google Home, purely because it can do everything Google Home does plus a screen. You also have to fork out the same S$189 for each, so those on a budget are better off with the Google Home Mini (at S$79). Then again, if your style veers more towards the unseen assistant, and you're not a visual person, the Google Home is the similarly efficient but more obscure option.
At the other end, however, the Hub is not absolutely crucial for those who already own a Google Home for every room in their house (as we're sure some of us gadget-obsessed ones are guilty of). Based on a few test rounds, a Hub and a Home placed in the same room would activate based on proximity – so it could get confusing if you're standing in the middle of the two and give a command meant for the Hub, only for the Home to respond to you. But when placed in separate rooms, they complement each other very efficiently; they're easy to group together in the Google Home app, such that a song request to any one of the devices will elicit soothing tunes from all of them across your house. We recommend keeping the Hub in the living room or kitchen (so pre-owned Google Home devices can go to the bedrooms), as its visual aspect makes it more suited to communal spaces.
Get a Google Nest Hub from Challenger, COURTS, or M1 to be eligible for a complimentary Mi Home Security Camera 360º 1080P, compatible with Google Assistant. To buy the Google Nest Hub online, visit the Google Store.