Google Home Hub hands on: Is there an Echo in here?

With a 7-inch widescreen display, you’d think the Google Home Hub wouldn’t fit on your nightstand. It will. And it’ll leave plenty of room for a Pixel Stand, too.

I don’t usually start off hands-on stories with price, but it’s worth mentioning right at the top: The Google Home Hub, with its 7-inch touchscreen display, is just $149. That’s $50 less than the Facebook Portal, and $80 less than Amazon’s second-generation Echo Show. And it’s only $19 more than the 2.5-inch Echo Spot. Granted, these aren’t apples-to-apples comparisons—the screen size is three inches bigger on the Show, for example—but when people are shopping for a smart speaker with a screen, a few inches here and there won’t matter. And the price tag will make the Google Home Hub hard to pass up.

google home hub colorsAdam Patrick Murray/IDG

The Google Home Hub comes in four colors.

Amazon just redesigned its Echo Show with a sleeker design and fabric-wrapped body, but it still looks like a behemoth compared to the Google Home Hub. Google’s smart display has something of a G4 iMac aesthetic, with a thin all-white display attached to a cloth-wrapped base (though sadly there’s no adjustable arm). Weighing just 480 grams, it’s startlingly light, so much so that I nearly dropped it when I picked it up for the first time. Consider that the Google Home is 477 grams and you can get an idea of just how light it is. 

And it’s really small. The display is obviously the widest element, but elsewhere it’s only 67mm deep and 118mm high versus 96mm deep and 143mm high on the Home. It comes in four colors: chalk (white), charcoal (black), sand (pink), and green (aqua). But when looking at the Hub from straight on, you’ll see only a tiny bit of it below the screen. That’s how small it is. I can only think of one adjective to accurately sum up its looks: adorable.

Home is where the Hub is

The Google Home Hub doesn’t just look different than any Assistant-powered smart speaker that came before, it acts differently, too. It does all the same things that the Google Home and Home Mini do with its built-in speaker, of course, but on the Home Hub, Google Assistant comes to life, with animated actions, full-screen responses, and bright, vivid images. Anything you ask it to do is broadcast in full color on the display, and it gives Assistant a character it never had before.

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google home hub lightsAdam Patrick Murray/IDG

You can see how bright your smart lights are on the Google Home Hub’s screen.

Google calls its new device a “hub for the thoughtful home,” and as you might guess, it’s deeply integrated with Nest devices, but it’s also compatible with some 5,000 smart devices from more than 400 other brands. And they’ll all be able to take advantage of the Home Hub’s coolest new feature: the Home View dashboard. Available on both the Home Hub and the Home app on smartphones, it’s a new interface for controlling your smart devices.

Similar to Apple’s Home app, Home View collects all your smart devices and lets you see and control them all in one place, without needing to jump to different apps and actions. Google played up the integration with Nest devices in the demo I saw, but it also works with August smart locks, Philips Hue lights, and a variety of smart TVs. It’s very slick and intuitive, and it could be the jump-start the smart home needs to really take off.

Also prominent on the Home Hub are videos, namely ones from YouTube. That’s a distinct advantage over the Echo Show, which is locked out of YouTube’s library (the Echo Show must launch a web browser to access the service, and you can’t search for videos with voice commands). To pad its lead, Google has optimized thousands of videos for the Home Hub’s screen, so things like recipes and how-to’s are easy to see and follow.

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