Google Home Hub Review: The Smart Display to Beat for Holiday 2024

As the holiday gifting season approaches, you may be considering a smart display for your tech-savvy friends and family. These devices combine the voice-controlled assistance of a smart speaker with a touchscreen for video chatting, photo displays, visual information, and more. The Google Home Hub is a strong contender in this category, but is it the best choice? We put the Home Hub through its paces to help you decide if it deserves a spot on your shopping list.

Unboxing and Setup

The Google Home Hub makes a good first impression with its sleek design. The 7-inch screen is surrounded by a textured fabric speaker base in Chalk, Charcoal, Aqua, or Sand colors to match your decor. It‘s compact enough to fit comfortably on a bedside table, kitchen counter, or living room shelf.

Setup is straightforward using the Google Home mobile app. Just plug in the device, open the app, and follow the prompts to connect it to your Wi-Fi network. If you already own a Google Home speaker or Chromecast, the Home Hub can automatically grab your network credentials to speed up the process.

You‘ll also need to log in with your Google account to access personalized features like your calendar and photos. The Home Hub supports multiple users, so family members can get their own tailored experience by setting up Voice Match during setup.

In the box, you get the Home Hub, a power adapter with a generous 6-foot cable, and a quick start guide. You‘ll be up and running within minutes.

Display Quality

The Home Hub‘s 7-inch touchscreen display is the cornerstone of the device. It‘s bright and colorful with good viewing angles, making it easy to read from across the room. The 1024 x 600 resolution is lower than some competitors like the Amazon Echo Show 2nd Gen (1280 x 800), but still looks crisp on this size screen.

An ambient light sensor automatically adjusts the screen‘s brightness and color temperature based on the room‘s lighting. This is a nice touch that keeps the display legible without being harsh on the eyes, especially at night.

One notable omission compared to other smart displays is a camera for video chatting. Google says this was a conscious design choice to improve privacy, which may be appealing for more security-conscious users. You can still make voice calls using the built-in microphone and speaker.

Audio Performance

Speaking of the speaker, it‘s surprisingly capable for the Home Hub‘s size. The full-range driver delivers clear, room-filling sound that‘s enjoyable for casually listening to music or podcasts. It won‘t rattle the walls, but the bass is adequate and the mids and highs are well-balanced without sounding tinny.

You can adjust the volume by voice, on-screen controls, or physical buttons on the back of the device. Two far-field microphones effectively pick up voice commands from across the room, even while music is playing.

If you want bigger sound, you can pair a Bluetooth speaker or add the Home Hub to a multi-room audio setup with other Cast-enabled speakers. But for most people, the built-in speaker should suffice.

Interface and Controls

The real magic happens when you start interacting with the Home Hub. The touchscreen provides a visual interface for controlling smart home devices, playing media, checking your calendar, and getting information like weather and commute times.

Swipe down from the top for a quick settings menu with volume, brightness, and other key controls. Swipe up from the bottom to access suggestions and a full app drawer. Tap the screen anywhere to bring up on-screen buttons for common tasks like setting a timer or playing music.

You can also use "Hey Google" voice commands to navigate the interface hands-free. The Google Assistant is remarkably capable at understanding natural language queries and providing relevant results. It‘s more conversational than Alexa, able to handle complex requests and follow-up questions.

The interface is polished and intuitive, striking a good balance between information density and simplicity. It‘s easy to use for both tech-savvy and novice users alike.

Key Features

So what can you actually do with the Google Home Hub? Quite a lot, it turns out. Some of the standout features include:

Smart Home Control: The Home Hub functions as a centralized controller for your smart home devices. It supports over 30,000 products from 3,500 brands, including lights, thermostats, cameras, and appliances. Swipe down on the home screen to access quick controls for your favorite devices, or use voice commands to adjust settings hands-free.

The visual interface makes it easier to monitor the status of your smart home and make precise adjustments compared to a voice-only speaker. You can view a live feed from compatible security cameras, for example, or tap to fine-tune the brightness and color of your smart lights.

Photo Frame: When not actively being used, the Home Hub can display a slideshow of your Google Photos albums. It‘s a nice way to view your memories without needing to pull out your phone.

You can also share access to your live albums with family members so they can contribute their own photos. The Home Hub will automatically filter out blurry shots and optimize the display for both portrait and landscape images.

YouTube Videos: As a Google product, the Home Hub has the best integration with YouTube of any smart display. You can search for videos by voice and cast them to the screen with a single command.

The experience is more akin to using YouTube on your phone than the stripped-down, voice-only playback on some other smart speakers. You can use the touchscreen to browse related videos, read comments, and access playlists.

Recipes: Step-by-step cooking instructions are a killer app for smart displays in the kitchen. The Home Hub excels here with tight integration with Google search and a extensive library of recipes from popular publishers and blogs.

Search for a dish and the Home Hub will walk you through each step with visual cues and spoken directions. You can use voice commands to set timers, convert measurements, and repeat steps hands-free while you‘re elbow-deep in meal prep.

Routines: Google Routines let you chain together multiple actions with a single voice command. Say "Hey Google, good night" to turn off the lights, lock the doors, set an alarm, and play soothing music, for example.

The Home Hub adds helpful visual confirmations to Routines. When you say "good morning", it will show a personalized screen with the weather forecast, your first calendar event, and commute information. You can customize Routines with any of the Google Assistant‘s numerous third-party integrations.

Ecosystem and Competitors

The Google Home Hub‘s biggest strengths lie in its tight integration with Google‘s ecosystem. If you already use services like Google Calendar, Maps, YouTube, and Photos, the Home Hub will feel like a natural extension of those experiences on a bigger screen.

You can also control the Home Hub from your other Google Assistant-enabled devices like Android phones and Wear OS smartwatches for a seamless cross-device experience. Google is clearly betting that the convenience of having all your information and services under one roof will be appealing to users.

That said, Amazon‘s Alexa ecosystem is still larger in terms of raw third-party skills and integrations. If you‘ve already invested in Alexa-compatible smart home devices, an Amazon Echo Show may make more sense. The Echo Show also offers video calling and a larger, higher-resolution screen.

The other main contender in this space is the Facebook Portal, which is laser-focused on video chatting with friends and family. It has a smart camera that can track faces and a unique Story Time feature for reading virtual children‘s books. But it‘s much more limited as an all-around smart display.

Here‘s a quick comparison of the key specs:

Model Google Home Hub Amazon Echo Show 2nd Gen Facebook Portal
Screen 7" touchscreen, 1024 x 600 10.1" touchscreen, 1280 x 800 10.1" touchscreen, 1200 x 800
Camera None 5MP 12MP
Speakers Full-range, 1.7" Dual 2" 10W, passive bass radiator 2 x 10W
Size 4.65 x 7.02 x 2.65 in 9.7 x 6.9 x 4.2 in 10.2 x 7 x 0.7 in
Price $129 $229 $179

As you can see, the Home Hub beats the competition on price while still offering a compelling set of features. What it lacks in sound quality and screen size it makes up for with a more compact, privacy-preserving design.

Verdict

The Google Home Hub is an excellent smart display that offers a lot of value for the price. It‘s a capable digital assistant, photo frame, video viewer, and smart home controller all rolled into one sleek package.

The lack of a camera may be a turn-off for some, but it‘s a smart move by Google to prioritize privacy. The sound quality won‘t blow you away, but it‘s good enough for most people‘s needs.

The real selling point is the Home Hub‘s integration with Google‘s ecosystem. If you‘re already invested in Google‘s services, the Home Hub will fit right in and make them more useful. The visual interface is a major upgrade over voice-only smart speakers for many tasks.

During my time testing the Home Hub, I found myself using it more than I expected. It quickly became my go-to for checking the weather, setting timers, and controlling my smart home devices. The ability to see visual results and interactive content made the experience more engaging and informative compared to a regular Google Home speaker.

As a holiday gift, the Home Hub is sure to impress tech-savvy recipients while still being approachable for less experienced users. It‘s a great introduction to the world of smart displays that won‘t break the bank.

Current owners of smart speakers like the Google Home or Amazon Echo will find the Home Hub to be a worthwhile upgrade with its added visual functionality. It‘s also a compelling alternative to the pricier Echo Show for those who don‘t need a camera and prefer Google‘s ecosystem.

If you‘re in the market for a smart display this holiday season, the Google Home Hub should be at the top of your list. It offers an impressive blend of features, performance, and value that make it the one to beat in this fast-growing category.