We’ve seen a few Google Assistant smart displays, but until now they’ve been third-party devices like the JBL Link View and the Lenovo Smart Display. Google only recently decided to create its own first-party answer to the Alexa-powered Amazon Echo Show and Echo Spot, in the form of the $149 Home Hub. The Home Hub looks similar to the $230 Echo Show, but is much closer in price, size, and sound quality to the $130 Echo Spot. It’s a solid option if you want a simple Google Assistant alarm clock and photo frame near your bed, but JBL and Lenovo’s devices are much better suited to being desk and counter companions thanks to their larger screens and better audio quality.
A Small, Simple Design
The Home Hub looks like a scaled-down version of the Echo Show. It’s a 4.8-by-7.1-by-2.7-inch (HWD) device with a 7-inch, 1,024-by-600 touch screen facing forward, tilted slightly back like an easel and bordered by a 0.5-inch glossy white frame. The screen is mounted on a stretched-oval stand covered in gray fabric, evocative of the Google Home and Amazon’s current line of Echo speakers. The stand measures 5.4 by 2.4 inches, giving it a wider but more shallow footprint than the Amazon Echo Spot. The relatively small size of the Home Hub, along with its modest price, makes it feasible as a nightstand alarm clock.
Two holes above the screen indicate the Home Hub’s microphones, flanking the small gray mark of the ambient light sensor. Unlike every other smart display we’ve seen so far, the Home Hub doesn’t have a camera for video chat. This is surprising, since the Google Assistant-powered JBL Link View and Lenovo Smart Display have cameras and can use Google Duo for video calls.
A volume rocker sits behind the right edge of the screen, and a mic mute switch sits behind the top edge. Like the Echo Show, the Home Hub’s speaker is hidden behind the grille cloth on its base.
Google Assistant With a Touch Screen
As a Google Assistant device, the Home Hub can do nearly anything the JBL Link View and Lenovo Smart Display can. Or, from another perspective, it functions like a Google version of the Amazon Echo Show. Say, “Hey Google,” to activate the display, then ask a question or give a command. Google Assistant will answer you to the best of its ability, as long as it’s connected to the internet (both voice recognition and processing commands requires an internet connection). Supplemental visual material will be displayed on the screen, and in some cases additional controls or commands will be available to tap.
By default, the touch screen will show a photo slideshow from various Google-based sources (and you can show your own Google Photos albums on it, as well). Swiping up displays a settings bar that lets you adjust the screen brightness and volume, while swiping down displays any connected smart home devices for easy access. Tapping the screen from the slideshow will jump to a main menu that shows the current weather on the left side of the screen and useful information like a Google News feed or your Google Calendar schedule on the right. Swiping right from there will scroll through various columns of information, including other news feeds, video lists, and suggested commands. Swiping left from the slideshow will dim the screen and show a clock against a black background.
Google Assistant can answer questions about the weather, sports, and general information like unit conversions and word translations. Thanks to the touch screen, Google Assistant’s answers appear in text as well as through the speaker, sometimes with accompanying images. Like the Echo Show, it’s handy for finding recipes and displaying ingredient lists and even instructional videos to go with them, though (also like the Echo Show) it isn’t waterproof or otherwise protected against any gunk that goes flying across your counter.
On the personal side of things, Google Assistant can provide scheduling information from your Google Calendar (though G Suite for work accounts is still not supported, strangely enough). Google Assistant can also place voice calls through the Home Hub, calling almost any North American home or iartidea.net/' target='_blank'>business phone number (some numbers, including toll-free and emergency services, don’t work through the Home Hub).
The Echo Show remains the only smart display we’ve tested with a web browser. While Chrome would seem to be an obvious addition to the Home Hub, you can’t look at websites on it or any Google Assistant smart display.
Like its name implies, the Google Home Hub is capable of controlling smart home devices through Google Assistant. While Amazon Alexa still supports far more devices (currently over 20,000), Google Assistant works with most major home automation brands like Philips Hue lights, Nest thermostats, LG appliances, and Schlage Sense (but not Schlage Connect) smart locks. As with all voice assistants, make sure your smart home devices are compatible before making a decision on a smart display or smart speaker, and vice versa.
When your devices are set up through Google Home, they will appear on the Home Hub when you swipe down on the touch screen, letting you control them with taps as well as voice commands.
Music and Video
For entertainment, the Home Hub can play video and music from YouTube, YouTube TV, YouTube Music, Google Play Movies & TV, and Google Play Music if you subscribe to or have a digital library on any of those services. The Home Hub also supports Crackle, Deezer, HBO Now, Spotify, Starz, and a small handful of other third-party streaming services with Google Assistant control.
In addition, the Home Hub is Google Cast compatible, so you can stream video or music to it from a smartphone, tablet, or Chrome tab just as if it had a Google Chromecast connected. This requires that the app also be Google Cast compatible (and even then not every app will work), but that’s still a much larger list than simply being Google Assistant. I streamed Pop Team Epic from Crunchyroll to the Home Hub without any issue, but Netflix was unable to detect the display in its own Google Cast menu.
While the Home Hub’s 7-inch screen is below even 720p resolution (1,024 by 600), it still looks bright, colorful, and crisp for watching videos. The larger 720p screen on the Echo Show looks better, though, and the 10-inch Lenovo Smart Display remains the only smart display we’ve tested that actually hits 1080p resolution, making it the best of the bunch for streaming media.
If you’re looking for a powerful audio experience on the Home Hub, you’re going to be disappointed. Its music performance is closer to that of the Echo Spot than the Echo Show or the JBL Link View. The Home Hub’s speaker is loud enough to hear Google Assistant’s answers from across a small room, but it can’t fill a room with compelling audio.
Our bass test track, The Knife’s “Silent Shout,” sounded downright laughable on the Home Hub at maximum volume, with the bass synth notes sounding more like bouncing ping pong balls than anything with the slightest low-frequency response.
Yes’ “Roundabout” sounds a bit better, with the sweeping opening coming through a bit louder and cleaner than “Silent Shout.” The acoustic guitar notes get a bit of clarity, but the performance isn’t close to that of the similarly priced Echo Plus speaker, or the JBL Link View and its stereo drivers. When the electric bass kicks in, the Home Hub again sounds a bit weak and underwhelming.
Underworld’s “Bruce Lee” sounds similarly treble-heavy, with the jangly guitar strums and vocals coming through prominently, but the rest of the track almost completely lacking any bass response. It’s slightly louder than the Echo Spot, but it doesn’t sound much better than your average clock radio.
A Google-Powered Alarm Clock
The Google Home Hub might look like the Echo Show, but it performs more like the Echo Spot. Its relatively low-resolution 7-inch touch screen and weak speaker mean it doesn’t come close to the room-filling power of the Echo Show or the other Google Assistant smart displays we’ve tested so far. But at $150, it’s $80 to $100 less than any of those larger devices. It’s more capable than the tiny Echo Spot, and its modest footprint makes it ideal for placing near your bed or on a crowded desk or shelf.
The JBL Link View is still our preferred Google Assistant smart display for its far superior stereo speakers and video call capabilities, while the Alexa-powered Amazon Echo Show is our favorite smart display in general. But the Google Home Hub is a capable and economical alternative for anyone looking for a simple voice assistant that triples as a capable alarm clock and a Google Photos picture frame.