6 coolest things you can do with Google's new smart display

You don't have to shout, "Shut up!" over the blasting music anymore.

David Priest Former editor
David Priest is an award-winning writer and editor who formerly covered home security for CNET.
David Priest
3 min read
Derek Poore/CNET

Only a few years ago, the smart speaker delivered home automation tech to the average consumer. Now, companies like Google and Amazon are further honing their products by bringing screens into the mix. The latest evolution: Google's Nest Hub Max.

While the Nest Hub Max is in many ways just a bigger version of its sibling -- last year's Nest Hub -- the Max brings a few exciting new features to your countertop. Here are the six coolest things you can do with Google's new smart display .

Make the Hub Max your personal camera person

The biggest feature the Nest Hub Max boasts over its little sibling is a 6.5-megapixel camera. Among other things, that means you can make video calls with it. What's more, as you chat with that uncle in Oklahoma, the camera can use its 127-degree field of vision to follow your face around the room, keeping you zoomed-in and in-frame. While this face-tracking feature isn't revolutionary (Facebook's Portal does the same thing) and it does raise some privacy concerns, it's nice to have video chats that are both hands-free and mobile -- as long as you stay in the general field of view.

Google Nest Hub Max: A closer look at Google's bigger smart display

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Make Google Assistant your secretary

Another benefit of Hub Max's facial recognition technology is personalized, proactive notifications. You'll start by using your phone to create a face model that the device can use to recognize you. When it does, you'll be able to tap on the screen to see personalized bits of info like calendar appointments and Google Duo video messages from your family and friends.

The feature worked well when we tested it, but it sometimes took an extra second or so for the device to register that the person it recognized had stepped away, meaning someone could walk up afterward and still see personal information on display. Still, it does feel a little futuristic to walk into your kitchen each morning, only to have Google Assistant remind you of a 10 o'clock coffee meeting you scheduled and forgot about two months ago.

Make the Hub Max read your body language

Anyone with a smart speaker or display knows the risks of using it to blast music: When you want to turn it down again, you either have to yell for Google over the music during a lull or just get up and hit the button yourself. Luckily, for times like those, the Nest Hub Max can be silenced with a waved hand. Sure, right now the gesture control is limited to pausing and playing music -- and the receptivity gets spotty beyond a small range -- but this could be a promising first step toward more versatile home hubs  that are easier to interact with.

Stream YouTube, Star Trek or Game of Thrones

That's right: The Nest Hub Max comes with native YouTube streaming, plus it can stream HBO and CBS All Access shows. (Disclaimer: CBS is CNET's parent company.) Having access to recipe videos while you're cooking, or just playing shows or videos in the background, is one of the most obvious ways to put a smart display to use, and the 10-inch screen is a good fit for casual viewing. The only bummer -- no Netflix or Hulu.

Make the Hub Max a security cam

A few years ago, Google bought the home automation company Nest, a maker of thermostats and security cameras . Now Google is bringing those security smarts to its new smart display. With the Nest app, the Hub Max can not only monitor your room, but it can also set security zones on the feed. That means you can track certain areas of the room -- say, a doorway or window -- for motion. When someone walks through the door, the Nest app will notify you. While features like this won't stand in for a full-service security system, perks like the Max Hub's up the ante on Echo features like Alexa Guard.

Make your centerpiece smart and pretty

One of the subtler features the Nest Hub Max brings to the table -- or the mantle -- is its ambient EQ lighting. Essentially, the smart display adjusts its color temperature, contrast and brightness to match the ambient lighting in the room. The idea is that way, rather than looking like a tacky intrusion on your shelf, the Nest Hub Max can blend well with other photos and decorative pieces, and it won't blind you with a screen that's way too bright when it's dark out, either.