The Nest Audio replaces the Google Home as the midrange, $100 smart speaker with better sound and updated looks.
Update, Nov. 12: Read our HomePod Mini review.
Google's very first smart speaker, the Google Home, appeared in 2016 as the answer to Amazon's brand-new Echo device. Since then, the two companies have released countless smart devices, acquired startups and expanded their voice assistants to create the platforms millions of people use today.
The Google Home was overdue for an upgrade, and it comes in the form of the new Nest Audio. This $100 (£90, AU$149) smart speaker sits squarely in the middle of the Nest Mini and Home Max, providing a midrange speaker that is no more or less smarter than you'd expect. Sound is improved over the old Home speaker, and the design is updated, yet familiar, in keeping with the newer, fabric-wrapped design of Google's other Nest speakers. A handful of new features make this sensibly updated speaker appealing, especially if you're looking for great sound and a good price.
Google's new speaker is just under 7 inches tall, nearly the same height as the biggest iPhone models. It comes in five colors: chalk, charcoal, sand, sky and a new green tone called sage.
Touch points at the top of the speaker control audio. Tap the top center to play or pause. Tap to the left to turn down volume and to the right to turn it up. The corresponding white dots in the center of the speaker will indicate your selection. Three far-field mics listen to you from across the room.
Everything else about the Nest Audio's appearance is par for the Google course. Wrapped all the way around this speaker is the familiar fabric cover that debuted in the Nest Mini, made from 70% recycled materials. There's a mic-muting button on the back and a DC power jack. Like the rest of Google's speaker lineup, there's no USB-C or Auxiliary jack. All your pairing with external speakers, TVs or devices will happen via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi in the Home app.
Google claims the Nest Audio is 75% louder and has 50% stronger bass than the original Google Home. That's because it's equipped with a 19mm tweeter for high frequency coverage and clear vocals, as well as a 75mm midwoofer for bass, compared to Google Home's 50mm full-range driver.
The Nest Audio uses Google's recently released Media EQ and Ambient IQ technology to adjust sound. Media EQ tunes audio based on the type of sound playing like podcasts, music, audiobooks or assistant voices, but also to the type of music playing to adjust for sound profile differences in classical music versus hard rock. Ambient IQ adjusts the volume to account for any ambient background noise in your home. You can also find one or both of these features on Nest Mini, Nest Wifi, Nest Hub and Nest Hub Max.
Sound quality compared to the old Google Home is absolutely better. Vocals are much clearer and the sound is fuller. Even at 100% volume, distortion is very minimal.
My only complaint is the volume range from 0-50%. Most of that range is so quiet it doesn't seem useful. My old Home Mini seemed louder at 30% volume than the Nest Audio. I asked the Nest team about my experience, and they pointed to the Media EQ feature that could be learning and adjusting to the types of songs I'm playing. Listening on the Nest Audio between 50 and 100% volume is great and probably where you'll spend most of your time.
Like previous Google speakers, you can group the Nest Audio with other Nest devices like the Mini, Hub Max or TV via Chromecast. The Nest Audio's standout feature is the ability to pair two units in stereo for left and right channel separation.
A simple setup guides you through choosing which speaker provides left sound and which provides right. Stand between the two speakers and the effect is really nice. It was really satisfying to hear those channels separated distinctly while playing perfectly in sync. This is the one feature that makes the Nest Audio feel like you're getting premium quality that should cost more than it does.
The Nest Audio comes with all the smarts you've come to expect from a Google smart speaker. Aside from the impressive stereo pairing, functionality feels nearly identical to the Nest Mini and the Home Max.
That's not necessarily a bad thing. I didn't need the Nest Audio to provide surprising new smart home features. I needed it to catch up to the Nest Mini, Home Max and the rest of the Google line of devices in terms of design and sound. Google's done just that with features like Google's latest ML chip (also found in the Nest Mini) for faster voice assistance response and smart audio tuning features.
A hundred bucks is not bad for speakers that sound this good, but with that same $100 you could get two Nest Minis or one Nest Hub. Which way to spend your money comes down to your smart home needs.
The Nest Audio certainly sounds better than either of those, but if you're after a more smart home-centric device, I'd spend my money on the Nest Hub. You'll get a display on top of good sound quality, and that opens up a whole world of smart home integrations like cameras, doorbells, video streaming and visual games.
Two Nest Minis won't give you smart display visuals, but you will be able to broadcast your voice to another room or play audio in two rooms at once for half the cost of two Nest Audios. Small and unobtrusive but effective at delivery sound and virtual assistance, Nest Minis offer a lot for the same money.
The Nest Audio feels strongly geared toward music enthusiasts. Not necessarily audiophiles with finely tuned ears, but more the average Spotify, YouTube, Pandora or Apple Music subscriber, someone who enjoys music enough to spend money on services and devices that put listening first. Yes, you read that right. Google recently added Apple Music as a streaming music provider in the Home app.
No, the Nest Audio doesn't come with any truly exciting new features. Maybe four years after the arrival of the Google Home, we've all become a bit too hard to impress when it comes to smart home devices. A speaker that talks back isn't the shiny, new gadget it used to be, no matter how good it sounds. The real wow factors of Google Assistant are in the software, not the devices; at least for now.
Still, credit where credit is due. Google delivered on sound and style. The Nest Audio is an improvement in every way, and it brings the last of Google's original products into the new Google Nest era. I have no qualms recommending this speaker to anyone looking for Google Assistant smarts and great sound for a reasonable price. If you haven't committed to a smart home ecosystem yet and you're in the market for a smart speaker, you might wait a few weeks to see how the new Amazon Echo speaker compares with this one before making a purchase.