Editors' note, Aug. 4, 2021: The Nest Hub reviewed here has been replaced by the second-generation Nest Hub that debuted in March 2021. That model is our current Editors' Choice designation for modestly sized smart displays.
The Nest Hub debuted as the Google Home Hub in 2018. Google changed the product's name in May 2019 to Google Nest Hub. The review below was updated in October 2020 to account for new competition from Amazon's Echo Show smart display line.
The Google Nest Hub may be small, but it's surprisingly useful in lots of ways, from organizing your smart home to walking you through a complex recipe, to finding you a place to eat if your cooking efforts fall short.
The small gadget is made mighty by the great Google Assistant, and the line is blurry between where the actual hardware of the Google Nest Hub shines and where the digital Google Assistant does all of the heavy lifting. That differentiation might not matter for your buying decision. The Hub, at a newly reduced price of $90, down from $130, is a smart display that combines the functionality of a voice-controlled smart speaker like the original Google Home with a touchscreen you can use to look at pictures, watch videos, browse recipes, control your smart home and more.
Read more: The best smart displays of 2020
If you're a fan of Google and want a Google-centric smart home, or if you just like the idea of a smart speaker with a screen and want to try one out for displaying photos at home, or for the step-by-step recipe guides, I recommend the Google Nest Hub. The seamless touch controls and intuitive voice commands will even help the tech-phobic members of your family get used to it.
The differentiation between hardware and software becomes much more important if you're able to spend a little more and you're willing to consider third-party smart displays alongside this Google-branded one. Google added a newer, bigger smart display called the Nest Hub Max, which has a 10-inch screen and a built-in Nest Cam with unique features including gesture control. Both Lenovo and JBL have recommendable 10-inch smart displays with Google Assistant built in and most of the same features as the Nest Hub.
Unlike most of the other smart displays, the Nest Hub doesn't have a camera, which might be a negative for some, but privacy-minded folks will appreciate its absence. Otherwise, it offers all the same features as the other smart displays for a reasonable price. The Google Nest Hub is a cute, useful gadget, and an even better value now than it was when it debuted.
The Google Nest Hub is tiny. It sort of looks like Google stuck a thin, 7-inch tablet onto a Google Home Mini smart speaker. It's simple -- a screen and a stand covered in fabric.
It has two forward-facing microphones on a bezel surrounding the 7-inch screen. The middle dot between the mics is an ambient light sensor, not a camera. On the back of the Nest Hub you'll find a switch that mutes the microphone and buttons for controlling the volume, and that's it. If you want to do anything else with the Nest Hub, you'll need to use its touchscreen or give it a voice command.
You can pick from four colors for the fabric -- chalk, charcoal, aqua and sand. We tested the chalk model, but all four colors are otherwise the same and all cost $90. You can buy the Google Nest Hub at Best Buy, Walmart, Target and other electronics retailers as well as online via the Google Store. (See here for the UK and Australia.)
Google bundles a six-month trial of YouTube Premium with the purchase of a Nest Hub. The service costs $12 (£12, AU$15) a month after the trial ends and allows you to listen to YouTube's music library without ads.
You don't need a subscription to watch ordinary YouTube videos on the Nest Hub. You can search for them by voice and scroll through the options with your voice or with touch. YouTube gives the Google Nest Hub an advantage over the Amazon Echo Show. Google pulled the rights to the streaming site from Amazon's competing smart display over a dispute in 2017. You can watch YouTube on the Echo Show, but only via a browser, which doesn't respond to voice commands.
Videos also look surprisingly crisp on the petite 7-inch screen. If you have a subscription to YouTube's live TV service -- YouTube TV -- you can watch live TV on the Hub as well. It certainly won't replace your main TV, but again, the picture looks good, so this feature could come in handy if you want to watch the news in the morning while you make breakfast.
Otherwise, you can watch streaming videos through services such as HBO Max and, as of this summer, Netflix. As with any of Google's smart speakers, you can also issue a voice command to the Hub to start streaming Netflix on any of your TVs with a Chromecast streamer or Chromecast built-in.
You have plenty of options for listening to music on the Hub as well. Other than YouTube music, you can sync your account for Pandora, Spotify, and Deezer. You can also set any of those services as your default, so Google Assistant will search there first when you ask it to play a song.
Once you start playing music, you can use the Google Home app to customize the speaker equalizer settings if you want a little more bass or treble. You can also add the Nest Hub to speaker groups with other Google Assistant smart speakers or speakers connected to a Chromecast audio streamer. If you don't like the sound quality of the Nest Hub, you can also set another speaker as your default and it will automatically start playing music on that device instead of through its own speakers.
You might not like the sound quality of the Nest Hub if you're an audiophile. It's fine if you want to listen to background music, but it's not particularly loud or crisp. Unfortunately, the sound quality isn't in the same league as other smart displays such as the Amazon Echo Show or the JBL Link View. In fact, the sound quality is more on par with Google's smallest smart speaker, the Google Home Mini, which still beat the Nest Hub in our tests.
Thankfully, the Hub's microphones held up better under scrutiny. The Nest Hub understood my voice commands from across the great room of the CNET Smart Home. It even heard me from an adjacent room as long as I had the door open. It also fared well over background noise while I stood in the same room. Expect to need to speak up if you're playing loud music, but that's standard for any smart speaker. The second-gen Amazon Echo Show heard me more often from a greater distance, but the Hub's mics are on par with those in the smart displays from Lenovo and JBL.
You can issue a wide variety of voice commands to the Google Nest Hub. Plug it in and set it up on your Wi-Fi using the Google Home app, then, thanks to the built-in Google Assistant, you can ask Google Nest Hub any question you'd ask the original Google Home.
As we saw on the Lenovo Smart Display and the JBL Link View, Google Assistant makes good use of the touchscreen with helpful visuals after you ask a question. Check the weather, and you'll see illustrations of the forecast for the week. Search for local restaurants and you'll see pictures of nearby places.
You can then scroll through the options and tap one for more details. Google will even show you how to get there on a map and send the directions to your phone. This will work automatically if you have an Android phone and it works on Apple's iPhones too, as long as you have the Google Assistant app installed.
You can also make calls with the Nest Hub. Since Google Assistant can recognize your individual voice, it can find numbers from your phone's list of contacts and dial. The recipient will even see that it's you calling. You can make video calls with the Hub too, but you're limited to using Google Duo -- Google's mobile app for video chats. Since the Nest Hub doesn't have a camera, you'll be able to look at the recipient but they won't be able to see you.
You can always swipe right on the screen to go back a page, or swipe up for quick settings like volume and brightness. You can't download apps or browse the web as you could on an ordinary tablet, but all of the content of the Google Nest Hub is meant to be visible from across the room.
Other helpful features include routines, which are customizable grouped commands that allow you to play videos or podcasts, get directions to work and turn on your connected lights with a simple command like "good morning." If you control your smart home with a voice command, you'll see your device pop up on the screen. Change the temp of your thermostat, and you'll see buttons and sliders to tweak the temp further or change the mode.
All of these features are the same on all of the Google Assistant-equipped smart displays, and my favorite feature of both the Lenovo Smart Display and the JBL Link View has made its way intact to the Google Nest Hub. Search for a recipe by voice, or find one in your phone and send it to your display. Google Assistant will read the ingredients and directions out loud and you can see them listed on the screen.
If you ask "how much tomato sauce?" Google will understand that you're referring to the recipe and will give the appropriate answer. You can also multitask while you cook and watch videos, play music, set a timer or add something to your shopping list. Simply say "resume cooking" when you're ready and Google will go right back to where you left off in the recipe. It's a great feature that's ahead of Alexa's similar recipe feature on the Echo Show.
Oddly, Google didn't use the same operating system on the Nest Hub that it used for the Lenovo Smart Display and the JBL Link View. The third-party devices make use of Android Things -- an open version of the company's famous mobile operating system trimmed down for the sake of connected devices. The Nest Hub is based on Cast -- the same operating system you see when you use Chromecast on your TV.
Diya Jolly, Google's VP of product management, told Ars Technica there was no particular reason for the change. "We just felt we could bring the experience to bear with Cast, and the experiences are the same. We would have easily given the third parties Cast if they wanted it, but I think most developers are comfortable using Android Things."
Despite the different operating systems, all Google Assistant smart displays generally offer the same features and look the same when responding to your commands. You can scroll through anything you see on screen with a touch or with your voice. Most changes and updates hit all of Google Assistant's smart displays in relatively short order, though expectedly, they come to the Nest Hub first.
A Digital Well-being section of the Google Home app allows parents to set filters on what videos and music can be streamed to the device. It also allows you to set "downtime" hours in which the Hub won't react to voice commands and can only be used for alarms. You can also screen calls so only recognized contacts come through and only during certain times. The Digital Well-being section debuted on the Nest Hub, but is now available for all Google Assistant displays.
Instead of a camera, the Google Nest Hub has an ambient light sensor and a new AI feature called Ambient EQ. The feature gauges the light in the room, and adjusts both the brightness and warmth of the picture on the screen to match. The results are fantastic. The Ambient EQ feature is undoubtedly why videos look so good on such a small screen, but it's at its best when the Nest Hub has a picture on display.
The other smart displays we've tested can also automatically adjust their brightness based on ambient light to an extent, but the Nest Hub is much better at it as it also makes adjustments based on color temperature.
Pictures look like they would if you'd printed them and framed them. Turn off the lights or move the Hub and the sensor adapts the picture quickly. In a darkened room, other displays blare light such that they look like a glowing billboard. The Nest Hub adapts and fits dim lighting conditions perfectly as well.
You can customize the ambient mode of the Nest Hub using the Home app to show Google's collection of artwork or a variety of different clock faces. You can also tell the Hub to show personal pictures and Google can curate them for you using Live Albums.
Using the Google Photos app on your phone, Google Assistant can help you sort pictures by people or places based on where they were taken and who it recognizes. Then, if you tell the Nest Hub to use pictures of your kids in ambient mode, you can keep taking shots and Google Assistant will automatically add new ones to the mix. Google successfully curated the pictures I took of my coworkers. It filtered out the bad ones where the subject was out of focus or not properly framed, and showed the rest on the Hub.
My favorite feature of the Nest Hub is now available on third party Google Assistant displays as well. Swipe down on the touchscreen for a smart home control panel. The panel shows a status of your home including how many lights are on and the current temperature. You'll see shortcut buttons for common tasks that change based on which devices you have synced to your Google Assistant.
You can quickly turn off lights, lock doors or broadcast a message with these shortcuts. At the bottom of the drop-down menu, Google shows lights for the current location you've assigned to the Nest Hub. You can also use this menu to "view rooms" and see all of your devices organized by room.
The Nest Hub's smart home control panel mirrors the new Google Home app. The app used to be strictly for setting up Google's smart speakers and connecting your smart home devices. Now it functions as a smart home control center as well. You can assign devices to rooms. You can invite family members to your home. You can also segment your gadgets into multiple homes if you have an office and an apartment.
In practice, the organization of the panel works well and makes a lot of intuitive sense. I still prefer controlling connected devices with my voice, but the panel provides a handy visual reference. If you forget the name of a device, you can check it with a couple of taps.
Amazon introduced a similar control scheme in the new Echo Show 5 that organizes your devices by type or custom group. The new panel is a big step forward from the clunky previous version that debuted with the second generation Amazon Echo Show, but I still prefer the way Google organizes everything by room. I like that both Amazon and Google are expanding beyond voice controls for your smart home, but right now, Google's touch controls are more intuitive and generally more useful.
The Nest Hub has been our favorite smart display for awhile, but Amazon's 5.5-inch Echo Show 5 and 8-inch Echo Show 8, introduced in 2019 and 2020, respectively put up a good fight. A recent price cuts to the Echo Show 8 makes the field even more competitive. The Echo Show 8 debuted at $130, but you can also regularly find it on sale for under $100, especially around the holiday shopping season.
In addition to the new smart home controls mentioned above, both the Echo Show units let you customize alarm settings in a lot of handy ways — you can wake up to a variety of tones or your own music, or even tap to the top of either model to get it to snooze. They can both also play a gradually brightening sunrise animation to ease you out of your sleep starting 15 minutes before the scheduled alarm.
Both Echo Show models also have a camera for video calls and a physical shutter if you're worried about privacy. They combine the robust alarms of the Lenovo Smart Clock with all of the normal functionality of a smart display like the Nest Hub, with aggressive pricing.
It's the pricing of the Echo Show 8 that really makes the comparison harder than it was last year. Even when it's not on sale, the Echo Show 8 offers a lot of benefits over the Nest Hub for manageable price increase. The Nest Hub remains our Editor's Choice winner for smart displays, but we awarded the Echo Show 8 an Editor's Choice when we reviewed it earlier this year as well.
We like them both for different reasons. For its larger screen and better audio, the Echo Show 8 is a great pick, but if adding yet another camera to your home makes you anxious, or you simply prefer other means of keeping in touch with the people in your life, the camera-less Nest Hub makes that choice simple. The Nest Hub is also the best choice if you prefer Google Assistant to Alexa, or you'd rather your tech maintain a smaller footprint in your home. If anything, the smart display is a good example of competition paying off for consumers. And Amazon hasn't even released its new Echo Show 10 yet.