Nest Hub Max Is the Smart Assistant to Beat

As I’ve written in recent months, I’m deeply entrenched in Amazon’s Alexa voice services but I’m slowly being won over by Google’s offerings. I reviewed a JBL smart speaker last year (read my review) and Google’s Nest Mini last month (read my review). I’ve had a chance to play with the Google Nest Hub Max, and I have to admit that I’m impressed.

The software and interface of the Nest Hub Max are quite similar to the experience I described when using the JBL Link View smart speaker. And while I’ll dip a little bit into the operating system a bit later in this review, the real story is the hardware.

While the JBL speaker looks like a huge oval speaker with a small touchscreen screen in the middle, the Nest Hub Max looks much more like an Android tablet with a base. The 10″ HD touchscreen is large enough to enjoy video, and it makes using the touchscreen controls a breeze. There is a thick white bezel around it the screen that feels a bit like it belongs in 2017, but doesn’t take away from the overall experience using the device.

The Hub Max is designed in a manner that, when you look at the device head-on, it is pretty much all you see. The best way to describe it in words is that “the Nest Hub Max is an Android tablet with a permanently attached back and base. When sitting on the shelf, however, you just notice the tablet.

What separates the Nest Hub Max from the smaller and less expensive Google Hub is not only the larger screen but the inclusion of a camera as well.

The camera, referred to by Google as a Nest Cam, integrates with other Nest devices so this device can integrate with your Nest security system if that is what you are using to keep your home safe.

Fortunately, Google included a physical shutter button that places a physical cover over the screen. It sits on the back of the device and is easy to find by feel. Toggle the button, and you get the privacy you want and that your partner insists upon.

The only other physical buttons on the Nest Max Hub is on the back right of the device when facing it. You don’t see the controls when facing the device, but they are easy to find after using the Hub Max for a few days.

All the other controls are accessed either through the touchscreen or the Google Home app on your phone or tablet.

The Nest Hub Max is 9.85″ wide, 7.19 ” tall and 3.99″ deep. Along the top of the bezel, there is the 6.5MP camera, an Ambient EQ light sensor to automatically adjust the brightness of the device, and two far-field microphones.

The Nest Hub Max is a Few Devices in One

The Nest Hub Max as a WiFi Connected Picture Frame:

One of the ways in which the Nest Hub Max is far superior to excellent JBL offering is the physical design. By hiding the speakers in the base rather than having them on either side of the touchscreen, as they are in the other offering, the Hub Max looks like any 10″ tablet or WiFi picture frame. It can pull pictures from your Google Photos, and you can choose which photos are displayed and control how long each picture is on the screen.

As a photo frame it offers:

  • Live albums: After creating a live album with Google photos. Next, have Max automatically displays your best photos. Share live albums with friends and family, so they always see your latest shots – no manual updates necessary.
  • Google Assistant: See any picture in your Google photos library just by asking. Just say, “Hey, Google show me my photos from Hawaii” and view them on your screen.
  • Ambient EQ: Nest Hub Max automatically senses and matches more than 16 million combinations of light and color in any room, so the photos you display on-screen blend in perfectly with your home decor and adjusted the brightness of the room.

The combination of the 10″ and these technologies make the Hub Max a wonderful electronic frame. Considering the 10″ digital picture frame from Nixplay is about $150, and the $229 you will pay for the Nest Hub Max sounds reasonable. After all, its a frame but so much more. If you’re considering a web-connected picture frame, stop what you are doing and check our the Hub Max!

The Nest Hub Max as a WiFi Speaker System:

Thanks to the front-firing stereo speakers and the 3″ rear-firing woofer, the Nest Hub Max is a unique speaker system for small to medium rooms.

Two stereo speakers sit in the base and are hidden behind the acoustical fabric.

The 3″ woofer sits in the center of the device’s back and is similarly hidden behind the fabric.

Thanks to this fabric, available in your choice of Chalk or Charcoal, the fact that this is a capable audio system only becomes apparent when you start music streaming. When I use my review sample, I primarily use YouTube Music, but it also has the capability to connect to your phone or tablet via Bluetooth. The sound coming from the Hub Max is excellent. The base is deep and booming, the mids are clear, and the highs don’t have that tiny sound that is often associated with inexpensive Bluetooth speakers.

Because this is a smart device, I can simply say, “Hey Google, play Fading by Shallou,” and within a few moments the music will start playing. YouTube Music’s free version does commercials, but the selection of tracks seems to be fairly extensive, so I don’t really mind. In fact, during my morning coffee in the morning, I will often say, “Hey, Google, play MSNBC.” Two seconds later, I hear back “Playing MSNBC” and am able to hear the kind of news that makes me lose my appetite. The Hub Max works with YouTube Music, Spotify, Pandora, and more.

If I don’t want the commercials, I can always use the Bluetooth connection to my phone and stream directly.

The Nest Hub Max as a Video Consumption Device:

The large screen makes the Hub Max perfect for watching videos. As this is a Google product, it won’t surprise anyone that it is optimized for use with YouTube, YouTube TV, and YouTube Music. Of course, it also has Chromecast built-in!

I’ve primarily used it for YouTube videos, and I’ve been impressed by the clarity of the screen. Combine that with the excellent audio it delivers, and you have a really wonderful audiovisual experience. You can also pull from other video sources, but I haven’t been making much use of that since the device is in my living room right have a 65-inch television.

The Hub Max is also a great way to make video calls to family and friends using compatible devices. The device offers “auto-framing” that tracks you even when you are moving around, so you are always in the frame. You can even leave a video message for family members to get when they arrive home.

The Nest Hub Max as a Smart Home Device:

From the perspective of smart home devices, the Nest Hub Max is in line with everything Google has learned about voice services. There’s nothing really new here in that regard, but the large, responsive touchscreen makes it a great way to access and control Google Voice services. Here’s a slideshow of setting the device up and a list of a few of the things it can do.

Recipes: Asked the Google assistant for recipes. See step-by-step directions. And get answers like cooking times, measurements, and more.

As I said, there’s really nothing from a smart assistance perspective that the Nest Hub Max can do that the Nest Mini can’t. It’s the same voice services, requires the same setup process, and is accessed the same way. The large screen and speedy processor do make it easier to use but don’t expect anything new if you are already using a Google smart device.

The Nest Hub Max as a Security Camera:

The impact of Google’s purchase of Nest can best be seen in the inclusion of a Nest camera in the Hub Max. It does what you would expect an indoor camera to do. You can check in on your home when you are out and about, get motion and sound alerts on your phone and, if you have a Nest Aware subscription, get a video recording, familiar face alerts, and more.

I’ve been using the Nest Hub Max to keep an eye on our golden doodle Nava during the day. It works perfectly and is one of the side-benefits of this device that pleasantly surprised me.

You can, however, use the physical button to turn the camera off.

You can do it using the touchscreen too.

Bells, Whistles and Special Functions:

While the basic idea of the Nest Hub Max will be familiar to anyone who has used the smaller Nest Hub or any of Google’s smart assistants, there are a few tricks that are unique to this particular device. Most are the result of having a camera. Of course, the camera lets you make video calls but, as previously noted, it also lets you leave video messages for other members of the household.

You can teach it to recognize individuals in your house and give specific, targeted results based upon who it sees and hears. The voice recognition system is available on other devices, but the facial recognition abilities are, at this time, unique to the Hub Max.

Some of the uses of Face Match include:

  • Proactive notifications: Face Match recognizes you and displays your relevant notifications – not everyone else’s. Get personalized information like upcoming events, video messages, and more.
  • Personalized Home Screen: With help from Google Assistant, your reminders calendars, commute, and more are available at just a glance.
  • Assignable reminders: Leave reminders for anyone in the household. Reminders for you pop up front and center on the screen.

The Nest Hub Max is a powerful device. It is so powerful, in fact, that I’m still discovering new things it can do. The key features that will make you seriously consider buying this include the great screen and superb sound but also include:

  • Nest Cam: Keep an eye on things at home with the built-in nest cam. Check-in for a live view and get motion and sound alerts on your phone. With a nest aware subscription, you’ll get a continuous video recording, familiar face alerts, and more.
  • Homeview: Forget about switching between apps, manage your compatible connected home devices like smart thermostats, lights, and more from the dashboard or with your voice.
  • Home Entertainment: No more searching for the remote. Control compatible home entertainment devices like game consuls, speakers and streaming media players from your screen or with your voice
  • Face Match: Face Match recognizes you and displays your relevant notifications Dash, not everyone else’s. Get personalized information like upcoming events, video messages, and more.
  • Assignable Reminders: Leave reminders for anyone in the household. Reminders for you pop up front and center on the home screen.
  • Personalized Home Screen: With help from the Google assistant, your reminders, calendars commute and more are available at just a glance

Of course, it’s also an easy to read clock…

And a weather center.

My house is still primarily using Amazon Alexa devices, but Google is winning me over, and the Google Hub Max has a permanent place in my living room. The large screen makes it a wonderful electronic photo frame. The screen also makes it ideal for watching videos hands-free. The loud, powerful speakers make it a terrific device for listening to audio or catching up with the news while I sit in my favorite chair over coffee in the morning. And when all of this is combined with the voice services and excellent microphones with phenomenal sensitivity, they make for a seamless smart assistant experience. The fact that the Hub Max has the speakers embedded in the base of the device makes it look less like a high tech offering and more like a WiFi frame with all kinds of smarts and other capabilities. Perhaps most surprising is the MSRP of $229. At under $300 this is a great way to get a Bluetooth speaker, a touchscreen smart device, and much more at a price that is significantly lower than many other one-trick pony devices. I’m a huge fan, and if you’re in the market for a touchscreen smart device for your home, I highly recommend getting this. You can check it out here.

Source: Manufacturer supplied review sample of the Nest Hub Max

What I Like: Large, responsive 10″ HD touchscreen; Excellent sound; Nest cam with serious smarts; Google Voice Assistant

What Needs Improvement: Thick bezels are a bit of a throwback

 

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About the Author

Dan Cohen
Having a father who was heavily involved in early laser and fiber-optical research, Dan grew up surrounded by technology and gadgets. Dan’s father brought home one of the very first video games when he was young and Dan remembers seeing a “pre-release” touchtone phone. (When he asked his father what the “#” and “*” buttons were his dad said, “Some day, far in the future, we’ll have some use for them.”) Technology seemed to be in Dan’s blood but at some point he took a different path and ended up in the clergy. His passion for technology and gadgets never left him. Dan is married to Raina Goldberg who is also an avid user of Apple products. They live in New Jersey with their golden doodle Nava.