The Google Home Hub, despite a few omissions, is probably the best Smart Display available for the vast majority of those looking to buy an assistant powered home control screen. I always saw Google’s own Smart Display effort as a potential threat to the JBL Link View and Lenovo Smart Display, but let me explain the differences (as of today) and why my first statement will apply to most considering a device in this category.
Hardware is the most obvious place where the Google Home Hub differs from the admittedly small selection of Google Smart Display options currently available. Rather than acting as a speaker which happens to have a screen, or, a display that happens to have a speaker, the Home Hub is clearly designed to look inconspicuous — with a distinctly photo frame-like look.
It’s diminutive in size, it has really soft corners, and it doesn’t seek to be the center of attention within a room, unlike the JBL Link View. To me, this is perfect. I do like that Google has opted to retain the fabric finish on the main plinth/speaker as it fits in with the entire Made By Google design ethos, which in turn makes the Home Hub feel less like a slab of technology and more like something that anyone would have in their home.
The Home Hub does lack a camera, which is present on both the Lenovo Smart Display and JBL Link View, which might be a deal breaker for a lot of people out there. That said, judging by how little I have used Google Duo in the past, it won’t be a feature I will miss in my living room unless the ability to use things like Facebook video calling becomes a part of a future Smart Display update.
One important point on the camera: Google touted proudly that the device doesn’t have one at its October 9th event earlier this month, seemingly under the presumption that many would find that to be a benefit of this device over its competitors. If you have even the slightest concern for privacy putting the Hub in a bathroom or bedroom, the hardware simply isn’t there to capture you — no need to make sure the physical cover is switched.
Of course, sound producing hardware is one area that’s a bit lacking with the Google Home Hub. Although the JBL Link View has arguably the best sound (for good reason), the Home Hub is still great for just streaming music, watching YouTube videos and general audio feedback. As our Stephen mentioned in his review, you might actually be surprised the sound that this device is able to pump out given its size.
I haven’t even mentioned the display yet, which although isn’t exactly hi-res, is nice enough to look at for the purposes of quick glances, controlling your smart home devices and just as a smart digital photo frame. You are unlikely to be using the screen to watch movies or binge-watch your YouTube subscriptions, so no matter which Smart Display you opt for, the quality will likely be more than good enough. One thing I will say though is that the Google Home Hub is not quite as glossy as the JBL Link View, which in lieu provides better viewing angles.
The Ambient light sensing system is not found on either other options from Lenovo or JBL. It works much like it would on your mobile phone, adjusting for the various light changes. Drawing the curtains will cause the brightness to raise, a nice extra inclusion in my opinion.
However the design of the hardware is arguably the primary reason it will catch the attention of most out there, in my opinion. It doesn’t feel like a massive speaker or an odd tablet stuck to a speaker. Credit to JBL for trying to add a little bit of flair and consistency with the Google Home product line with fabric strips on the side speakers.
At the moment, the Google Home Hub has a few software tweaks that you won’t find on either the Lenovo Smart Display or the JBL Link View, which for me makes those two options much harder to recommend — at least until an update fixes this. (Lenovo has confirmed that these and other features are incoming very soon.)
The Home View is currently the key software differentiator. It gives you a quick overview of everything within your home that is currently connected to the Google Assistant, which is a major time saver and clears up any confusion as to what devices are currently active etc. This is possible from within the Google Home mobile app, but to have that information available simply by swiping down from the top of the Home Hub display to control each room individually is so powerful. Our very own Stephen alluded to this in his review of the Google Home Hub, likely being one reason for the ‘Hub’ name.
Unlike the Google Home app, you can actually fine tune smart light settings without ever needing to open up an app. I own Xiaomi’s Yeelight smart lights, which required the Yeelight application to connect to your Google account. For fine-tuning color however, you usually need to open the application to adjust more specifically. However, Home View rids that need once you set up them up, which makes the entire system feel slick and much more tied together.
As I mentioned earlier, the Google Home Hub doesn’t include a camera, though that doesn’t mean you can’t make or have a video call. You actually can use Google Duo without a camera for one-way video/voice calls. I wish I had some contacts who used the Google Duo service to actually give the system a test, but alas, WhatsApp video calling is used more by my immediate friends and family than any other option.
Multi-room audio support is also a sort of timed exclusive, which allows speaker groups to be created for uniform music throughout your home. The same can be said of Live Albums, which is what makes me love the size and shape of the Google Home Hub that little bit more. It shows any album you wish or curates a collection all from your cloud-stored Google Photos account — screenshots, duplicates, receipts and sensitive photos are all automatically omitted.
If you’re in the market for a Smart Display and have a heck of a lot of devices you want to control, then arguably the Google Home Hub is the best option. Of course, it works exactly like the standard Google Home and Home Mini, but the addition of the display makes it a great purchase. I personally love the design, which for me is one of the key reasons I opted to pick one up, with the major bonuses being Home View and its overall tiny footprint.
For anyone wanting a speaker-first Smart Display, then clearly, the JBL Link View is the outright best Google Assistant-powered Smart Display on the market. The overall sound profile alone is so much better than anything else available.
If display size is your main factor, then you’d be a fool not to opt for the Lenovo Smart Display, having the largest screen size by some margin. The 10-inch screen makes it so much better for watching YouTube videos and general interactions, but it’s letdown somewhat by the devices single speaker system.
But I think the Home Hub has the best of all worlds at the best price. The Google Home Hub currently retails for $149 directly from the Google store. You can get the Home Hub and several compatible smart devices for use with the Smart Display for less than the cost of admission of the other aforementioned options.