In the way that small things are cute, the Google Home Hub — now Nest Hub — is an inherently adorable device. The Nest Hub Max loses that characteristic and stops being an impulse purchase, but gains a slew of smart features that are just helpful and will make you consider upgrading from your existing Smart Display.
More than other device categories, it does not matter what a Smart Display looks like. The Nest Hub Max is a scaled up Nest Hub and its (larger) design at the end of the day is just fine. Users primarily only look and interact with the screen while the rear often faces a wall. You’ll come back because of the utility, not because it’s a visual centerpiece for your home. In fact, the Hub Max loses half its color choices with only plain Chalk and Charcoal available.
The 10-inch HD screen is a sizable step up from the 7-inch on the Nest Hub with the Ambient EQ light sensor continuing to adjust colors and brightness to make a realistic photo frame. This was one of the marquee smart hardware features on Google’s original Hub.
In contrast, the primary driver of smart features on the Nest Hub Max is a 6.5MP Nest Cam. Hands-free play/pause is made possible by looking at your Hub Max and raising your hand. Voice in the past would have been the fastest way to silence playing media, especially if you were further away from your device. The quick gesture requires less effort than talking and feels remarkably natural — if not unintentionally rude.
Meanwhile, Face Match works to recognize you and display relevant notifications or messages. While face recognition is a flashy capability, it — in use — is practically invisible save for the end result. The Nest Hub Max works to authenticate seamlessly in the background and relatively quickly. This behavior will hopefully spread across Google’s other products.
This processing is performed on-device for privacy, with the physical mute microphone switch also working to disable the camera. The lens also opens up Google Duo video calls with auto-framing that keeps you in view if you move around while talking.
Users are already going to place the Nest Hub Max in a central place in their home. A little more thought on location will help take full advantage of the security camera nature as just another Nest Cam.
Rounding out the top bezel — which is unfortunately still white thus revealing the ugly holes — is two far-field microphones, while there is a stereo speaker system that’s a vast improvement from the Nest Hub. There are two 18mm 10W tweeters immediately under the display, and a 75mm 30W subwoofer on the rear.
Given the importance of the screen on a Smart Display, size very much defines functionality. Save for the Lenovo Smart Clock, Assistant features are available on all devices regardless of size. The 7-inch Nest Hub is perfect for the nightstand, but the Nest Hub Max is “designed for communal spaces in the home.”
This larger screen informs the placement, with Google advertising the Max as a kitchen TV. Other visual experiences that get improved are watching YouTube, getting recipes, and watching music videos. This larger screen allows users to be physically farther from the Smart Display, but still have a good view. With the Nest Hub, users could only view things by looking at it straight on.
While $229 is not an impulse purchase, the Nest Hub Max does a lot. People are now comfortable with this class of Assistant device in the home, and Google is ready to introduce users to a whole set of new features. From a camera that can do double duty as a Nest Cam to seamless authentication for personalization to smart gestures, the Nest Hub Max feels like a next-generation Smart Display.