/Hands on: Hands on: Google Nest Hub Max review

Hands on: Hands on: Google Nest Hub Max review

The Google Nest Hub Max is the first product to launch under the new converged brand name of Google and smart home device manufacturer Nest, and it’s the larger sibling to the Google Home Hub. It’s a big-screen smart display for your home, with a front-facing camera for video calls and the facility to check on your home remotely.

Announced at the Google IO 2019 keynote alongside the new Google Pixel 3a and Pixel 3a XL phones, the Hub Max extends the firm’s smart speaker range, sitting roughly between the Google Home Max and Google Home in terms of speaker quality.

Whether or not the presence of a front-facing camera will turn some consumers off in these privacy-conscious times remains to be seen, but it’s the same snapper that you’ll find in Nest’s indoor security cameras, so it has some useful additional benefits.

Google Nest Hub Max release date and price

We’ve been told the Google Nest Hub Max release date is set for July 15 in both the US and UK from the Google Store, with availability in the latter also at John Lewis, Argos and Currys PC World. We’re waiting to hear about availability in Australia.

The Google Nest Hub Max price is $229 / £219 (around AU$320), making it comfortably cheaper than the Home Max speaker, but also quite a bit more than the smaller Home Hub smart display ($119 / £139 / AU$219).

That makes it the same price as Amazon’s Echo Show, which also boasts a camera and the same display display.

Google Nest Hub Max review

Design and display

The Google Nest Hub Max has the same floating-display design as the Home Hub, with the speakers discreetly housed behind the display in a cloth-covered stand.

It’s an attractive look, but the Hub Max’s increased size means it loses the cutesy appeal of the smaller screen version, and will be a more dominant presence in your home.

Inside the stand you’ll find a 2:1 speaker configuration, with two tweeters and a sub able to deliver a powerful audio punch. It’s a better audio experience than the Google Home and Home Hub, but it’s still a way off the power of the larger Home Max.

There are just two physical inputs here, with a volume rocker round the back, on the right-hand side, while a centralized switch sits behind the screen at the top. This switch enables you to instantly switch off the microphones and camera, and they can then only be reactivated by physically switching them back on.

Google Nest Hub Max review

Google says this physical input can’t be overridden by software, which should give you peace of mind that you’re not being covertly spied on. However, instead of having a physical shutter over the camera lens, giving you more confidence that the Hub Max isn’t watching you, a red LED is illuminated next to the camera when it’s disabled.

It’s still a clear visual indication that the camera is off, but without anything physically covering it, some users may not be convinced.

On the front you get a 10-inch HD display with a resolution of 1280 x 800 and a 16:10 aspect ratio. It’s bright and clear, but it doesn’t have the clarity of higher-resolution displays, and that’s a shame, especially if you’re planning on streaming video to it.

While the main way of interacting with the Hub Max is voice, the screen is touch-sensitive, allowing you to adjust the brightness and volume, and select various options with your fingers, if you find yourself near enough the device.

Google Nest Hub Max review

Camera and specs

As we’ve mentioned, the camera in the Google Nest Hub Max is from Nest, and gives you a superbly wide 127-degree field of view that enables you to fit in most of your room – great for video calls with the family gathered round.

However, if there are just a few of you, or just yourself, in front of the camera, the Hub Max can zoom in to focus on you, cutting out the empty space either side for a more personal and focused experience.

It’s called auto-framing, and it can focus in on you as you as you move around the room, zooming in and out as you move closer and further away from the camera – although if you’re chatting to someone it’s probably polite to stay in one place.

Video calls will be handled by Google Duo, which means you can video-call any of your friends or family who have the Duo app installed on a Hub Max, smartphone or PC.

Google Nest Hub Max review

Auto-framing isn’t the camera’s only trick however. As a follow-on from voice match, which allows Google Assistant to work out which member of the family is talking to it, the Hub Max also has Face Match, allowing it to see who’s in the room and then, if that person taps the display, show them a personalized home page of news, weather and their upcoming calendar entries.

You have to opt in to Face Match during the setup process for the Hub Max, and if you do choose to use it, you’ll be asked to scan the front and both sides of your face. This data is then sent and stored locally on the Hub Max, which means your face data won’t be floating around in the cloud.

The Hub Max can support up to six different faces, which will cover most families.

The camera can also work as a regular Nest cam, allowing you to check in on your home when you’re away via the Nest app. If you sign up to the Nest Aware subscription service you can even opt for the camera to constantly record video and audio when you’re away from home, providing another layer of security.

Chromecast is also built in, enabling you to easily stream audio and video to the Google Nest Hub Max, and you can play/pause content by holding your palm up to the camera, which is useful if you’re watching a cooking video tutorial and want to quickly pause it without touching the display with messy hands; you can also use your voice, but the gesture control is quicker.

The main way you’ll interact with the Hub Max is with your voice, though, with Google Assistant at the heart of the smart display. The Hub Max features two far-field microphones which do a surprisingly good job of picking up your voice, even if there’s music playing or a number of people talking in the room.

Google Nest Hub Max review

Early verdict

The Google Nest Hub Max is the most versatile smart home product in the search giant’s range, with the camera and gesture controls adding a host of additional features over the other devices in the series.

The inclusion of the camera may not be to everyone’s taste, and the Hub Max’s size means it won’t fit in as many places around the home as comfortably as the smaller Home Hub; but there’s plenty to like here, and if you’re looking for something to tie your smart home together this could be it.

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