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Lifewire / Andrew Hayward
Sleek, attractive design
Large screen and strong sound
Useful camera perks
Great for YouTube
Useful smart home hub
Incompatible with Ring
No physical camera cover
Clumsy YouTube navigation
Outside of smart home compatibility gaps, Google’s Nest Hub Max is a versatile addition to any tech-enriched home, adding various smarts and perks that could come in handy.
Google’s original Nest Hub showed why a smart assistant with a screen might be a good thing, packing a fair number of features into a compact, attractive form. The Next Hub Max takes things to another level, however, with a larger display, a Nest Aware camera on the front, and better sound quality—with a larger footprint, as well.
Still, Google’s scaled-up smart display can blend in well with its surroundings and provides a litany of nuanced benefits that make it a welcome addition to any connected home. I tested the Nest Hub Max for several weeks, trying out its smart home connections, remote camera skills, and many other capabilities along the way.
Despite the “Max” branding, the Google Nest Hub Max doesn’t feel overly large. It looks like a narrower, suspended iPad affixed to a small, angled pedestal—and that pedestal is the speaker. It’s nearly 10 inches across and just over 7 inches tall, but the base is just 4 inches deep. That means that you don’t need a significant amount of counter or shelf space to accommodate the unit, plus the big, rubbery foot at the bottom ensures that it won’t slide around the surface.
The Google Nest Hub Max is available in Chalk (shown) and Charcoal, both of which have a white bezel around the face. The Chalk version sticks with white for the plastic frame that runs around the back, and opts for a light gray finish to the fabric that covers the speaker base. Charcoal, on the other hand, goes for a dark gray, almost black finish for both. The smaller, standard Nest Hub also offers Aqua and Sand color options, but not the Nest Hub Max.
It looks like a narrower, suspended iPad affixed to a small, angled pedestal—and that pedestal is the speaker.
You’ll need a wall outlet to power up the Google Nest Hub Max via the included 1.5m cable, which plugs in near the bottom of the speaker back. Note that there is no auxiliary port on the Nest Hub Max, so you won’t be able to physically connect a phone or other portable music device, or otherwise connect the Nest Hub Max to external speakers. You can wirelessly connect phones via Bluetooth, however, to play music from the Nest Hub Max’s speaker.
The 10-inch touchscreen is used for most interactions, aside from spoken commands, but there are also two physical buttons: a volume slider on the left back side of the screen, and a camera/microphone mute switch right behind the 6.5-megapixel camera. Unfortunately for privacy advocates, it’s not a physical shutter that covers up the camera—you’ll have to take Google’s word that it has been deactivated. The little green light next to the camera turns orange when deactivated, and the Google Assistant announces the change. Small icons on the screen also indicate that the camera and microphone are turned off.
Setting up the Google Nest Hub Max isn’t difficult, but it does take a little bit of time. Physical setup is a breeze: simply plug the power cord into the back and then plug the slim adapter into a wall outlet. That’s it. But getting the device fully configured and up and running will take a while longer, as you’ll need to download the Google Home app to your Android phone or iPhone.
From there, it’s a matter of reading through the steps to configure a Wi-Fi network, entering your Google account, agreeing to all of the various privacy notes and stipulations, connecting streaming music services, and setting up how you want to use the camera. You can also choose which images you want displayed when the Nest Hub Max is idle, and anyone who uses Google Photos may already have a stockpile of photos to quickly have in sight via the screen.
The Google Nest Hub Max’s interface is very clean and sparse, putting the focus on your own photos and keeping menu overlays and options pretty minimal in design. Despite the looks, this is not literally an Android tablet bolted onto a speaker, and the Nest Hub Max isn’t loaded up with lots of apps and clutter.
It’s easy to get around and pull up the hidden parts of the interface that are readily at your command. Swiping left from the right side of the screen brings up a series of cards, which show things such as upcoming calendar events, news stories, suggested YouTube videos and music playlists, nearby events, suggested recipes, and suggested Google Assistant commands. Swiping right from the left side of the screen brings you back home, where you can scroll through photos with a simple swipe of your finger.
From the home screen, a downward swipe from the top brings up a smart home hub interface that gives you a quick rundown of what’s happening. Mine says, “The back door is locked, and temp is set to 73 degrees,” as my wirelessly connected August smart lock and Nest thermostat indicate. From here, you can also set routines, check cameras, and more. Swiping up from the bottom of the home screen brings up quick settings, such as volume and brightness controls, a do not disturb option and access to the full Settings menu which doesn’t really let you do anything. Configurable settings are all found within the aforementioned smartphone app.
Of course, the Google Assistant is always available for spoken requests. Simply say, “Hey Google” and then state your need, whether you want to check the weather or time, ask about a sports score or trivia question, activate smart home devices, or quite a bit more. It’s the same full-fledged Google Assistant found on Android phones, Google Home devices, and elsewhere.
The Nest Hub Max’s stereo speaker system includes a pair of 18mm 10W tweeters alongside a 75mm 30W woofer, which combine to deliver very good sound. It’s crisp and clear with solid bass, although it can sound a bit confined at the higher levels. For my money, Amazon’s standard audio-only Echo does a better job of distributing sound across a large room. Still, what’s here does fine for listening to music, video calls, and watching videos. The two far-field microphones also work very well at picking up voice commands, even if you’re not right in front of the unit itself.
It’s a large enough screen for casually watching YouTube TV or videos while cooking or doing dishes, but not so much that you’d want to sit in front of it for hours.
The 10-inch 1200x800 touchscreen is probably at a lower resolution than the screen on your smartphone, but you’re not going to be using this display mere inches from your face. At a distance of a few feet, images look clear and nicely detailed, with great color and plenty of brightness at max settings. It’s a large enough screen for casually watching YouTube TV or videos while cooking or doing dishes, but not so much that you’d want to sit in front of it for hours. It’s not going to replace your TV, tablet, or laptop.
What will you actually use the Google Nest Hub Max for? I mentioned a few things earlier, but here’s a closer look. At its very base level, the Nest Hub Max makes for a great digital picture frame. If you use Google Photos on your phone, then you can automatically have a rotating selection of recent photos scroll by—or you create a custom gallery if you please. For me, it was nice to come home from a trip to Europe and see some of those sights on the Nest Hub Max amidst everyday photos of my family and pets.
As mentioned, it’s also a great way to view YouTube videos in a more casual setting, whether it’s playing music videos or other clips while cooking or cleaning, or viewing recipe walkthroughs in the kitchen. The Nest Hub Max will suggest videos to watch, or you can speak out a request—which can be tricky if you’re looking for a specific video. I wish it had an easy way to search for videos right on the screen itself. Instead, it’s best to pull up the video on your phone and then use the Chromecast feature to cast it to the Nest Hub Max. You can use this feature within other video apps, as well.
It was nice to come home from a trip to Europe and see some of those sights on the Nest Hub Max amidst everyday photos of my family and pets.
The front-facing camera is ideal for video calls and messages via Google Duo, which is also available on phones and tablets, plus it’s a Nest Cam that can give you motion and sound alerts to your phone. It’s like a bonus security camera in the middle of your home, although you’ll want to play with your notifications—getting a buzz on my phone every time someone walked through the living room during the day quickly grew obnoxious.
On the other hand, it was immensely cute to get an alert while I was traveling alone for work in Europe and see that it was my young cat hanging out in front of the Nest Hub Max. It’s also funny to enable audio and speak to your pets or family from afar. An optional Nest Aware subscription enables additional features, such as continuous video recording and “friendly face” notifications, but you’ll pay for those.
You can also set up a Face Match profile via the Home app, which is kind of like Face ID on an iPhone—but more about personalization than security. You’ll quickly register your face via the app, and then when the Nest Hub Max notices your face in view, it’ll give you personalized content and recommendations. That’s ideal if you have a house with multiple users that want to make the most of the Hest Hub Max without crossing content streams.
Since Google and Ring owner Amazon aren’t buddy-buddy, you can’t view Ring video feeds through the Nest Hub Max.
The Nest Hub Max is also a very useful smart home hub that should only grow in functionality over time. In my case, I connected the aforementioned Nest Thermostat and August Smart Lock Pro, as well as a Philips Hue bulb. However, one big chunk of my smart home setup wasn’t supported: the Ring Video Doorbell Pro and Ring Video Doorbell 2. Since Google and Ring owner Amazon aren’t buddy-buddy, you can’t view Ring video feeds through the Nest Hub Max. It was a frustrating omission for my household; hopefully, the future of smart home tech doesn’t become more and more fragmented like that.
At $229, the Google Nest Hub Max isn’t cheap, and not everyone will need another screen in their lives or home. However, if you’ll use a wide number of its features, then it feels like a solid value. It’s helpful as a smart home hub, aside from the Ring issue, plus the video camera, Duo calls, YouTube videos, and Google Assistant help are all handy. Even just adding a smart, ever-updating digital photo frame to my space has been an upgrade.
That said, the smaller, camera-less Google Nest Hub can be found for $99 or less these days, and maintains a lot of the other functionality at a much more appealing price.
While the physical designs vary and the software within are different in key ways, the current Amazon Echo show and Google Nest Hub Max are very much two of a kind—much in the way the Amazon Echo and Google Home are. They both have 10” screens, both have a voice assistant, both do a lot of the same core things, and both sell for $229.
There are key differences, however, and it comes down to ecosystem more than anything. Amazon’s ecosystem includes its own software and services, not to mention easy ordering of Amazon products, loads of Echo skills available to add (voice apps, essentially), and the use of the Alexa voice assistant. On the other hand, Google’s ecosystem has numerous services of its own, including Photos and Calendar, plus the Google Assistant is very robust and capable.
The Nest Hub Max has a couple of key advantages when it comes to video, namely YouTube support (which is MIA on the Echo Show) and the ability to cast video from your mobile device. Otherwise, they check a lot of the same boxes, so consider whether you’re more keen on Google or Amazon services and features.
A good enough reason to join the smart home club, but not the most affordable.
Google’s Nest Hub Max does a great job of justifying its existence in the home, with useful camera features, a large screen that’s ideal for displaying photos and videos, and wide—but sadly not complete—smart home device compatibility. If you’re not invested in smart home devices, or keen on starting for that matter, then a pricey hub like this might be more than you need. The cheap, audio-only Google Home Mini or Amazon Echo Spot may be a better place to start for someone totally new to these kinds of devices.
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