Nest Audio: Big Upgrade, Less Privacy

Want an always-listening speaker in your home? This one looks pretty great

Key Takeaways

  • Nest Audio is Google’s new flagship smart speaker.
  • It goes on sale October 5th for $99.99.
  • Improvements include louder audio, more bass, faster reactions to voice commands, and pastels.
Google's Nest Audio resting next to a couch
Google

The Nest Audio is Google’s new smart speaker/domestic spy. It’s louder, it’s made from mostly recycled plastic, and it looks a lot like a pastel version of Apple’s HomePod. But do you really want a Google microphone listening to your living room all day long?

Despite its name, the Nest Audio is not a smart thermostat. Instead, Google has adopted the name of the thermostat company it bought for $3.2 billion in 2014 to use as its home-automation brand.

"At just $100, the Nest Audio actually looks like a great deal on a great-sounding speaker." 

The first thing you’ll notice about the new speaker, which replaces the old Google Home speaker, is the new design. Like last year’s Nest Mini, it’s more of a soft, pastel fabric pebble than the original Home speaker, which had more of a vase/high-school geometry diagram vibe.

In fact, seen from a certain angle, it looks just like Apple’s HomePod. It’s just way, way cheaper.

What’s New With Nest Audio?

According to Google’s blog post, the main new feature of the Nest Audio is that it sounds great. It’s 75% louder, and has “50% stronger bass,” writes Google’s Nest product manager Mark Spates. 

“Our goal was to ensure that Nest Audio stayed faithful to what the artist intended when they were in the recording studio,” he continues. 

Call me old-fashioned, but I’m pretty sure very few artists intended their music to share kitchen-counter space with a hipster cake mixer. And I’m almost certain that even cool cats like Billie and Finneas Eilish didn’t mix their songs to be played on a speaker designed to let you “hear the weather forecast over a noisy dishwasher.”

Joking aside, that last feature is pretty cool. The Nest Audio has audio processing that can tune itself to whatever you’re listening to. It can optimize itself for music and for spoken-word audio like audiobooks and podcasts. 

Boosting frequencies to cut through domestic noise is a fantastic feature. Usually, I use my AirPods Pro when I’m doing housework, as they can cut out the noise of my vacuum cleaner/coffee grinder/cake mixer. Having a speaker that achieves an equivalent effect would be pretty rad. 

Smart Home

The other big part of a home assistant speaker is the assistant part. Google put the Nest Mini’s machine-learning chip inside the new Nest Audio, which means it can follow a lot of voice-activated commands locally, on the unit itself, instead of sending your commands to Google’s servers to be processed.

The Nest Audio set up on a stool next to a glass of liquid
Google 

In practice, that means faster responses. That’s good news for you, and bad news for Apple. Google’s voice-control tech is way, way ahead of Apple’s in terms of speed and accuracy, and this just adds to that lead. On the other hand, Apple’s Siri is way more privacy-focused than Google.

Privacy

If you’re using a smart speaker, then you’re probably fine with having a listening device in your living room or kitchen. And you also don’t care if the speaker is recording everything you say, then sending parts of that audio off to Apple, Google, or Amazon to be processed.

In Apple’s case, nothing is transmitted to Apple until the microphone detects somebody saying “Hey Siri.” With Amazon, it operates a portal that lets law enforcement agencies request the recorded footage from its Ring smart doorbells; its Alexa speakers not only record you, but infamously sent a recording of a private conversation to one user’s contact. Amazon’s official line is that the Echo and Alexa do not constantly record.

The bottom line is that if you have an internet-connected microphone in your home, some of the recordings are uploaded to the internet. The privacy policies of these companies change based on what they’ve most recently been caught doing. Even Apple, the gold standard of customer privacy protection, got busted for letting contractors listen to private recording that included “confidential medical information, drug deals, and recordings of couples having sex,” according to the Guardian

Should You Buy the Nest Audio?

If all you need is a good wireless speaker, you might be better off avoiding smart speakers altogether. Then again, at just $100, the Nest Audio actually looks like a great deal on a great-sounding speaker. 

But your speaker choice will likely come down to your phone vendor choice. If you’re all-in with Apple, with Apple’s HomeKit automation suite, and use Apple Music, then you’re better off choosing the more expensive HomePod. If you prefer Amazon’s services, go with an Echo. Ditto for Google.

An assortment of Google Nest Audio speakers in various colors
Google 

That’s not to say you can’t use these speakers with other vendors’ services, but it does mean extra hassle. And seeing as smart speakers are all about avoiding pain and embracing convenience even at the expense of privacy, you should probably choose the speaker that fits your current setup.

The good news is, this new Google speaker looks gorgeous... and like a really great deal.