Update: Feb 14, 2020: This Google Nest Hub Max review was originally published on September 9th of 2019, but we continue to update it as necessary. The latest update includes a few small details that I felt were worth adding after using this device for months.
Last spring Google announced the Nest Hub Max, the first product from its new Google Nest co-brand. Google’s latest smart display looks nearly identical to the original Home Hub but adds new functionality including a camera, a larger display, and some of the Nest Cam’s DNA.
The Google Nest Hub Max packs plenty of features and a number of firsts for the budding smart display market. Is that enough to make the display a must-have? Find out in Android Authority‘s Google Nest Hub Max review!
Google Nest Hub Max review: The big picture
The Google Nest Hub Max is the first of many products that will bear the Google Nest branding and sits at the high-end of Google’s smart display family.
Priced at $229 in the US and £219 in the UK, the Nest Hub Max is a bit more expensive than most of its contemporaries but still a tad cheaper than the JBL Link View. The good news is the Hub Max is the most feature-packed smart display to date, making the price tag actually a fairly decent value when you consider the display doubles as a Nest cam.
The Nest Hub Max inherits the slanted, tablet-like design and fabric speaker covers found on its older brother. It even offers the same pastel color scheme, in your choice of chalk or charcoal.
The design is fairly minimalist, with only two physical buttons — a volume rocker and a mute switch that kills both the camera and mics. Both keys are found on the rear of the device.
It makes sense to keep the Hub Max’s design uniform with the original, but we wish there was a physical slider for the camera, instead of simply pairing it with the mute switch. It is possible to disable just the camera, but you’ll have to do it from the touchscreen.
The Google Nest Hub Max is built around simplicity. The design might not be what we call gorgeous, but it is extremely practical and blends in well with other members of the Google Home/Nest family.
Display and other hardware
The Google Nest Hub Max features a larger 10-inch panel, compared to the 7-inch display on the standard Hub. Unfortunately, the resolution isn’t quite as high as we would have liked at just 1,280 x 800 with a 16:10 aspect ratio.
The display is plenty big and sharp for viewing pictures and moving through the UI, but it’s not quite as good for video consumption. We wouldn’t say the display is bad at all, only that having a higher resolution would have been a nice touch. Then again, this is mostly used for passive watching in the kitchen, so not everyone is going to care.
On a brighter note (literally), the Nest Hub Max features Ambient EQ technology that lets it dynamically adjust the color temperature and brightness of the display. The end result is easy viewing, even in locations that are extremely well lit, such as by a window. The display also lowers brightness at night, dimming it to show only a black background with a clock.
A larger display isn’t the only noticeable improvement to the Hub Max. The newly added camera is easily the biggest stand-out for the Nest Hub Max. While we’ve seen smart displays with cameras before, the Nest Hub Max adds more than just video calls. We’ll discuss this a bit later in our Nest Hub Max review.
The Google Nest Hub Max arguably has the best sound quality from a smart display so far.
The Google Nest Hub Max features a stereo speaker system comprised of two 18mm 10W tweeters and a 75mm subwoofer, as well as far-field mics for picking up your voice. The Google Nest Hub Max probably isn’t going to win over audiophiles, though we found the speaker quality above average for a smart display.
The Hub Max certainly is louder and has much better clarity than the standard Google Home speaker. We also found that the sound quality was arguably better than the JBL Link View in most scenarios, though the former is perhaps better for bass-heavy tracks.
For my own tastes, I say that the Nest Hub Max makes for a wonderful alternative to buying a speaker. This won’t hold true for everyone, and I won’t deny high-end dedicated speakers will offer a better experience. You won’t find a better smart display speaker though, even if the JBL Link View comes fairly close.
Google Nest Hub Max: Setting up and making the most of new features
Google smart speakers and displays are typically very easy to set up, and this remains mostly true for the Google Nest Hub Max.
On first boot, the Hub Max’s display will light up and ask you to get the phone app. Jumping into the home app, we were immediately prompted to set up a new device. From there it was just a matter of following on-screen prompts.
During this process you’ll also be asked if you want to set up extras like camera sensing, voice match, face match, Duo calling, and Ambient Mode. The majority of these features are optional but we highly recommend setting it all up if you want to make the most of your new smart display.
Many of these features aren’t new or exclusive to the Google Nest Hub Max, so we won’t go into tons of detail. Still, there are a few special Google Nest Hub Max features worth highlighting.
Camera sensing technology
With this feature you don’t need to touch or even speak to the Google Nest Hub Max if you want to dismiss a timer or pause a song.
Simply raise your hand and it’ll pause or end the timer. Repeating the same gesture will unpause any media playing. This is super helpful in loud environments or if your hands are full or dirty — great for those who use the display while cooking.
I placed the Google Nest Hub Max in our kitchen for part of the review period and let my family interact with it. My wife and I both agreed that the gestures were a super useful addition, probably because our house is always chaotically noisy thanks to three kids. We also found the feature extremely reliable. My two year old struggled to get it to work half the time, but that’s more of a user (and height) error than a real problem.
Face match technology
The concept here is identical to voice match, only that it identifies your face instead of your voice to provide personalized information. With this feature enabled, you’ll get user-specific info like calendar reminders, messages, and even music/video recommendations. You can also ask Google Assistant to create reminders for other members of your household, like asking them to get groceries or pick up the kids from school.
In our testing, my wife and I both set up a profile and found that it worked as advertised. We also never had any situations where it didn’t recognize us or thought we were someone else, which is more than I can say for Google Assistant’s voice match (which occasionally has some hiccups in our household).
Improved video calling via Google Duo
Devices like the JBL Link View and Lenovo Smart Display already feature video calling using Google Duo, but the Google Nest Hub Max takes things a step further thanks to the 127 degree field-of-view camera that provides super-wide video. It also uses auto-framing technology, so if you move around in front of the camera it will move around to help keep you in the shot. This is particularly useful if you’re moving around the kitchen or if a child is talking to a grandparent but won’t hold still.
During our testing, we placed a few video calls and played around with the tracking. It all worked pretty seamlessly.
We also tested out the ability to send quick messages to the Google Nest Hub Max from within the Duo app. Once you record and send a message it’ll show up in the homescreen as sort of a virtual sticky note, perfect if you want to send a quick check-in message to your roommates or family members.
We do lament the fact that only Google Duo is supported for video calling, but we imagine Google’s main objective was to keep things simple so that way even less tech-savvy users can jump right into placing video calls. The fact Google is desperately trying to get folks to use its latest video app also likely plays a pretty big role. With the news Google Assistant now supports Whatsapp on the phone, perhaps we could eventually see more options on Hub Max too?
Interestingly the Nest Cam features aren’t part of the initial setup, but Google does alert you about the features’ existence via a card on the homescreen. To actually set up the Nest Cam you’ll need to head into the Google Home app. From there just follow the onscreen prompts.
It’s not just a smart display, it’s a Nest Cam
After you’ve set up the Google Nest Hub Max, you’ll be able to do basic things like view and listen in to the live feed (if you have audio enabled). You can even communicate with those on the other end of the Nest Hub Max remotely, basically similar to a baby monitor. This is fine for quick check-ins, but if you want access to more advanced features, you’ll need to download the Nest app and sign up for a free account.
The base account offers several useful features including the ability to take quick clips of live footage and save them or send to others via a share link. There’s also a Home/Away assistant that knows when you’re gone and can send notifications when the app detects a new face.
A smart display that's also a security camera? That's a heck of a value right there.
Of course, the central feature of any good security camera is the ability to look back at previous recordings. A free account provides this functionality in the Nest app, but there are some limitations. First, you’ll only see snapshots of activity, such as when movement was detected. You’ll also only have access to the last five days of recordings.
You’ll have to pony up for a Nest Aware subscription if you want 24/7 recording, 30-day cloud storage, and other advanced features like activity zones. This isn’t exactly cheap, as the most feature-heavy plan costs $300 a year, though there are cheaper options that cost as little as $50 a year. Thankfully, you get a 30-day trial so you can test out the service and decide if the extras are worth it.
The Nest cam features of the Google Nest Hub Max are pretty impressive, though obviously there are some extra features you’ll be missing out on if you opt for this over a more expensive standalone security camera. The image quality and sound also aren’t quite as good as we’ve seen on some traditional security cameras, but it’s pretty close.
Security cameras tend to cost anywhere from $50 for a budget option to several hundred dollars, making the Hub Max’s $229 price a pretty great value considering you get a security camera and smart display in one seamless package.
The perfect hub for entertainment and information
For most of this review, we focused on what’s new or improved over other Google Assistant smart displays. The Hub Max introduces several improvements, but a lot of the core functionality remains the same. That’s a good thing.
Like other smart displays, the Google Nest Hub Max can do almost everything a smart speaker can do, including setting alarms, reminders, asking about the weather and news, or even streaming music. The addition of visual cues make all these features even better.
The Google Nest Hub Max is the perfect hub for your digital life.
For example, listening to your favorite song on Spotify provides lyrics and other factoids. Asking about weather brings up a nice infographic with a breakdown of upcoming hours. It event presents tabs on the bottom suggesting follow-up questions like “what about tomorrow” or “when will it start raining.”
All the third-party services that you’ll find on a smart speaker work here too, but you get a few new additions such as video services like YouTube, YouTube TV, Facebook Video, Google Play Movies & TV, HBO Go/Now, Hulu, PlayStation Vue, and Vimeo. On a sour note, the Google Nest Hub Max does not work with Netflix.
The Hub Max also makes it easy to control your smart home via the Home View feature. A swipe down on the display quickly brings up the Home View menu, letting you easily control lights and other smart devices. You can even ask it to play content on smart TVs and other compatible devices.
If you love to cook you’ll also find the Google Nest Hub Max makes for a wonderful kitchen companion. You can ask the Hub Max for specific recipes or even browse from different categories. It’s more than just a virtual cookbook though, as the Hub Max will take you through every step and you can ask it to go back, repeat, or skip ahead on instructions if your hands are too occupied to interact with the touch display.
The Hub Max also makes it easy to control your smart home.
The Hub Max doubles as a digital photo frame. You can specify what you want the display to focus on showing, such as recent trips or just pictures of friends and family. Once you’ve set up this feature, it will automatically pull in and update photos from your Google Photos library.
Bottom line, the Hub Max adds several features you can’t find on a smart speaker. Plus, having a touch display means you don’t need to shout at your smart display nearly as much as you do with the Google Home.
Google Nest Hub Max: Verdict
At $229 the Google Nest Hub Max isn’t the cheapest smart display, but it is the best. You get great sound, a large display, and plenty of features you won’t find with the competition. If you don’t care about the Nest Cam features or video calling, save some money and go for the Google Nest Hub (formerly the Home Hub).
Honestly, it’s really hard to recommend the rest of the competition. At least until the next generation of third-party smart displays arrive or the existing options receive serious discounts.
That’s it for our Google Nest Hub Max review. What do you think about Google’s latest smart display? Let us know in the comments section!