Ever since I set up a review device in Google's new Home Hub smart display, I've usually found myself often…
Ever since I set up a review device in Google’s new Home Hub smart display, I’ve usually found myself often in our kitchen. And I’m not alone. On the very first day, my wife repositioned it over, so she could see it better while she did some kitchen work. The next morning, our younger daughter checked home immediately after getting out of bed. And her older sister has since begun eating their snacks in front of it.
For the few days that Google’s new smart screen has been in our house, it has become a hit – but not because of some of the smart features. What has fascinated us, instead, is what the device shows when nobody interacts with it: an endless stream of family photos, retrieved from my Google photo library using a certain artificial intelligence power.
Hemhubben is the first smart screen made by Google. It combines a 7-inch display with speaker and remote-field microphones for voice control, and is sold at $ 1
49 on Monday. Depending on how you look at it, the device is either a development of Google’s Home Smart Speaker Line or the company’s response to Amazon’s Echo Show. However, it is definitely worth paying close attention to all media and smart home integrations that define the product and distinguish it from competition.
But the truth is that Home Hub’s biggest selling point is really the photo integration. It’s not lost in Google’s team, with Google’s homepage VP Rishi Chandra tells me during a new interview that the company believes it’s one of its killer features. “Photos transform what these devices can be,” he said.
Photos are also a great example of some of the benefits that the home field has in Google. For a long time, the company has offered consumers unlimited storage space for high-resolution copies of their digital photos and has used artificial intelligence to give a greater sense of the countless snapshots we all take with our phones every day.
It’s easy to pay by home: During installation, I was able to choose faces from friends and family members to include in an imagery with surrounding mode that appears when you’re not interacting with the device. This step in the installation took maybe one minute – and the hub has shown family photos, including some of our children when they were children since then. In addition, Google automatically selects the best images and removes some of the shaky images you do not really want to watch.
The Home Hub not only displays these images vibrating but actually uses an RGB sensor to measure the colors and light intensity of the room in which it is placed and adjust its output accordingly. It is especially useful when the display is placed in a bedroom, where it dims when you only have the reading lights on and switches to a low light when the lights are out. I have to say that I found the night bell a bit too dark to be useful, but appreciated the screen’s ability to mix more naturally with its environment throughout the day.
Of course, it would be unfair to just describe the homecoming as a photo frame. The device is a full-fledged smart speaker in itself, which can do quite a bit what the company’s home speakers can, with the added benefit of a visual display. You can ask for weather, podcast, news, timers, alarms and manage your shopping list with it. You can check your calendar, get updates about your commute and play goofy voice games. Smart routines help combine these tasks, such as checking your calendar, informing you about your commute and launching your morning news information with a simple “Hello Google, Good morning!”
Ask your homecoming for recipes and Google Assistant will break it down step by step to accompany you while cooking. And you can use it with music services like YouTube Music, Google Play Music, or Spotify to play songs on request or start playlists and radio stations. The device also integrates directly with YouTube – something that Amazon’s Echo Show only does with a working life – as well as a handful of other media services, including CBS, HBO Now, Starz and Viki.
In addition, the Home Hub is linked directly to Google’s Chromecast ecosystem. That means you can play audio and video from countless apps directly to the device just as you might have a Chromecast-equipped TV. For example, Plex worked without hitch and included Plex’s contextual information as shown while browsing your library. Casting also worked from most other apps, with a remarkable exception: Netflix does not allow casting to home even. “We are discussing with Netflix, but I have no timeframe” when it will change, a Google spokesman said.
Considering Chromecast: Home Hub also works as remote for other cast-enabled devices. You can tell you to start YouTube videos and other types of media on Chromecast-equipped televisions, or start playing music on any other Google Home speaker or Chromecast audio speaker in your home. And yes, that feature also works with Netflix.
Another strength of the Home Hub is the smart home controller, which is integrated into a special dashboard that the company calls “Home View”. Turn down from the top of the screen, and you’ll have easy access to media playback controls and a breakdown of all smart devices in your house. It is especially useful if you have smart locks, security cameras or a smart thermostat. I have to admit that I am a smart home Luddite, with the exception of a lot of smart speakers and other media players as well as some smart plugs – but I still found this quick idea quite useful.
It is worth noting that Google decided not to add a camera to home. That means you will not be able to do any two-way video clips with the device, but you do not ever have to worry about capturing you on the camera in a moment that you would rather have kept private – especially useful for a device that you may want to put in your bedroom. “We think of it as a function,” Chandra said about the decision to skip the camera. “There are plenty of people who are not comfortable with a camera.”
There are still some inconsistencies in how some of these data are displayed. For example, the Google Home app on my phone allows me to change the volume of a Chromecast device in my home with a nice circle box. Hemnavet lists all the same devices and allows me to pause media playback on my TV, but does not change the volume easily. A Google spokesman said the company planned to support this feature in the near future.
Incredibly, Home View is also not good at controlling sounds in multiple rooms. Speaker groups, for example, do not appear by default. Not yet, anyway. “It’s our full intention to get better at showing you what’s happening at home,” said the spokesman.
Talking about media playback: The Home Hub speaker sound is decent and works definitely for podcasts and some relaxed music sound. It will not replace your home theater anytime soon, and it’s also especially less powerful and basic than the original Google Home. Chandra confirmed this during the conversation and said: “It’s designed to be better than the Google Home Mini, not Google Home.”
Google spent quite a lot of time designing home business experience dealing with user cases, not apps. “We did not take a tablet and voice enabled it,” said Chandra. The device’s post-app approach generally works very well – but it can be confusing when its computational heritage shines through.
An example: Hemnavet does not have a browser rapper. But searching for a picture often leads to results that then link to third party websites like Wikipedia. Follow that link and you can browse pretty much the entire online encyclopaedia – with a remarkable exception: Home Hub does not offer any keyboard on screen, and there is no option to dictate text input. That means you will not be able to search for something.
The idea of steering people away from dull browsing and a more guided voice experience is meaningful. But with a full-fledged browser that just fools under the hood it’s still frustrating that you can not sometimes use it.
The back part of this is that Google has been extremely caring about combining touch and voice with the home Nav. Voice is good for remote control, but chances are you’ll be close if you’re looking for visual feedback. Home Hub encourages very much contact with the help of sweeping, vintage and multi-touch.
At the same time, it is easy to switch back and forth between touch and voice. For example, you can ask for recipes with a voice command, swipe through the list of results to select one, read it to you, ask Google Home to repeat one step, sweep on to the next instruction, and so on. “We want these experiences to be multimodal, intermodal,” says Ben Brown, Google Home & Nest Product Management.
This also applies to the home function’s photo function. You can access the slideshow at any time with a swipe from the left of the screen. Missed a photo? Go back to it with a sweep. Want to see next? Another sweep. Want to know more about the photo, including where and when it was taken? Just ask. You can also ask Google to show photos from your latest summer vacation, last weekend, photos that show you a particular person, an animal or a thing.
Or you can only do what my family does, let the homecoming do its thing, and enjoy the endless stream of memories.