The Google Home Hub is a bit of a hardware outlier. Is it a tablet? A smart speaker? An unnecessarily flashy Home Mini? It definitely requires a little hands-on time with the device to sort all of these questions out. So we decided to spend a week test-driving the smart device in every room of the house.

Start with the pros: The Home Hub is definitely sleek compared to its competition; it’s as if Google made a picture frame that can hold a conversation. The Amazon Echo Show looks a bit too much like an intercom for my tastes, and the and the Facebook Portal looks like an elongated iPad. The Home Hub blended into the four different rooms I placed it in my three-bedroom Brooklyn apartment without ostentatiously announcing: “This is a smart home.”

On the other hand, if you haven’t yet fully embraced the smart home revolution, then you may find yourself going out of your way to look for excuses to actually use it. This shouldn’t really come as a surprise, after all the company positioned it as the brains to your smart home. But this also limits the pool of buyers capable of making the most of the device. Like cheese grater and air conditioning, one can live without the Google Home Hub, but life is better with it.

google home hub specs
What to expect when you unbox the Home Hub.
  • Product: Google Home Hub
  • Price: $149
  • Perfect for: Smart home aficionados who want easy control over all of their IoT devices.

Friday

For an emerging tech in particular, the Home Hub comes with the briefest instruction manual I’ve ever seen: download the Google Home app and plug it in. To start, I hooked it up in the living room next to my TV.

While set-up was a breeze, actually connecting it to your other smart home devices proved to be a bit more complicated, particularly with shared devices (like my roommate’s bluetooth speakers). This immediately made me realize that 1. it’s not the greatest home device to use with roommates.

To be fair, syncing my Hive Home lightbulbs was pretty straightforward, but my roommates and I were unable to pair it with our Google Home Mini, which was disappointing. Every time we would prompt it with “Hey Google” both our Home Mini and Home Hub would respond, resulting in a slightly unsettling chorus. This is supposedly a bug that has been fixed, though.

google home hub smart home
The Google Home Hub in all of its glory.

Saturday

I relocated the Hub into my bathroom, where I decided to test its capabilities as a speaker. For simply playing music, 2. the Home Hub slaps, though using it only a speaker seems like kind of a waste of its potential.

The Google Hub’s 80-decibel speakers are a marked improvement over your phone’s, more than powerful enough to turn my small, windowless bathroom into a concert hall. I soon received a text from my roommate to “turn it tf down.” I obliged. I also learned the bathroom isn’t an ideal location for Home Hub, because it doesn’t make the best use of the screen.

google home hub
You can swipe up from the bottom to adjust  its volume and brightness or just ask the Google Assistant. 

Sunday

The kitchen is actually the best venue Home Hub’s potential. Indeed, the Google Home Hub may be the best tech sous chef around. Normally, I bring my laptop into the kitchen to guide me through recipes which results in a disgusting keyboard. 3. The Home Hub, by contrast, offers truly hands-free recipe assistance.

I asked Home Hub to help me make Sriracha-Glazed Meatballs and it summoned a recipe.The device displayed the recipe with easy-to-follow steps.

google home hub
Now that's a spicy meatball!

It wasn’t perfect. For example, getting the voice assistant to bounce around to different parts of the recipe felt repetitive. Instead of just being able to say “Next,” I had to say “Hey Google” ten different times, even with “continued conversation” activated.

Mild annoyance aside, the Home Hub distilled the cooking instructions into clearly presented bullet points that I could maneuver using voice commands. This kept me from having to scroll through random websites, or soil my laptop. The meatballs were delicious.

Monday

Finally, I moved the smart tablet to my bedroom where it found its permanent home. Indeed, when you’re not using it, 4. The Home Hub is maybe best used as a smart picture frame.

Maybe it’s just that I’m a bit lazy and don’t cook every day, but it was hard to see how I’d make use of the Home Hub more than a couple times a week.

google home hub
A photo of a frozen waterfall I took when I visited upstate New York a few years ago.

Tuesday

Using Home Hub as a picture frame turned out to be more enjoyable than I thought, but 5. Using it to wake up in the morning was by far what I found most useful.

With the Google Assistant’s “Routines” I had the Home Hub set off an alarm and turn on all of my bedroom lights in the morning. This helped me counteract my habit of snoozing my smartphone into oblivion. I was still groggy, but at least I didn’t have to set five alarms to ensure I woke up on time for work. This also seemed like I was finally starting to see the Hub’s potential to sync multiple devices and commands and smooth out various routines.

google home hub
Google got my ass up in the morning.

Wednesday

While I had my doubts about its usefulness, putting the hub to work in the kitchen and bedroom use cases redeemed it in my eyes. But this also highlighted one of the device’s biggest weaknesses 6. It’s a stationary device that wants to be mobile.

The Home Hub needs to be connected to an outlet for power. That means when I wanted to cook, I needed to shut it down, move it into my kitchen, and wait for it to connect to my wifi again. Not exactly how I envision the final form of a “smart house,” though, obviously, a decent incentive to acquire more and more smart devices. A battery-powered Home Hub — even if it required frequent charging — would be a welcome upgrade.

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Photos via Google, Danny Paez