Google's Nest Audio shows we've hit peak smart speaker

Like Amazon's new Echo devices, Google's latest speaker is a forgettable, incremental, update devoid of must-have features.

The original Google Home was iconic. The Mini versions were less so, but they included the same Google Assistant smarts, and made it really cost-effective to distribute them around your house or apartment.

Adding a display made for a useful kitchen device, but not much else. Changing the name to "Nest" brought continuity... and there Google's smart speaker innovation stalled.

But it's not alone. No one else is doing anything interesting in the space either. Amazon phoned it in with its own Echo updates last week, Samsung's cauldron-like Galaxy Home has failed to materialize entirely, and Apple's HomePod, despite its incredible sound, has not lit the world on fire.

Today, alongside a new Chromecast with a remote control and the new Google TV interface, and updated Pixel smartphones, Google unveiled the Next Audio smart speaker, the 2020 update of the original Google Home. Resembling a pill perched on one end and covered in a sweater, and available in five colorways, it promises... much of the same, really.

It's safe to say we've hit peak smart speaker.

No compelling reason to upgrade — If you've got existing Google Home speakers there's no reason to upgrade. If you don't, you have to decide whether your money is best spent on the $99 Nest Audio (you'll need a pair for true stereo, and you'll get an incentivizing $20 discount if you do buy two at once), or whether you should buy another brand of speaker that includes Google Home support.

The Nest Audio isn't portable like an Ultimate Ears speaker. It's not as luxurious as a Sonos. And it's not as interesting looking as its predecessor. It promises higher volume and more potent bass than its progenitor, but the basics remain unchanged. It'll answer your trivia queries, set times, or help you control your smart home... just like every other Nest (née Google Home) device.

Same as it ever was — We don't hate the Nest Audio's aesthetic — it's the natural progression and evolution given the design decisions that have been made with each device since the original Google Home was introduced in November 2016 — it's just hard to get excited about.

The Nest Audio looks like the original Google Home Max (albeit, on its short end rather than its long one) and, thanks to software updates over the years, it doesn't do anything four-year-old Google smart speakers can't in terms of functionality.

Who is the Nest Audio for? Smart speakers are like appliances not smartphones. They don't need regular upgrading. So, presumably, the Nest Audio is for newcomers, or for those looking to give friends or family a smart speaker that will also sound decent. That's perfectly reasonable. It's just not exciting.