Google's biggest smart display is a perfect household companion for casual music listening, kitchen recipes, and Google Assistant smart home control

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  • Google Assistant is an incredibly powerful smart home platform, but if you've only ever used it on a speaker, you may not be getting the most out of it.
  • A smart display solves that, allowing users to take advantage of the visual aspects of Google Assistant, while easily controlling smart home devices and more.
  • The Nest Hub Max may be a little pricey at $229.99, but if you want a big-screen Google Assistant experience in this price range, it's the way to go.
  • Design, display, and setup
  • Specifications 
  • Day-to-day use
  • Sound quality
  • The bottom line

Smart speakers are now common, with millions of people owning and using the Amazon Echo series, Google Home series, and the Apple HomePod, not to mention the many third-party options out there. But while smart speakers, like the Google Nest Mini, are useful, their lack of a display makes them a little limited compared to smartphones.

That, however, is where a smart display comes in, offering a way to get the full digital assistant experience without having to rely on your phone.

One of the more recent smart displays is the Google Nest Hub Max, which offers a relatively large display, a friendly design, and the ultra-smart Google Assistant built right into it. But at $229.99, it's not the cheapest smart display out there. Is it worth the cash? I've been testing the Google Nest Hub Max to find out.

Design, display, and setup

The Google Nest Hub Max is built to live predominantly in your home, and as such it's relatively important that it looks at least approachable, if not stylish. Thankfully, it achieves that. 

The device looks somewhat like a mix between the Google Home speaker and a tablet. On the front, you'll get the 10-inch display with half-inch bezels around it and a camera above it, along with a few sensors and holes for microphones. On the back, there's a switch to turn off the camera and microphone, along with a volume rocker — though you can also use your voice to control volume. 

The entire base of the device is covered in a textile similar to that on the Google Nest Mini, and it's part of what helps make the device more approachable and homely. Inside the base, you'll get the speakers and woofer, with the device offering two 18mm tweeters, and a 75mm woofer. Safe to say, while the speaker isn't as impressive as the Google Home Max, its on paper specifications promise excellent audio quality — but we'll get into that later. The device is available in Chalk and Charcoal colors.

As a whole, the device isn't as subtle as smaller smart speakers, like the Nest Mini or the Echo Dot, and it will definitely draw attention to itself on a table, nightstand, or wherever else you place it. It stands around 7.2 inches tall, 9.85 inches wide, and almost 4 inches deep. That said, its usefulness will make its size worth it for many, and if you like the idea of a larger display for watching videos, it's really the perfect size.

Setting up the Google Nest Hub Max is very simple, especially if you already use the Google Home app. To set the Nest Hub Max up, simply plug it into a power outlet, download the Google Home app, tap on "Set up Nest Hub Max," and follow the on-screen instructions.

You'll configure different aspects of the device separately  — like security camera functionality and Google Assistant — but it's all included in the setup process. After setup, you'll be treated to a video explaining how to use the Nest Hub Max, which is especially handy for those who haven't used a Google smart display before.

Christian de Looper/Business Insider

Specifications 

  • Display: 10-inch HD touchscreen with ambient EQ light sensor
  • Speakers: two 18mm 10W tweeters, one 75mm 30W woofer
  • Camera: 6.5MP front-facing camera
  • Microphones: two far-field microphones on front
  • Voice control: Google Assistant built-in
  • Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.0, Wi-Fi, Chromecast built-in
  • Dimensions: 9.85 x 3.99 x 7.19 inches

Day-to-day use

In day-to-day use, the Google Nest Hub Max can be extremely helpful. Most of the functionality that you'll get out of the device is still tied to Google Assistant, but the added visual aspects of that functionality really helps make it more useful than a regular smart speaker. This is true both in basic and more complex tasks. For example, if you set a timer through Google Assistant, you'll be able to see that timer count down, instead of just trusting that the timer is still going. 

Of course, the display isn't just to augment what you could already do with Assistant — it adds some more features, too. If you use your speaker in the kitchen, for example, you can ask Google Assistant to play recipe tutorials on YouTube. And, you can use the device to see the status of, and control, your other compatible smart home devices.

This smart home integration will be a major selling point for many buyers. As a Google Assistant device, the Nest Hub Max supports all the Google-compatible smart home devices you would expect. I personally have a number of smart home products connected to Google Assistant, including Philips Hue bulbs, a Nest thermostat, and a few different smart switches scattered around the house.

One thing that I like about the display is the fact that it makes it easy to control these devices by tapping instead of speaking. You can swipe down from the top of the display to get a quick view of your smart home ecosystem, and devices in the same room as the display will get quick toggles that you can tap to control in a matter of seconds. During testing, my devices responded immediately when triggered by Google Assistant. 

In general, the user interface is very easy to operate. As mentioned, swipe down from the top to access smart home controls, tap on the display to explore specific elements, and swipe up from the bottom to access settings. And, of course, say the keywords "Hey Google" or "Okay Google" to trigger the Google Assistant. Using Google Assistant is how you'll get the most out of the Hub Max.

The Nest Hub Max also ties into your smart home security system, if you want it to. You can use the camera built into the device both for video calls and as a security camera. The camera is relatively high quality, but it doesn't have night vision, and it doesn't have as wide of an angle lens as other security cameras. Safe to say, security functionality is secondary, and more of an added bonus than a primary selling point.

The camera is also used for gesture controls, which is an interesting touch — and helpful if your hands are dirty while you're cooking, for example. You can pause and resume videos by looking at the camera and holding up your hand. It works pretty well, but you have to get used to holding up your hand just the right way so the camera can see it. There have been more than a few times when I didn't hold my hand up high enough to trigger the feature. 

Christian de Looper/Business Insider

Sound quality

The Google Nest Hub Max has three speaker drivers built into it, including two tweeters and one woofer. The end result, thankfully, is pretty good audio performance. With that said, the speaker still isn't necessarily for audiophiles. If you plan on mostly using the device to listen to music, it may be worth buying a more traditional smart speaker, like the Sonos One.

Listening to music on the Hub Max is still a relatively enjoyable experience, however, and the device is more than powerful enough for watching videos, video chatting, and interacting with the Google Assistant. 

The bass response on the speaker is actually quite good. You'll get kick drums that can nicely punch through a mix, along with smooth low frequencies. The mid-range is also solid, offering a lot of warmth in the low-mids, which is nice. 

On the downside, the high frequencies are perhaps the worst aspect of this speaker. There's some clarity and the high response isn't terrible, but you just don't get the high-end extension or the detail that you'd get from dedicated speakers in this price range.

Overall, the Nest Hub Max works fine for casual music listening but, again, standalone speakers will be a better fit for buyers with more demanding audio performance needs. 

The bottom line

The Google Nest Hub Max is a strong way to get more from your digital assistant in a versatile, easy to use device. It's not perfect — thanks to the slight lack of high-end audio clarity and the relatively high price — but if you have the cash to spend and want the best Google Assistant smart display in this price range, this is the way to go. 

What are your alternatives?

If you want better audio quality and don't mind getting a slightly smaller screen, it may be worth going for the JBL Link View instead. This smart display is usually $299.95, but it's actually on sale right now at B&H for just $199.95. Alternatively, if you really want to save money, then you can opt for the standard Nest Hub which costs $89.00. This model still offers good Google Assistant performance, but it doesn't include a camera, the display is just 7 inches, and the audio quality isn't as good as the Hub Max.

Meanwhile, for buyers who prefer to use Amazon's Alexa digital assistant and ecosystem, there's also the Echo Show to consider. If your priority is simply on getting more from Google Assistant with a nice-size display, however, then you should go for the Nest Hub Max. 

Pros: Easy to use and set up, well-designed, can get loud, versatile camera features, strong Google Assistant performance

Cons: Somewhat expensive, audio quality could be better

 

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