Last year’s Nest Hub (formerly Home Hub) from Google is one of my most favorite smart home devices for one simple reason: it’s the best digital picture frame I’ve ever seen and makes it incredibly easy and enjoyable to see the thousands of photos I’ve taken of my kids that are trapped on my phone or in the cloud. The Nest Hub is also a convenient smart home controller and a surprisingly useful smart alarm clock.
But the small Hub isn’t great for everything: the 7-inch screen is too small to really enjoy watching video on for any extended length of time and its speaker isn’t very powerful for listening to music.
So, Google made a bigger Nest Hub. The $229 Nest Hub Max is a lot like the Nest Hub, just bigger. It has a 10-inch display, more powerful speakers, and something the smaller version lacks entirely: a camera. Everything else about it is the same, from its two far-field microphones to its modern, fabric-wrapped design, to its remarkable ability to automatically adjust the screen to the lighting in your home so your photos look more like they are printed on paper than displayed on a screen.
If the Nest Hub was designed to be able to go anywhere in your home, including the bedroom, the Hub Max is meant to go in main living areas, like the kitchen or living room. In fact, after living with the Hub Max in my home for the better part of the past week, I think the kitchen is really the most practical place to use it.
A bigger, louder Nest Hub with more features and capabilities seems like it’d be a slam dunk. But the Hub Max’s bigger size and higher price tag mean it has more to live up to, and even though it’s still an excellent picture frame and competent smart display, it’s not quite as endearing as its smaller sibling.
- Beautiful screen for displaying photos
- Camera can be used for both video calling and home security purposes
- Extensive smart home controls
- Personalized information based on who’s looking at the screen
- Sound quality doesn’t match Amazon’s Echo Show
- Can’t play Netflix
- No physical shutter for the camera
- Home screen could be better utilized to display more information
- Doesn’t support G Suite accounts or shared calendars
The Nest Hub Max is quite literally just a bigger Nest Hub. It has the same shape and proportions as the smaller model, just expanded. The 10-inch display is mounted on a base that houses the speakers, which gives the screen a bit of a floating appearance. The Hub Max is a little taller than Amazon’s competing 2nd-gen Echo Show, but both devices take up about the same amount of space on your counter. It’s fine for a kitchen counter or even a mantle in a living room, but it’s likely too big to comfortably fit on a nightstand or other small spaces.
The Hub Max’s greater size and weight do make it a bit more stable than the Hub when I touch the screen (it doesn’t wobble nearly as much). Google is only selling the Hub Max in two colors, a dark grey or a lighter grey, instead of the multiple color options the standard Hub offers.
The Hub Max has the same controls and layout as the smaller model: volume buttons on the right side behind the screen, and a mute toggle switch to disable the two far-field microphones and camera in the bezel surrounding the display. If you want to disable the camera but maintain the always-listening mics, you can configure that in the Hub Max’s settings. Unfortunately, there isn’t a physical shutter to block the camera’s view, though Google says the hardware switch on the back physically disconnects the mic and camera so it can’t be spoofed. Next to the camera is a green light that will illuminate whenever the camera is being used or shine orange when the camera is disabled.
It also has the same ambient lighting sensor that automatically adjusts the screen to make your photos look as good as they can be in whatever lighting you have in your home. The Hub Max is just as pleasant to look at as the Nest Hub and thanks to the excellent Google Photos integration, it’s just as great of a digital photo frame.
The bigger Hub Max is also much louder and better sounding than the smaller version. It can fill a room with music and gets loud enough to overpower the sound of a running faucet while I’m doing dishes. But compared to the Echo Show, the Hub Max doesn’t sound nearly as full or powerful. If you’re looking at the Hub Max with the intention of using it mostly for listening to music, the Echo Show is a better device.
You can also record video messages from your phone or the Hub Max to display on the Hub or in the Duo app on the recipient’s phone. I didn’t find much occasion to use this feature in my testing, but I could see it being useful when traveling in a different time zone and I want to send my kids a good night message. This feature works with Face Match so the Hub Max will only display messages to who they are addressed to.
With other smart displays, I’ve never found their cameras to be very useful, because the video calling experience wasn’t that great and there was nothing else I could really do with the camera. I typically disable or block the cameras on them with tape, just so I don’t have to worry about it. But with the Hub Max I’m inclined to leave the camera on because it’s useful for so many other things aside from video calling. I just won’t be putting it in my bedroom.
Unfortunately, Google hasn’t really improved the recipe function. Recipes are limited to what you can search for with your voice and if you’re looking for something specific, chances are the Hub Max won’t be able to find it. I think the kitchen is the best place for the Hub Max, since it can provide entertainment, timers, and unit conversions to help while cooking or doing the dishes — but it’s still not great for recipes.
And then there are the perennial complaints with Google’s Home devices that have yet to be addressed: you have to say “OK Google” or “Hey Google” every time you want to control the Hub Max by voice and you can’t access anything through it that’s in a G Suite account. I can’t even get the Hub Max to show me appointments in my shared Family calendar, even though that’s set up through a standard Google account.