The Home and Nest series of products is Google’s entry into the digital voice assistant market and is a direct competitor to the Amazon Echo. Like the Echo, they a built in speaker and microphone and connect via WiFi. You can use the Google Home as a speaker for your streaming music and it takes advantage of the Google Assistant to answer questions that you ask. The Nest Hub and Nest Hub Max are video-based voice assistants.
The Google Home and Nest Hub devices may be a good fit as the hub of your home automation system if you are already heavily invested in the Google ecosystem or if you own an Android phone. While they are basically voice assistants and media speakers, they do connect to a wide range of home automation products through software linkages.
We don’t consider the Google Home devices to be true smart home hubs since they only rely on Wi-Fi and don’t include other home automation protocols like Z-Wave or Zigbee. This is a problem for some people, but others may not even notice.
What We Like:
- Connects to a wide range of home automation products
- Includes built-in voice control
- You can use voice commands to control both smart home and home entertainment
- The app’s graphic interface is nice looking and easy to use
- Missing Z-Wave and Zigbee radios for wider compatibility
- Privacy concerns about tracking on the Google network
- No built-in vacation mode
- Lack of geo-fencing capability
- True multi-user support is not included even though multiple voices can be recognized
Before You Buy:
- Be sure you are comfortable with Google’s privacy and data collection policies.
- Confirm that you don’t need Z-Wave or Zigbee.
Google Home Descriptions
The Google Home comes in three variations — the Home Mini, Home, and Home Max — all of which include a built-in Google Assistant for voice control of various smart home products and streaming entertainment.
Unfortunately, none of the devices includes either Z-Wave or Zigbee radios, which are the common home automation protocols. While the lack of these protocols limits your options for components like cameras, sensors, and light switches, many popular smart home manufacturers have incorporated software connectivity to the Google Assistant.
All three options come with a power cable and quick start guide.
Google Home Mini
The Mini version of the Google Home measures just under 4″ in diameter and is 1.65″ tall. The puck-like device is available in three colors: Chalk, Charcoal, and Coral. The solid plastic base has silicone feet and a pleasing fabric top.
Four small lights below the fabric provide feedback about the device status. During general use, four white lights indicate that it heard you say, “OK, Google” and is waiting for your next command. Running white lights mean the Assistant is “thinking,” while four orange lights mean that the microphone has been switched off. The support website provides more information on the other LED light states.
You can adjust the speaker volume by tapping either side of the fabric top. Tapping will also stop alerts and a long press will pause your music or end a call. There is a mechanical switch on the side of the unit that turns the microphone off so that you know it isn’t listening for commands. A Micro USB port on the side of the device provides connectivity to the power supply.
The Home Mini has a single 40mm (1.5″) diameter speaker. This works well for listening to the digital assistant’s voice responses, but won’t provide a great listening experience for music or other entertainment.
The standard version of the Google Home has a unique shape — it is similar to a tear drop. The device stands 5.62″ tall and is just over 3.75″ in diameter. It has a gray fabric base and a white plastic top, but you can also separately purchase bases in three other colors.
The slightly sloped plastic top serves as the communication and control center of the unit. There are 10 multi-colored LED lights that form a circle in the center of the top. These provide feedback on the device status. A multi-colored spinning effect lets you know that the Home is listening to you or thinking about your command. Four static orange lights indicate that the microphone has been turned off. Here is a full list of LED feedback states.
As with the Mini, you can physically control the Home by touching the top. Swiping in a circle adjusts the volume, while simple taps will stop alarms and other playback. Long-pressing the top engages the Google Assistant, similar to saying “OK, Google.”
A button on the back of the Home turns the microphone on or off to help maintain your privacy. The back also has a DC port for connecting the power cable. A small LED light indicates the power is connected. Finally, there is a small Google “G” logo on the back.
The Home includes a 2″ diameter active speaker that does a majority of the work, while two 2″ passive cones add depth to the sound quality. While it is not considered a high-end speaker by any means, the Home does serve as a reasonable speaker for streaming music in small rooms — it is on par with other portable Bluetooth speakers.
Google Home Max
The Max is the high-end Google Home device meant to provide room-filling sound that is very high quality. It is quite expensive (around $400) and competes with Apple’s HomePod and Sonos speakers.
Good sound quality requires a large enclosure and the Home Max is no different. The unit measures 13.2″ wide by 7.4″ tall and 6″ deep; although, it can be mounted vertically like a more traditional speaker. The Max weighs in at a hefty 11.7 pounds. You should make sure you have space on a table or shelf for this large device.
The speakers are housed in a polycarbonate shell that has an acoustically transparent fabric front. There are two color options available: Chalk (a white plastic and light gray fabric combo) and Charcoal (dark gray shell and fabric). The device also comes with a light gray silicone base that attaches magnetically so you can mount the unit horizontally or vertically.
Just like the Mini, there are four LED lights behind the fabric that provide feedback and device status. Tapping the top of the plastic enclosure pauses music or alarms, while sliding across the top adjusts the volume.
The back of the unit has a mechanical switch to disable the microphone for privacy. There are also three ports: power, USB-C, and a 3.5mm audio jack. Finally, the back has a small Google “G” logo.
The only reason to buy the Google Home Max instead of the Home or the Mini is for the sound quality. The unit includes two 4.5″ high-quality woofers plus two 0.7″ tweeters. The speaker housing is rigid and sealed to maintain the sound quality at high volumes. Finally, the Home Max includes a chip based Smart Sound feature that automatically adjusts the settings to match the acoustics of your room. Therefore, you always have the best equalizer settings even if you move it to a different location.
Compare Google Home Models
|Home Mini||Home||Home Max|
|Size:||3.86″ dia x 1.65″ tall||3.79″ dia x 5.62″ tall||13.2″ x 7.4″ x 6″|
2″ dia active
2 x 2″ dia passive
2 x 4.5″ woofers
2 x 0.7″ tweeters
|Ports:||Power||Power||Power, USB-C, 3.5mm Audio|
|Protocols:||Wi-Fi, Bluetooth||Wi-Fi||Wi-Fi, Bluetooth|
Google Nest Hub Descriptions
Google rebranded their video-based hubs in 2019 to move them under the Nest name. There are two versions, the Nest Hub and the Nest Hub Max.
Sadly, we don’t consider them to be true smart home hubs because neither of them include a Z-Wave or Zigbee radio to communicate with other smart home accessories. The Nest Hub and Nest Hub Max can work with many smart home accessories through software pairing, but power users would rather see a smart home protocol included in their main hub.
The centerpiece of the Nest Hubs is the display, which provides a visual dashboard for your home entertainment and home automation systems. You can easily control any smart home accessory from the dashboard. Adjust lights, change the temperature, and review quality images from security cameras.
Google Nest Hub
The Nest Hub is a display-based voice assistant that includes a 7″ touch screen for providing information at your fingertips. The device stands at 4.65″ tall, a bit more than 7″ wide, and 2.65″ deep. The screen is slightly angled and sits atop a fabric base that houses a speaker. The front of the screen includes two microphones and an ambient light sensor that adjusts the screen brightness as light levels change in your room. The unit comes in four different colors: Chalk, Charcoal, Sand, and Aqua.
The back of the Nest Hub includes a microphone switch for privacy, a toggle button for volume, the power port, and the Google “G” logo.
Google has chosen to focus the Hub on the touch screen instead of on sound quality. The screen provides a wide variety of information based on your voice requests. You can receive traffic reports, download recipes, check the weather, and watch YouTube videos.
Google Nest Hub Max
The Nest Hub Max is an upgraded version of the Hub. The Hub Max has a 10″ screen, a camera for video chatting, and better speakers that improve the audio experience of the device.
Compared the the Nest Hub, the Nest Hub Max is quite a bit larger. It is 7.19″ tall, 9.85″ wide, and 4″ deep. Just above the 10″ HD display sits a 6.5MP camera for video chatting. Another improvement in the Max is the sound quality since it has 2 tweeters and a 2.95″ woofer for wider range. The unit is available in Chalk and Charcoal colors.
The back of the Hub Max is similar to the Hub in that it includes a fabric cover over the speakers, a microphone and camera switch for privacy, and a power port for the included cable.
Compare Google Nest Hub Models
|Nest Hub||Nest Hub max|
|Size:||7.02″ W x 4.65″ H x 2.65″ D||9.85″ W x 7.19″ H x 3.99″ D|
|Speakers:||1 speaker||Two 0.71″ tweeters and one 2.95″ woofer|
|Protocols:||Wi-Fi, Bluetooth||Wi-Fi, Bluetooth|
|Screen:||7″ diagonal||10″ diagonal (HD 1280×800)|
We have covered the audio and video features earlier in this article so now we are going to focus on the Smart Home related features since that is what you are really here to learn about.
Unfortunately, the Google Home devices fall a bit short when it comes to home automation for more advanced setups. However, they can be perfectly capable smart home hubs depending on what you want to accomplish.
|Protocols||Wi-Fi, Bluetooth (Mini, Max, and Hub)|
|Multi-User||No, but it can recognize multiple voices|
|Voice Control||Yes, built-in Google Assistant|
|Local Control||No, except with some hubs that include it|
|Geo-Fencing||No, unless a connected device includes it|
|Vacation Mode||No, unless a connected device includes it|
Radios / Protocols
All the Google Home and both Nest products include Wi-Fi as the main communications protocol. You will use it to set up the device and for continuous connection to the internet, which is required for the Google Assistant to function.
The Home Mini, Home Max, Nest Hub, and Nest Hub Max versions also include Bluetooth, which is helpful for set up and can also be used for close-range streaming.
Home automation protocols are where the Google Home and Nest Hub devices fall short. None of the options include either a Zigbee or Z-Wave radio. These are the two most common protocols for home automation. Excluding them means you will have a narrower range of options for additional peripherals like sensors. Fortunately, many smart home manufacturers have incorporated Google Assistant compatibility for voice control so you can connect to a lot of devices through software, but you may experience a brief lag as the different pieces of software talk to one another.
If you want to keep your options open for adding future home automation components through Z-Wave or Zigbee, we recommend looking at another smart hub option.
Google Assistant, thus the Home and Hub devices, can recognize up to six different voices. This allows six different people to access their own libraries and features using a single Home device. It also means multiple people can control smart home components.
However, the big problem is that there is really only one user that controls the home. That user then gives up to five other voices the ability to speak to the Home. All voices route through the single control account. That means your entire family (and anyone else you give access to) has full control over your home and it all flows through your account.
You can control access to your different Google services. For instance, you can remove permission for the Home to access your Gmail so that nobody can ask the Assistant to read your emails. Unfortunately, Google cannot differentiate a person’s voice and link it to their account so you cannot limit home control permissions to certain people.
Google has created a Guest mode that allows anyone to send their personal content to the Home device. They can “cast” their music or other media to the speaker. However, Guest mode doesn’t provide any features for smart homes.
All of the Google and Nest devices come with built-in Google Assistant. This allows you to use your voice to set up and control all of your home devices. You simply say something like, “OK, Google, turn on the bedroom lights.” The Assistant will pause for a few seconds while it figures out what you said and then the lights will come on.
Other hubs and smart home peripherals have incorporated Google Assistant voice control into their products so you will be able to control any compatible device from a range of manufacturers.
Local control refers to hubs that send commands directly to smart home components without having to pass those commands through the internet. This feature makes commands instantaneous since your command doesn’t have to make a round-trip to the cloud server and back.
Neither the Google Home or Nest Hub devices have a built-in local control feature. However, if you link them to a hub that has local control then you can take advantage of that. Keep in mind that the Google Assistant sometimes has to send your command to the internet for processing before it knows what to do. Many commands are run locally, but not all. You may experience a lag while the Assistant processes your verbal cues.
Geo-fencing creates a boundary around your home (or any location) so commands get triggered when you enter or leave that boundary. This makes it easy to perform routines when you leave or arrive at a location. For instance, you can turn lights on when you pull into the driveway.
The Google and Nest devices do not directly incorporate geo-fencing. However, many smart home components do include this feature so you may have access to it, but not through Google Home programming.
Vacation mode is a setting that many smart homes include that will turn your components on and off to make it look like someone is home. Lights can randomly turn of and off. TVs or radios can play randomly. Some devices even replicate human conversations or barking dogs.
Unfortunately, Google Home and Nest Hub do not have this feature. Like geo-fencing, many other home control peripherals (like lights) include this feature so your Home may have access to control this feature, but you will have to confirm with each component.
IFTTT – If This, Then That
If This Then That, is an internet service that provides conditional commands that link different services or devices together. The service makes it easy to link two things that don’t normally talk to each other together. For instance, you can link your weather app to your sprinkler system.
None of the Home or Hub devices include a battery backup. They all require continuous power from a wall outlet.
While battery backup was once a common feature of smart home hubs, it is not longer provided in the most popular hubs. We don’t see this as a problem since most other home automation products require a continuous supply of power.
Even though the Home and Nest devices don’t include Zigbee or Z-Wave, they still connect to a wide range of home automation components. Some popular brands that link to Google Assistant are Nest, Philips Hue, ADT, Harmony, Ecobee, Wink, SmartThings, Insteon, Honeywell, Arlo, Schlage, and many more. You can see the full list of manufacturers that the Google Assistant connects to via software.
Look for the “Works with the Google Assistant” logo when you purchase a new smart home peripheral. You can also check out our list of Google Assistant compatible device reviews.
Setting up any of the Google Homes or Nest Hubs is very easy. First, you connect the device to a power outlet. Then you need to download and run the Google Home app for iOS or Android. The app begins by trying to discover nearby Home devices — in most cases, it identifies them without an issue. Otherwise, you’ll have to follow a manual process of joining the Home’s local Wi-Fi hotspot — if that happens, don’t worry, it is still fairly easy and the app shows you how to do it.
Once you have the app installed, it will run you through a series of questions and ask for permission to use certain features. The app also provides privacy information, which we recommend you read carefully.
Now you are ready to connect your smart home accessories. Tap the Plus (+) button on the dashboard (home icon), tap Set up device and then select the link icon to install an accessory that “Works with Google.” Scroll through the list and tap on the manufacturer of your new accessory. The app takes you to the manufacturer’s website where you log in and give the Google Assistant access to those devices. Once that is complete, you can control the accessory through the app or by using voice commands.
The Google Home App
Google’s Home app is the command center for your smart home. It is well designed and easy to use. The white background and small icons may seem stark to some people, but we think the clean appearance helps you find what you need quickly. You should have no problem finding your way around the app if you are used to Google’s ecosystem.
We’ve already introduced you to adding an accessory in the Setup section above, but we’ll also take you through some of the main features of the Google Home app.
There are four sections across the bottom of the app:
The Home section is the dashboard for your home. This is where you quickly access and control all of your connected devices and accessories, including entertainment options. You can see each room, and the devices in that room, as you scroll down. Each device has quick controls, but unfortunately the icons don’t tell you the status for that device. We’d like to easily see what lights are on or off from the dashboard.
The Discover section is second in line and provides tips and tricks for using the app or talking to the Google Assistant. While it is helpful when you are first getting started, we don’t think it is all that helpful in the long run.
The next section is for your Media. When you first start the app you will be encouraged to add YouTube Music, which you can then cast to any speaker connected to your Home. You can also add other streaming services like Google Music, Pandora, or Spotify. Unfortunately, you can’t actually play the media from this section — you just get sent to the native app.
The Me or Settings section is the place to adjust the settings of the app or your home. Tap Settings to adjust your Home preferences, add people to your household, and adjust Room settings.
Security and Privacy
It is common knowledge at this point, but Google tracks your every move around the internet. Keep in mind that you use your Google account to log in to the Home devices so your Assistant queries and commands are all trackable by Google. They use and sell your data to help make advertisements more relevant to your interests. Most people are reasonably comfortable with this because Google is most helpful when it understands your interests and habits. However, some privacy proponents warn that this can have serious consequences.
All smart home companies must collect your data in order to provide their services to you. Google just happens to be a massive corporation with a very wide internet reach so they tend to get a lot of criticism. You should consider your privacy concerns before purchasing any home automation product, Google or otherwise. Here are some relevant links about Google and your privacy:
About the Manufacturer
Wikipedia indicates that Google was founded in 1998 as an internet search company. They have since expanded their offerings to include advertising, streaming services, software, and hardware, but they make a majority of their revenue from selling advertisements and data. In August 2015, the company reorganized under a new parent company called, Alphabet Inc.
Google purchased Nest Labs, a home automation manufacturer, in January 2014. Nest started by selling thermostats, but has expanded into security cameras, doorbells, and smoke detectors. As of February 2018, Nest is part of Google’s hardware division.