Like mice in the winter, smart screens have been finding their way into our homes lately, appearing seemingly overnight. But rather than dying inside the walls and leaving tiny poops underneath the fridge, these screens live out in the open, brazenly occupying our kitchen work surfaces and bedside tables.
Amazon was one of the first to market with its Amazon Echo Show in 2017, an extension to its Amazon Echo range of smart speakers that introduced a touchscreen, allowing Alexa to give useful visual feedback to your questions: stuff like at-a-glance weather forecasts, step-by-step recipes, news bulletins and video calling.
The device proved popular, and paved the way for Google’s own update to its smart speaker range, the Google Home Hub. Similar to the Echo Show in terms of what it does, the Home Hub is a more petite device, with a smaller 7-inch HD touchscreen that can sit comfortably in most corners of most rooms. Google has decided against putting a camera in it, hoping to ease privacy concerns enough that you’ll feel comfortable keeping the Home Hub in the same room you sleep and have sex in, which happens to also be where it’s most useful.
When not in use the touchscreen becomes a digital photo frame, with Google’s machine-learning algorithms combing through your Google Photos to collate an ever-evolving slideshow of fond, usually dog-related, memories.
If you’re already embedded in the Google ecosystem, the Home Hub is helpful straight out of the box. Say “Hey Google, good morning” and the Assistant will launch into a customisable routine, adjusting lights and thermostats, displaying the weather, your commute, highlighting delays or traffic, reminding you of upcoming events in your calendar, then showing news briefings from your chosen sources. It also functions like every other Google Home device, playing music (either on its built-in speaker or on any other connected speak), answering idle questions about whether or not certain celebrities have died, and playing YouTube videos (something the Amazon Echo Show can’t do yet).
When not in use the touchscreen becomes a digital photo frame, with Google’s machine-learning algorithms combing through your Google Photos to collate an ever-evolving slideshow of fond, usually dog-related, memories. Ambient EQ dynamically adjusts the brightness and warmth of the screen to match the ambient light in the room, so that it has the appearance of a physical, printed photograph in both direct sun and in low-light. And interestingly, my topless progress selfies never appear on it, presumably rejected by Google’s nipple-detecting technology.
Swipe down and you’ll find all of your smart home devices in one place, even those from disparate services like Nest, Canary, Hive and Philips. The ‘Made By Google’ ecosystem of smart home devices now includes a growing list of hundreds of different companies, with the most popular products all working seamlessly from this one screen. At a glance the Home View can show you which lights are on, how the heating is set, or video feeds from a doorbell or security camera, without needing to switch between services. It’s a simple and functional dashboard, that makes cobbled-together smart home setups feel, well, less cobbled-together.
At £139 the Google Home Hub is cheaper than the rival Amazon Echo Show (and some digital photo frames, remarkably) but there are some compromises. The built-in speaker is fine for wittering on with the Assistant, but you’ll want to connect it to something beefier if you plan to play music through it. And the lack of a camera – while giving you the confidence you need to dance around the place in the nip – means you won’t be using it to conference with your nan.
But if calls aren’t important, and you’re after a discreet smart home dashboard that fits into a nook and reminds you about meetings, the Home Hub’s the screen to go for.