With Nest Hub Max, Google Added A Camera And Ruined The Best Thing About The Home Hub

Photo: Andrew Liszewski, Gizmodo

Over the past two years, Google’s made a lot of strides when it comes to smart home tech—to the point where the Google Home Hub is our smart display of choice. At this year’s I/O developer conference, it seems like Google’s doubling down with the Nest Hub Max.

The Nest Hub Max isn’t much of a surprise. It leaked earlier in March when Google accidentally put it in its own store. Screenshots from Google’s unfortunate goof revealed the device to be a 25cm touchscreen display powered by Google Assistant. The main difference from the Home Hub is that it has stereo speakers and a built-in Nest camera so you can make calls via Google Duo. In comparison, the Home Hub—well, now Nest Hub—sports a 18cm display, a single speaker, and no native camera.

Much of the leak details turned out to be true. What the leak didn’t tell us was what the device looked like. Google saved that for today’s I/O keynote, and... it looks just like its predecessor. Just slightly bigger.

Functionally, the I/O demo makes it seem like the Nest Hub Max can do everything the regular Hub can. For instance, it can stream media from YouTube, as well as control smart home devices like door locks and lights. The main difference is the Hub Max gets some added video capabilities thanks to the camera.

On top of video calling, you can also leave video messages. (Screenshot: Andrew Liszewski, Gizmodo)

Like the leaks suggested, it’ll be able to support video calls via Google Duo and the camera itself supports a wide angle lens. It also automatically adjusts so you always remain centered in the frame—a feature that sounds eerily reminiscent of the ill-fated Facebook Portal. The main difference with the Portal is that the Hub Max will let you chat with contacts on different platforms, like iOS, Android, or on a browser. You’ll also be able to leave short video messages for friends and family.

The camera also fuels some other personalisation features. Mainly, Google says you can opt into “Face Match.” Essentially, you can set up a profile within the Google Assistant app that involves comforting phrases like “creating a face model.” Google says facial data is encrypted and stored on the device. Once that’s done, the display will only show information relevant to the person it detects in front of it. Sure, we’ll see how that works out over time.

Other video-specific features include hand-gestures. Because Google’s added another stereo to the Hub Max, you can supposedly just raise a hand to pause your media so you don’t have to shout.

This is all impressive, but it sort of eliminates the best thing about the Home Hub—Nest Hub, whatever it’s called now. The lack of a camera made Google’s smart display an easy, affordable way to dabble in the smart home while limiting how much privacy you were giving up. It didn’t impede your ability to view connected security camera feeds on the device, but you could go about your business without worrying it was spying on you. It also offered a different option in the smart display space—most other options, like the Lenovo Smart Display and second generation Amazon Echo Show, had cameras.

Turn it off. (Screenshot: Andrew Liszewski, Gizmodo)

Granted, there is a physical switch on the device so you can easily tell when the camera is on or off. Still, it’s rather unsettling. Google’s better equipped than both Lenovo and Amazon to lean into that whole “I got a camera on you!” vibe, and given its extensive personalisation options, it’s a lot of privacy to give up for the sake of convenience. Google knows that, and it’s why it just published a blog on its “privacy commitments.”

Another interesting thing is the rebrand from Google Home Hub to Nest Hub. It’s not a major difference, but it is perhaps an attempt to make Nest a more central focus of Google’s overall smart home strategy. Or if you’re taking a more cynical look, a way for it to more easily push cameras into everyone’s home.

The Nest Hub Max will be available sometime over winter in Australia for $349.

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