First look: Google Nest Hub Max is bigger, better, noisier – and nosier

That camera opens up a lot more functionality, if you want it

First look: Nest Hub Max

At Google, the only constant is change, and as part of efforts to unify its Google Nest smart home division, the company has launched the Google Nest Hub Max.

It's a larger version of last year's Google Home Hub, which has also been renamed the Nest Hub. Got that? Too late, we're moving on.

Welcome to the confusing world of Google product names; if you're reading this in six months' time, I can't guarantee any of this will still be relevant. But for now we have a new Smart Display, while the Google Home Hub – sorry, Nest Hub – remains the exact same device, just with a new name and cheaper price tag.

Read this: Why Google is killing off Works with Nest

The Nest Hub Max, as you might have guessed, is the Big Daddy. It looks like someone stretched out the Home Hub and slapped a camera on the front. And well, that's exactly what it is. Despite the name, this feels like Google's baby, not Nest's.

Nest Hub Max: Now looks, new tricks

The 10-inch display is to be reckoned with, making this one of the largest Google Smart Displays on the market and coming with stereo speakers that sound fairly good. It uses a 2:1 configuration with two 10W tweeters on the front and a 30W woofer on the back, but won't be rivalling your Sonos setup any time soon. At least that's the impression we got in our demo.

First look: Nest Hub Max is bigger, better, nosier

But it's the camera that separates the Max from the not-Max. Google decided to leave a camera off the original Home Hub due to privacy concerns; it wanted people to feel comfortable plonking these devices in bedrooms and living rooms without the niggling fear of being spied on, or accidentally answering a video call while pants-less.

The Max comes in camera blazing, but the physical mute switch, which blocks the mic on the smaller Hub, turns off the camera here too. Google tells me it "electronically disables" it which, it says, means only the switch can turn it on again; you won't be able to do it through the software. A red light will appear whenever the camera is blocked but there's no physical cover here, like you'll find on the Facebook Portal, so it might not give everyone peace of mind.

If you do go for the camera-packing option, it opens up a handful of new features. In fact, its wide-angle 127-degree lens essentially turns the Max into a Nest camera. You'll be able to remotely access the feed when you're away, so you can check up on what's happening at home. When you do, a green light will ignite on the front of the display to signify someone is watching.

You can't turn that off either, a privacy decision Google made so you can always see if someone's viewing the feed. And if you have a Nest Aware subscription, you can make use of features like motion detection through the Max too.

First look: Nest Hub Max is bigger, better, nosier

Outside of Nest and security, you can perform video calls through Google Duo to other Smart Displays and smartphones with Duo installed. Video chatting on this thing is more impressive thanks to the way the camera pans and scans you around the room, something it has in common with the Facebook Portal. It affords a level of freedom in these conversations, allowing you to wander around and stay in frame – within limits, obviously.

Then there's Face Match, a feature that uses the camera to recognise who's approaching the speaker and display information that's relevant to them: their calendar, their YouTube recommendations, commute info and so on. You can have up to six faces stored, and I can see how it might be useful in large households. I was quickly sold on Face ID on the iPhone, and while that's more of a gatekeeping tool, the Hub Max worked just as smoothly in my demo. It remains to be seen if it performs as well in the wild, of course.

And naturally, there will be concerns about how Google is using this data. When I asked the company, it told me that camera data is locally encrypted and not shared with the cloud. Will that be enough to reassure everyone? I suspect not, but as we've seen plenty of times before, these things have a habit of winning us over and making us not think too hard about what's happening to our data.

Last and probably least, the camera works as a gesture controller for music. Right now this extends as far as pushing out one hand in a Force Push-like motion to pause and play music, but Google says there are plans to extend this in the future. It only worked half the times I tried it, and even when it did, I wasn't convinced it's something I'd use a lot. I suppose it's faster than saying, "Hey Google, pause the music" – when it works.

First look: Google Nest Hub Max is bigger, better, louder

Google Nest Hub Max: Initial verdict

The Hub Max marks the start of a new era for Google's smart home division. From what we've seen it's a great device: the Google Home Hub we already knew, just bigger and better. And if you don't want a camera or prefer something smaller, the regular Nest Hub is still every bit as good as it was before the brand rethink.

Still, a lot of questions linger. What happens with Google's line of Home smart speakers? Do they come under the Nest name too? Google won't answer that yet. But it will try to bring Nest users into the fold in other ways. For example, as part of the Grand Google Consolidation, current Nest users will be able to migrate their accounts to Google accounts in the coming months. Will Google keep two apps?

Again, there's a lot we still don't know. But we do know the Hub Max is a promising Smart Display that ticks most of the right boxes. You'll be able to get your hands on one this summer for $229.

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