Google Home Hub first impressions: A weekend of entertainment

The first Google Home device with a display is now available. We took it for a spin over the weekend.

Google's Home Hub is the first smart display product from the company. Think of it as a dedicated Google Assistant tablet, permanently attached to a Google Home speaker. You give it commands with the same "OK Google" or "Hey Google" triggers, and it will answer you while also displaying information on the screen.

Starting today, Google you can order a Home Hub directly from Google, or you can purchase one from Best Buy, Walmart, and Target for $149.

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For the past few days, I've been using a Home Hub, moving it around the house, trying to find where it best fits in. The Hub, after all, isn't just a speaker, and it does more than just play music. I have some more testing I want to do, but in the meantime, I thought I'd share some of my initial experience.

Google Home Hub: Display

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Image: Jason Cipriani/ZDNet

The Home Hub has a 7-inch LCD touch display. Using a light sensor, the Home Hub's Ambient EQ tunes the display's color to match the lighting conditions in its environment. The changes it makes are subtle but should help avoid a situation where the display uses full brightness in a dark room, in turn hurting your eyes.

The promotional videos and photos make it look as if the display on the Home Hub is bigger than it really is. Despite reading it has a 7-inch display, I was still surprised to see how compact the entire device is after opening the box.

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That said, this screen is impressively sharp and clear, especially when you consider that the Home Hub isn't a tablet or a phone -- it's a device that's designed to sit on your counter, inactive the majority of the time, and occasionally answer a voice command.

Google Home Hub: Home automation

From the main screen on Home Hub, you can swipe down and view shortcut toggles for various smart home devices you have around your house. For example, I can swipe down and turn off the lights in my office, or see if the porch light is still on. Having a centralized -- and viewable -- location to view the various items I can control via Google Assistant has been convenient so far.

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Google Home Hub: A mini entertainment center

Each Google Home Hub comes with six free months of YouTube Music, which includes YouTube Premium. That means you can listen to ad-free music and watch ad-free YouTube videos on Home Hub.

Home Hub's sound quality is decent. It's a better TV than it is a sound system. It's plenty loud enough to fill a bedroom or kitchen with your favorite tunes. Over the weekend, I watched the end of a football game on the Home Hub, thanks to its integration with YouTube TV (not included in the promotion).

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At one point, I asked Google to play Kidz Bop radio for my kids to listen to while we ate breakfast. My kids were surprised -- as was I -- when instead of just playing the audio version of each song, Home Hub started playing the accompanying music videos. After an impromptu dance party, we returned to eating our waffles.

Google Home Hub: A cooking instructor that... takes breaks?

Speaking of waffles: That same morning, my wife and I wanted to make waffles. Instead of following one of our normal recipes, I moved Google Home Hub to the kitchen and asked it to show me waffle recipes. We eventually found a recipe and began following the instructions.

Everything was going great, the experience sure beats looking at a phone. That is until the Home Hub randomly timed out or rebooted in the middle of the instructions. And it didn't save our progress. After a few minutes of searching for the recipe again, then navigating through the steps to catch back up, we were on track. It could have been a fluke, or the screen went to sleep after it took too long.

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I will have more to say about the Google Home Hub in the coming weeks.

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