Modern Dad on the Google Nest Hub Max

I'm a sucker for Google Home devices. Or Nest Hub devices. Or whatever it is Google has decided to brand things this week. The point is there was no way I wasn't buying a Google Nest Hub Max. (That's such a bad name, even for Google.)

Did I need it? I did not. The Lenovo Smart Display has been serving me admirably in the kitchen since it was first available. I use it as a timer. I use it to watch the Premier League on the weekends while I'm cooking breakfast for the family. I occasionally use it to look up information. And that's — well, that's it.

So why did the Nest Hub Max manage to take over so quickly? A few small but important improvements.

More: Read Russell Holley's Nest Hub Max Review

Looks better, sounds better

Don't discount the superficial. The Nest Hub Max is better designed than the Lenovo Smart Display, whose speaker was off on the left-hand side. (Unless you use the thing vertically, in which case it's on the bottom. And that's something that the Nest Hub Max can't do. But whatever.) That lack of symmetry metaphorically caused me to twitch. And for as cool as the wood back is on the Lenovo Smart Display, it's on the back and out of sight 99 percent of the time.

The smaller footprint alone is a reason to consider the Nest Hub Max.

The Nest Hub, on the other hand, is basically a scaled-up Nest Hub. Same sleek design — with a much smaller footprint than Lenovo's offering. And seeing as how I use mine in the kitchen, where counter space is always at a premium, that's a big deal.

And, yeah the audio is better than Lenovo, but that's actually almost secondary for me. Because it's still pretty muddy, and I'd rather listen to audio from the Sonos One I keep tucked away in a corner. That's overkill, sure. But it's also better.

There's still a lot I don't use here. I don't make Google Duo calls — though the face-following feature (very much like what Nest Cam IQ can do) is pretty cool. I'll occasionally cast video or audio to it, but that's it. And, again, Sonos for audio.

But the Face Match feature — which is optional and opt-in properly prefaced by a handful of setup screens that educated you about what's going on — is handy. I walk by the Nest Hub Max, it gives a little ding and shows my personalized calendar on the screen. That's a cute improvement. (And perhaps something we'll see in Pixel phones or tablets or Chromebooks?)

It's a toss-up for Nest security

I use Nest Security as my home security system. But one thing I'm not using at all is the option for the Nest Hub Max to serve as a Nest security camera. And let's be clear — that last word is a pretty important distinction here.

It can be used as a security camera. Not a security system. Not a security hub. Just a camera, and not one with a particularly wide (or fixed, given how easy it is to move around) field of view.

Some of its usefulness in a security sense perhaps depends on where you keep it. My Hub Max is in the same room as my Nest Guard keypad, which also serves as a motion detector. (And can be a Google Assistant mic and speaker, if you so desire.) So I've got some coverage there. If the Nest Hub Max could also be used as a keypad, I might give it more thought in a security sense. But it can't, either from a software standpoint (think on-screen keypad), or from a hardware standpoint (motion sensing, or the ability to use a Nest Tag to arm and disarm, lack of a backup battery or a cellular radio for optional professional monitoring.)

Your home will be different from mine, so maybe you'd find more use in using it as a security camera. And maybe you'd be OK with the additional expense of adding a Nest Aware subscription, which is what allows for recording and playback.

Just not me.

My bottom line

This is the 10-inch hub I wish Google had released a year ago. It's great giving partners a chance to make things, and good on Lenovo for making a good thing. If you're looking at buying one, the Nest Hub Max is the one I'd recommend. (Yes, even if you can find the Lenovo Smart Display on sale.) It looks better and takes up less space. It sounds better. And given the choice between a Google-made product, which will always get priority when it comes to updates and features, and a third-party offering, I'll choose Google.

And whereas the Lenovo Smart Display was just good, the Nest Hub Max is much closer to great, even with the features I'm not even using.

Phil Nickinson