Google Nest Audio Review: Ok Google, Let Us Get The Smart Speaker Party Started
If you wanted to spend just below Rs 10,000 for a smart speaker, the Google Home was honestly not the best sounding device. Amazon Echo devices did much better. That is set to change with the new Google Nest Audio. It seamlessly replaces Google Home which had its limitations with the sound.
- Last Updated: October 27, 2020, 12:20 IST
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It had been a while. Four years, to be specific. That is when Google launched the Google Home speaker. In the time since, Google has updated the Home Mini to the Nest Mini (2nd gen), added the Google Nest Hub smart display, and globally, also the Google Home Max. But specifically, the Google Home and its succession remained somewhat neglected. In this time, Amazon updated the better sounding Echo and the Echo Plus, with it culminating in the merging of the two with the latest refresh. Someone who wanted to spend just below Rs 10,000 for a smart speaker, the Google Home was honestly not the best sounding device. The Amazon Echo devices did much better. That is set to change with the arrival of the Google Nest Audio. This is priced at Rs 7,999 (already down to Rs 6,999 at the time of writing this) and effectively replaces the Google Home speaker which had its limitations with the sound in general.
It is immediately clear that while the Google Home was more about bringing Google Assistant into people’s homes and being a jack of all trades, the Google Nest Audio is focusing on getting the audio bit right. After all, competition from the Amazon Echo was becoming too hot to handle as time passed by. And just recently, Xiaomi released the Mi Smart Speaker, which offers Google Assistant and sounds much better than the Google Home ever did. At half the price. At the same time, Amazon is ready to launch the new Echo, the 4th generation, and that will be priced at Rs 9,999. It is no surprise then that sound quality was priority for Google with the Nest Audio. The proverbial cherry on the cake? The Google Nest Audio costs lesser too!
This Is Very Attractive, No Matter The Complex Contours And Design
That starts with the design itself, which is now larger, heavier and prettier than before. It is a bit difficult to describe this design though, because the Google Nest Audio isn’t exactly a traditional square or rectangle speaker nor it is a 360-degree cylinder. It’s a bit of a mix—a rectangle-ish design vertically with nicely rounded edges and while it isn’t exactly a cylinder, it is not all about straight lines either. This is still dressed in a nice fabric that feels good to touch and sophisticated to look at. In India, we will get the Chalk and Charcoal colour options at this time, through globally, Google has the eye-catching Sand, Sky and Sage colours.
At first, you may wonder where the controls are. Worry not, because this doesn’t have physical buttons but instead, the curved top has touch controls. These capacitive touch zones can be used to change the volume or play and pause music, for instance. They work well, though you would probably hesitate, particularly with the Chalk colour option, fearing it would get dirty eventually. What’s also gone compared with the Google Home are the multi-colored dots that illuminated every time you said, “Hey Google”. That has been replaced by four LEDs that hide behind the fabric at the front of the Google Nest Audio and illuminate when you call out to Google Assistant or tap on the touch controls to change the volume.
Google also says that the enclosure of the Google Nest Audio is made of 70 percent recycled plastic. Also, it is rare for speakers to have a mix of aluminium and magnesium making up the enclosure. There is no doubt this addition will make a world of difference compared with a plastic enclosure, when you push the volume and get ready to dial up the bass. The weight of the Google Nest Audio adds that reassuring heft that you’d want from a smart speaker primed for good audio quality. The numbers tell their own tale. The Google Home weighed 477 grams. The Google Nest Audio weighs 1.2kg.
Google Nest Audio Means Business With Sound, And That Makes Everything Better
The Google Nest Audio now packs in a 75mm woofer and a 19mm tweeter—that means a 2.9-inch woofer and a 0.74-mm tweeter. Google says this will be 75% louder and have 50% more powerful bass than the Google Home smart speaker that it succeeds. The Google Home, in comparison, made do with a high-excursion speaker with a 2-inch driver and dual 2-inch passive radiators. In a nutshell, the sound that emerges from within the Google Nest Audio is a significant upgrade over anything that the Google Home could ever deliver. More so, those limitations stood out with the further passing of time.
It is said that as many as 5000 hours of tuning was done for the Google Nest Audio. There were tweaks to the design as well, such as the architecture of the tweeter, the design of the grill, the fabric used and the overall construction. The Google Nest Audio will also use a feature called media EQ that will allow the Nest Audio to automatically tune itself for the content that you are listening to—music, news, podcasts, audiobooks and also factors in the ambient noise to ensure it remains audible over any potential din. The audio processing and all the functionality is powered by a quad core 1.8GHz processor.
What you probably wouldn’t notice initially and what really makes the world of difference, is the placement of the speakers. It is a fact that 360-degree speakers don’t really work as well in the real world as they do in test labs, purely because rarely do people place a speaker in the middle of the room. It is always on a table on one side, or up against a wall or taking refuse in a bookshelf. The Google Nest Audio simply reverts to how speakers work best for us—throwing audio in front.
All of this immediately means the sound that emerges from the Google Nest Audio is much more powerful vibrant than the predecessor. The dual-driver system means better handling of vocals and lower frequencies without them getting jumbled together. I did notice that the Google Nest Audio did take a bit of time to set in, because initially, it sounded a little muddy at lower volumes. A few hours later to return to the same trance tracks and volume, it sounded significantly better. Push the volume a bit higher and you wouldn’t notice any distortions or harshness. This isn’t exactly what I’d call warm sound signature, perhaps the way Bose does it, but it surely is very welcoming.
Push the volume even more and there is no vibration or jarring that shows up. In fact, this speaker can go so loud, it can easily fill up a living and dining room hall easily—and I really wouldn’t want to get to that sort of volume in a study, for instance. At lower volumes, it does get a good amount of detailing across, but there are times when you will feel it could have done with a bit more clarity. One way to compensate is to slightly tweak the audio EQ in the Google Home app, specifically for the Google Nest Audio speaker—but I’d rather leave it as is.
Finally, Google is selling a smart speaker in India that reproduces plenty of bass. It isn’t the sort of bass that would rattle windowpanes or make the floor shake a bit. It’s the sort of bass that you will hear and enjoy the fullness of the track you are listening to.
Yet all things considered, you must remember that this is a smart speaker at the end of the day, and for the price tag that it sports, this is not meant for high definition audio and neither will it please the audiophiles. For the rest of us, it will pretty much get the job done. At the same time, it must be said that for that little extra outlay that the 4th generation Amazon Echo demands, you get the sound tuned by Dolby. I am yet to test that, but it is a given that this partnership really works, as testified by the Dolby sound tuning on the 2nd generation Echo Plus, the 3rd generation Echo and the Echo Studio.
Why Does Google Nest Audio Not Listen To Me? Am I A Joke To You?
I did notice that the Google Nest Audio didn’t always respond to calls of “Ok Google” when music was already playing on the speaker. There are three far field microphones in the speaker, which theoretically should be enough. I am yet to understand why this is happening—just to be doubly sure, I even changed the placement of the Google Nest Audio, but it still doesn’t always listen to me at first, like a naughty child. The Lower Volume when Listening option is also enabled and Ok Google keyword detection sensitivity is set at default.
Privacy Matters And More
If privacy is something you are concerned about, there is the physical slider control at the back of the speaker to turn off the mic from listening to you when you don’t want it to. Mind you, there are no audio input ports in the Google Nest Audio.
While we have focused on the sound aspect of the Google Nest Audio, it must be noted that this will also do the full gamut of Google Assistant tasks—play music, check your calendar, tell you the news, get you the weather updates and sports scores, your Google Search on voice, an alarm, a timer, a reminder, a smart home controller and more.
The Google Nest Audio can also be set up as a stereo pair with another Google Nest smart speaker and can also be set as a group of speakers in the home. This plugs in to the Google’s multi-room audio feature that was rolled out a few weeks ago to allow dynamic group audio cast. I have not tried the stereo setup because I just have a single Google Nest Audio, and I wouldn’t be able to comment on that performance aspect.
There are enough music sources that you can connect with the Google Nest Audio and set one of them as the default source. YouTube Music, Spotify, Gaana, JioSaavn and Wynk Music are your choices at this time—I had set Spotify as the default source in the Google Home app, which is breeze. Apple Music is the one big missing audio service here. You can also cast to the Google Nest Audio from compatible smartphone apps, as long as your phone is on the same network.
The Last Word: Let Us Have A Google Nest Audio Vs Amazon Echo Battle Royale
There really aren’t many powerful sounding smart speaker choices this side of the Rs 10,000 price point. It is either the Amazon Echo options including the 2nd generation Echo Plus, the 3rd generation Echo, or happily enough, now the Google Nest Audio. The fact that the Nest Audio has arrived in the Amazon Echo’s orbit in terms of performance and sound quality, makes the world a better place. Now it is your call on which assistant you want to go ahead with—Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa. The Google Nest Audio does well for low volume soundtrack to the work from home routine, for the louder active music listening and also for the wider room filling sound that you’d like once things do become better and you can have a few friends over.