It’s been four years since Google launched its first smart speaker – the Google Home – then Google acquired Nest to fuel its smart home ambitions and released a few more iterations of its smart speakers, followed by the latest Google Nest Audio. Which also means Google now has the Nest Mini, Nest Hub and Nest audio, a much better proposition to tackle Amazon’s wide range of Echo devices. As the name suggests, the Nest Audio aims to bring a richer audio output to make it suitable for music listeners and to serve a larger customer base.
Audio quality is now one of the main areas of focus and the new Echo speakers or just an Alexa or Google Assistant based smart speaker from manufacturers like Bose or Sony are proof. Especially after Apple released its impressive-sounding HomePod. Before making any assumptions, know that the Google Nest Audio costs a lot less than a Bose 500 or the Apple HomePod. It retails for Rs 7,999 which makes it an impressive option for a price sensitive market like India. But does it deliver the ‘audio’ performance we expected? Let’s find out.
Audio performance: Google is on the right track
The Nest Audio has a 75mm woofer and a 19mm tweeter. Since it carries ‘Audio’ in its name, one can have high hopes for this department. For its size, the Nest Audio sounds pretty impressive. It has loud and clear sound for all types of media from spoken word to music. It operates on a frequency range of 90 Hz, which is considered great if you want to listen to music in its entirety. In my use, I found it really impressive, but keep in mind that if you’re a big fan of bass, you might not like bass-heavy tracks. Although I would have expected that due to the size limitation of the speaker.
This isn’t a party speaker, but it’s as good as any compact single-body speaker of its price. I don’t think I’ve missed a single genre on this speaker in the past 25 days, from my mom’s unmastered bhajans to Led Zeppelin’s beautiful guitar work in ‘Stairway to Heaven’. But sometimes when playing a song like Radiohead’s ‘The National Anthem’ you may want to manually adjust the equalizer to get the right balance. In a quiet house like mine I found the volume on level 6-7 perfect for music while talking to someone or working. Even at half volume, the mids and lows are reproduced well. If you are a fan of harmonic instruments, vocals and electronic music, you are more likely to enjoy this. Or if you listen to a lot of podcasts, this speaker doesn’t give you a chance to complain there either.
Microphone performance: worth appreciation
I would always say that a microphone is just as important, if not more important than speaker performance on voice-activated gadgets. Fortunately, Google does not disappoint here. Whether it’s voice pickup, recognition, or responding to it, the speaker feels more user-friendly and one step closer to making it more realistic.
I’ve been using this for over 25 days and there hasn’t been a single instance where I’ve had a hard time getting it to understand what I’m talking about. However, my 56-year-old mother who had her first experience with smart speakers struggled to talk to the Google Assistant in Hindi. I immediately realized that there is still a learning curve for new Assistant users to understand how it responds to commands. There is also much work to be done in Hindi recognition, given the variety of tone and accent in different regions.
The only instance where I had to raise my voice a bit was when the volume was over 7, but it’s still decent compared to the Mi Smart Speaker, which costs a little less than this one. You can talk to it up to 10 feet without having to yell.
Design and build: seamless minimalism
If you’ve seen the previous Google Home and Google Nest speakers, you can immediately tell that the Nest Audio comes from the same family. It has a very simplistic, minimalist and neutral look, just what we’ve seen on the company’s smart speakers in the past. The front is seamless, it has nothing but the four LEDs that light up when you interact with the speaker. If you’ve seen the Google Home Max, it’s the same shape but a third of its size. It is less than 7 inches long and only 3 inches thick.
It has Google’s identical net-like cloth wrapped around the body with a single seam that runs down the sides, connecting to the flat rubber bottom with a ‘G’ (Google logo) in the middle. I had my doubts about the durability and dust resistance of the material when I first bought my Google Home Mini three years ago, but it is still as good as new in shape, texture and appearance. However, those who go for lighter shades will have to clean it more often.
The moment I picked up the box of the Google Nest Audio, I could feel its weight. It has a very solid construction, weighing just over 1kg, which shouldn’t be a problem as it’s a stationary speaker not meant to be carried in your bag. It is best moved around your house, and its weight makes it more stable so it won’t fall even if the platform vibrates.
It also has touch controls like older Google Home and Nest speakers. Tapping the left part decreases the volume, while tapping the right part increases it. The middle section allows you to control music playback for play, pause, next and previous.
The minimalism spreads all over the body as it only has a body color mute switch, a Google logo and the DC power port on the back. It comes in five colors: Chalk, Charcoal, Sage, Sand and Sky, and they all look good for most room settings, as there isn’t much going on with the design or colors. Also keep in mind that you can’t mount it to a wall, so the only option is to place it vertically on a flat surface.
Smart Home Features
It works just like any other Google Assistant based smart speaker, maybe a little faster because of the new chip. It allows you to perform basic tasks such as setting reminders, booking an Uber, controlling IoT-based devices, and telling the weather and jokes. The speaker also has Chromecast built in, which worked exactly as intended when I tried to stream videos and music on a smart TV. It can also be used as a standalone Bluetooth speaker in case you lose Wi-Fi. You just have to tell the Assistant to “pair” Bluetooth and it will automatically enter pairing mode.
Setting up the Nest Audio is nothing out of the ordinary. Just download the Home app, plug in the speaker, go to add device and keep following the instructions. Make sure you connect it to the permanent Wi-Fi. If you’re new to the Google Home ecosystem, you should know that in addition to its own services, it also uses third-party services to source music and other content, so you’ll need to sign it up in the app. Note that it doesn’t support Apple Music and Amazon Music, which may be a bummer for some. Other popular apps you can use are YouTube Music, Deezer, and Spotify. Just in case you get scared, know that almost every app apart from the two mentioned gives you an option to cast your music.
There’s also an option to group multiple Nest Audio speakers together, but we didn’t get a chance to test it. Judging by how it’s advertised, it should create a true 2 channel surround sound system if that’s what you want.
What it comes down to:
Nest Audio is affordable, elegant and a great-sounding compact smart speaker for your room. If your question is, is this the best smart speaker to listen to music? Absolutely not. But packing the smarts of Google Assistant in an elegant design with responsive microphones and good audio performance for just Rs 7,999 (currently on sale for Rs 6,999), it’s a great offering for those who want something more than the Nest Mini or Echo Dots and want not something as heavy as the Google Home Max. If you’re looking to save some money and jeopardize responsiveness, design and audio quality, the Mi Smart Speaker is the best money-saving alternative to Nest Audio.