By Jason Snell
March 10, 2023 10:35 AM PT
By the way, Alexa, you’ve been replaced
I switched from a regular Amazon Echo to a screen-bearing Echo Show back in 2017. As a kitchen appliance, it essentially existed to answer basic queries, set timers, and play music. If I’m being honest, it became indispensable in a single way: setting multiple named timers via voice and being able to see their status with a glance. It’s a little thing, but once you’ve got it, you don’t want to give it up.
But my frustration about literally every other aspect of the Echo Show just kept building. When I first got an Echo Show, I complained about its lack of customizability and the fact that it littered its screen with a bunch of junk that I didn’t care about.
Unfortunately, over the years, that situation didn’t improve much—and in the past year, it became untenable. Amazon offers settings to stop unwanted items from displaying on the Echo Show’s screen, but on a regular basis, the company just added new items—and the new items would be on by default. The result was that I was constantly being bombarded by unwanted garbage on the Echo Show, followed by a frustrated scroll through the device’s settings to discover which new “features” I had to turn off.
But that wasn’t the worst of it. Amazon also decided that its voice assistant needed to continue pushing unwanted features and services to me whenever I interacted with it. After dutifully replying to whatever voice command I’d give it, it would inevitably continue: “By the way…” followed by a proposal for me to join something or activate something. For a device that did nothing but live in one room, the Echo Show had a remarkable inability to read the room.
Enough was enough. Out of desperation, I bought a $100 Google Nest Hub (second generation), the Google Home equivalent of the Echo Show. Google seemed like an unlikely provider of respite from incessant marketing, but I wanted to give it a chance.
Setting up the Nest Hub was a pain because I’ve got a managed Google account that doesn’t support all the features of Google Home. In the end, I had to set it up with an alternate Gmail account and share a bunch of stuff from my managed account to my alternate identity in order for the Home Hub to see it. (I wish Google was better at this.)
That all said, once it was up and running, it’s been a breath of fresh air. The Nest Hub’s touchscreen interface is a bit laggy, but I basically never have to touch the screen. It displays multiple named timers nicely. There’s even some whimsy that Amazon never managed to find: When you set a chicken timer, it displays a chicken and clucks! When you set a pasta timer, you may end up hearing a brief blurt of stereotypical Italian music.
The Google Assistant is accurate, probably more accurate than Alexa, though it does seem to be a little worse at detecting that we’re talking to it. (I’ve yet to get an accidental activation, but sometimes we do need to tell it twice before it hears us.) And a clever proximity sensor means that I can dismiss alarms by waving my hand in front of the screen without actually touching it, which is nice when you’re cooking, and you have stuff all over your hands.
The Nest Hub supports Apple Music, works with AnyList (which we use for shared shopping lists), and apparently works with lots of video-streaming services—but on that tiny screen, it’s hardly worth it. I am using almost none of its other features, which include access to some of my smart home equipment (including my Nest thermostat) and some of my home security cameras. I did use it to start my robot vacuum cleaner the other day. But for the most part, it is a little box that does alarms and plays music and otherwise just shows the time and a picture from a Google Photos album I created for it. That’s plenty.
Best of all, I have never felt punished for being in a home that’s primarily in the Apple ecosystem. The Nest Hub has filled its niche in our home ecosystem, and not once have I been interrupted by a special offer or other marketing opportunities.
Unless and until Apple comes through with a product in this category—there are rumors that it might be considering it—the Nest Hub seems like it’s going to be a kitchen mainstay in my house.
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