Question is, is it here to stay.
Nest Audio has been a long time coming. Its predecessor, Google Home — which was also Google’s first smart speaker — was launched back in 2016 though it made its way to India only in 2018. For some context, its biggest rival, the Amazon Echo is already in its fourth generation. Suffice to say that not only has it been a long time coming, but it has also given the Echo enough legroom to become the default smart speaker in many homes.
On a product portfolio level, the Nest Audio slots between the pint-sized Nest Mini (also in its second generation now) and flagship Home Max. Only the former is available in India which invariably makes the Nest Audio kind of a big deal for anyone looking for a powerful smart speaker made by Google. To be clear, this is the audience that is heavily invested in the Google ecosystem.
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But Google seemingly wants even more people to buy its smart speaker which is probably why it chose to price it aggressively — at Rs 7,999. This is relative to both the Echo (Rs 9,999) and the original Google Home (Rs 9,999). With the Nest Audio, Google has finally found a way back home. Question is, is it here to stay.
Design and build quality
The adage looks can be deceiving sums up the Nest Audio perfectly. I mean this in the nicest way. The Nest Audio looks nothing like a speaker, smart or otherwise. Its design, though incredibly unique, is unassuming and a far cry from the Google Home’s more striking air freshener-like aesthetic.
Its cushion-like form paired with Google’s subtle colour choices — chalk/charcoal — helps the Nest Mini seamlessly blend in with most backgrounds.
Unlike the Google Home, the Nest Audio is unibody. You cannot access the internals or swap a part or two to enhance its looks. But that is alright. In fact, I see it as a more concerted, a more confident effort from Google than its first smart speaker. The build is top notch. The build materials are high quality.
Like the Nest Mini, Google is using “sustainable,” or in other words, recycled plastic mesh fabric on the outside of the Nest Audio. It looks splendid when brand new but usual caveats apply. This thing is prone to collect dust over time, though I would not go so far to call it a dirt magnet. But it is what it is. This fabric-covered outside also serves as the main physical interface for the Nest Audio but because of its larger size, it is not as simple to use straight out of the box — like the Nest Mini.
The top portion has touch-sensitive controls for volume up and down and play/pause. They are not marked or anything and there is a learning curve to using them (this includes the amount of force you need to apply, where to apply it, to trigger them). Misses will surely outnumber the hits for a lot of people at least initially, but all this works well once you are past that phase.
The front of the speaker has an array of four LED lights that indicate when it is listening or when it is on mute — it will also show you its volume level. This is a standard affair if you have crossed paths with the Nest Mini. The Google Home offered a more stylized option in my opinion.
On the back, there is the power socket and a physical mute switch. There is no audio jack which is a curious omission.
Overall, the Nest Audio has a compact profile, but it is not light. For a speaker that looks this small, it is surprising how firm and reassuring it feels when you pick it up for the first time. It ought to be this way because Google has packed some serious guts inside it, as opposed to the original Google Home Mini. There is also a shift in focus. The Nest Audio is a forward-firing speaker which makes more sense considering its size.
Audio and smarts
The Nest Audio’s hardware is a big step up over the Google Home’s. It has a 75mm woofer and a 19mm tweeter while the Google Home came with just a single 50mm driver. This dual-driver setup entails a speaker that is 75% louder with 50% stronger bass than the Google Home. But that is just Google’s marketing talk. In my experience, I have found it to be as loud but then the Google Home was already a “loud” speaker so no complaints there whatsoever.
What that dual-driver setup does is add character to the sound coming out of the Nest Audio. I cannot stress enough how important that is for “any” speaker. The Google Home was loud, but it sounded muddy. The Nest Audio is clearer with minimal distortion at peak volume (though this will also depend on the size of the room where it is installed). It is very balanced and that is its main selling point. By extension this means, listening to music is a much more pleasurable experience on the Nest Audio. It sounds a little better than the third-generation Echo too.
You can also choose to pair two Nest Audio speakers for a stereo effect or group it together with other Google smart speakers like the Nest Mini (or an existing Google Home) for when you’re looking to play the same music across your home. Google’s stream transfer feature is also a neat trick for when it works to let you move music from one device to the other using your voice.
Speaking of which, the Nest Audio has three microphones. I have had no major complaints with the Google Home’s two microphone array when it comes to picking up voice commands. If anything, the extra microphone on the Nest Audio only makes it a touch more responsive.
As expected, the Nest Audio is powered by the Google Assistant which means that it answers to “Hey Google” or “Ok Google” voice commands. Once fired up, it can control your smart home devices, answer questions, give weather updates, set timers, play music, so on and so forth — you know, the usual drill.
All this works well on the Nest Audio. But if I were to compare it with the Echo, I would say Amazon’s smart speaker feels a wee bit faster, more responsive, and generally better at conversations. I have an odd preference for the vast number of Alexa skills even though I use all of Google’s services by default. Alexa can also talk to more devices which means greater smart home compatibility.
Should you buy it?
That last bit is what really matters when it comes to smart speakers as a product category. What is it that you are really looking to do with it? For most users, a Google Assistant-powered smart speaker should do the trick. For the more tech savvy, I think the Echo is a better buy. It also narrows down to personal preference. Sort of like Android versus iPhone.
I can only tell you if the Nest Audio is worth a buy and my answer to that is a resounding yes. It is better than the Google Home in almost every sense of the word. It is a smart speaker that is smart and sounds good, as simple as that. I think Google pricing it the way it has is just an icing on the cake.
The Nest Audio is a classic return to form by Google and a worthy contender for the title of the best “value” smart speaker in the market today.
- Minimalist look
- Good hardware
- Delivers well-balanced audio
- Quick and responsive