The first wave of smart speakers barely delivered on the sound front but wowed with skills. But going through life, one tries to be nice to smart speakers, struggling to hold back the punches each time it messes up a low-fi indie tune or the entire Beach Boys discography. Have smart speakers got better in the last few years?
The newcomers to the segment have, in fact, made the situation slightly worse by chipping away at the price tag while delivering sound that deserves to be shouted at as much as dark clouds. Google and Amazon have to step into the ring again to clear up the garbage. While the review of the new Amazon Echo speaker continues to be work in progress, here’s what we think of Google Nest Audio.
The design is pretty straightforward, reminding one of a loaf of ciabatta covered in fabric while the base has a rubbery plate to ensure the speaker doesn’t wobble. In case a furry four-legged creature keeps you company, there is no reason to worry about hair covering the speaker. It has a good built. What we like best is that 70 per cent of the speaker is made from recycled plastic. It’s a minimal design with a tiny Google logo at the back... yes, at the back, keeping the mic button and power-input socket company.
There are no other visible buttons on the speaker, which lends to the look. Where are the buttons? On the top, under the fabric. Gently tap on the centre to pause or play music, tap on the right curve to increase volume or tap on the left curve to bring it down a few notches.
Easy as one, two, three
Setting up the speaker is simple. Just connect it to a power supply, turn it on and you will notice four dots glowing on the speaker. What you need to do to get the Nest Audio speaker to act on your commands is get the Google Home app on the phone. Since the speaker is already connected, you should be able to see “Set-up Nest Audio” on the Google Home screen. If you don’t, just hit the “+” button and shift to “Set-up Device”. In case you haven’t set-up a Google speaker before, all you have to do is give it a name — like ‘Dining room speaker’ or ‘Bedroom speaker’... you can add as many devices as you want — and in a couple of seconds the app will search for the speaker. It’s best to keep the phone and your new speaker connected to the same Wi-Fi. Once found, the speaker will chime. It’s ready for use.
Then comes a short training segment, which enables Google Assistant to understand you. If the household has several people, the speaker can understand who’s speaking. There is an option to set up the music service you want to use for streaming. I chose Spotify since the range on the streaming service suits my needs. Each time you ask Nest Audio to play music, it will fetch it from the streaming service of your choice. Google Duo can also be used. In case you are away from home, you can actually call the speaker.
The three far-field mics on the device do a great job at picking up instructions even when the speaker is maxed out, playing Metallica. If you are on one side of the room, while the Nest Audio is on the other, it can still hear instructions clearly, without you having to raise your voice beyond that of a stern school teacher.
Google’s quest for natural sound and audio is clearly visible, with podcasts and acoustic tracks coming through crystal clear. The audio quality defies the dimension of the device. Inside is a 75mm woofer plus a 19mm tweeter. Of course, it’s not as beefy as a full-on dedicated sound system, it produces natural sounding audio.
There are two features that make Nest Audio interesting — Media EQ and Ambient IQ. The former adjusts the EQ of the speaker depending on what you are listening to. It means a podcast will have a different feel than R&B or country. It makes the changes automatically but you can also adjust the levels — however basic — from the Google Home app.
Ambient IQ adjusts the volume of the speaker depending on what’s going on around it. If you are in a room full of screaming kids, the speaker will act differently when it’s playing podcasts.
Making the sound good is the algorithm Google is applying to the music. As the volume gets lower, the speaker will adjust the EQ accordingly so that the bass can still be heard. You will get a different sound if the speaker is kept in the corner of a bookshelf compared to the middle of the room.
Google says it’s 75 per cent louder and 50 per cent bigger on bass than the original Google Home speaker, which is correct. Unlike Apple’s HomePod, the sound is directional and comes out from the front of the speaker, so you don’t get 360-degree audio. It’s best to keep the volume at 70 per cent to get a great feel.
What the Nest Audio does is solve one of the problems of Google Home Max, which is massive and needs a dedicated spot. This one can fit anywhere without compromising on the sound and keeps pricing in check.
In case you have a couple of Google speakers, try pairing them for left-right stereo sound. Also, you can ask Google Assistant many of the usual stuff — GK questions, set a timer, control lights and so on. In case there are two such speakers in the house in two rooms, they can also be used as intercom.
Just be careful about having this in the bathroom as the speaker doesn’t have an IP rating or basic moisture protection.
Google, are you listening?
No, Google is not listening when you don’t want it to listen. First, there is a button in the back which can be used to switch off the microphones. Once done, an orange light shows on the speaker. Second, you can ask Google to wipe all that you have searched for with a voice command or by visiting account settings on the phone.
Should you get it?
Frankly, Nest Audio is a great way of listening to music while working from home. While working you really don’t focus on what’s playing on the speaker. All that you want is a good sound profile, which this one does. Also, it helps limit screen time for kids. At a decent price, Google has come up with a good-looking speaker with a zesty soundscape.
At a glance
Device: Google Nest Audio
Weight: 1.2kg with a 1.5m power cable
Colours: Chalk and charcoal
Speakers and mics: 75mm woofer, 19mm tweeter, three far-field mics
Processor: Quad Core A53 1.8GHz
Supported OS: Android and iOS
Price: Rs 6,999 (Flipkart)