Google Nest Audio review: The cure for pandemic loneliness

If you are really the Google-everything type, then the Google Nest is the ideal smart speaker for you. It cannot be much smarter now, but the audio quality could have been better.

| Rs. 6,999

I asked her what is love… she searched and said she could not find an answer. Then I asked her to tell me a joke, and she made me laugh. I asked her to entertain me with a song and she went, ‘I am just a teenage dirtbag baby’. Yeah, she is smart and now she also looks a bit cute.

Before you get carried away, I am talking about the new Nest Audio smart speakers from Google powered by the Google Assistant. Google has stopped using the Home branding for its smart speakers with the launch of the two latest versions — Nest and Nest Mini. And with the larger one, which I am reviewing, the design has also been changed. The Nest Audio speaker stands tall, but is thin and has curved edges. Unlike the earlier version, it is covered all over with fabric and the LEDs are just in front behind the cloth.

Setting up is easy and you just need to download the Google Home app and follow instructions. There are no physical buttons on the device, but that does not mean you cannot control the music from it. There is a stop button on the top flanked by volume up and down on the sides. You don’t see it but they are there and you will get used to it. Also, it makes sense of hiding the physical buttons because the hero here is clearly voice and that is what Google wants you to use instead of plus and minus signs.

And the Nest Audio device does a good job of listening in when you want to. It has answers for all your queries, well most of them… maybe not a philosophical one. Also, the Google Assistant does not need keyword-heavy phrases now and understands contextual queries well, like ‘how hot is it’ and ‘how bad is the coronavirus’. It can play literally any song you want it to, from the many audio streaming partners Google has lined up — if YouTube does not have it, the Google Assistant usually finds in either in Spotify, JioSaavn or Gaana. I was pleasantly surprised by the numbers of new Malayalam songs I encountered with a simple ‘Play top Malayalam songs’ query.

There is more. I asked it for the top news and the latest evening catchup podcast by my colleague Arun George started playing. Then I asked for my daily agenda and the Google Assistant scanned my Google calendar entries to tell me I had just four Zoom calls during the day. The Nest device can also control Philips Hue and other smart accessories once linked using the Google Home App. You can even make calls with those on Google Duo easily via just voice controls on the device.

It is also pretty smart. For instance, I asked it for a long playlist and even before it started listing the songs, it pinged me the answer to the query on the phone so that I could see and decide and take a call on the song I wanted to hear. For those worried about privacy, there is a button to shut off the microphone when you don’t want the speaker to be listening for everything.

The audio quality is good, but certainly not great. At the lower volumes, the music sounds a bit stifled and it’s best to play about 70 per cent. The audio profile is just a bit partial to bass, and you can use the equaliser in the Home app to get exactly what you want. But for a lean back Sunday at home with fewer Zoom check-ins needed than on weekdays, the Google Nest Audio is enough and you will certainly enjoy the kind of song discovery it enables.

If you are really the Google-everything type, then the Google Nest is the ideal smart speaker for you. It cannot be much smarter now, but the audio quality could have been better. Still, the Google Assistant might be just the loneliness partner you want in the room to get rid of the pandemic blues.


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