WHEN GOOGLE announced it was finally going to roll its Nest smart-home division into Google-proper, it wasn't surprising. What's perhaps more surprising is that it's taken so long for the first Google Nest product to emerge. The result: a smart speaker with a display and a few surprises makes up for it, more or less.
If you thought that a debut Google Nest device would mean something that shows the best bits of the combined brand, you'd be mostly, half right. Essentially it's a bigger version of the Google Home Hub (now the Google Nest Home Hub) released last year.
Plonk them side by side and apart from their relative girths, there's not much difference between them, visually. But dig a little deeper and there's much more to discover.
The major difference is that this 10ub beast has a camera, something that the original side-stepped, lest it should spook anyone concerned about their privacy.
That's pretty much the only cosmetic change, with the white surround, fabric "floating" base (in silly-name Black and silly-name White) and 'Made by Google' design language. It's undeniably very pretty and actually seems to suit this slightly larger form factor better.
That single change to the design is the key to Google Nest Hub Max's other big change - the camera isn't just there for video calling.
For a start, it's a fully-fledged Nest camera with full HD recording and a 127-degree field of vision. Once set up, it will treat your Hub Max as part of your Nest setup (though with a massive catch which we'll come on to later), meaning that for your 220 notes you're getting a smart speaker/display, digital photo frame, Chromecast and security camera, and that's not to be sniffed at.
The camera can be shut off if you so wish (so can the microphone), though we wish that it had a physical cover like Lenovo's Google Assistant products. Don't get the electrical tape out just yet though, as the camera has a bunch of other uses too.
It's no ordinary webcam, and can automatically pan, zoom and even follow someone on the screen. Great for chatting whilst pottering, but also allowing the device to identify you. That means it can contextualise its Google Assistant answers to the person using it more effectively than voice alone. In fact, it can be set to completely ignore anyone it doesn't recognise if that's your bag.
The camera, of course, will also work with Google Duo, but only last week, WhatsApp video calling support was added too, and there's more compatibility in the pipeline.
Also rather nifty is that the camera recognises gestures, so if you want to pause the recipe you're working on, without getting unleavened flour all over your prize gadget, you can simply make sure your face is in the shot, and raise your hand. Very cool - especially as now this technique has been implemented, it's a software update from adding more gestures.
If you've used any of the previous products in the range, you've got a fair idea what to expect - the functionality is about evolution, not revolution and as such, there's not a lot that's particularly hardware-driven that makes it unique to this device (though the return of the EQ ambient light sensors to control the brightness of the screen is a welcome one).
One area where there is a big improvement is sound. The Hub Max has stereo 15w speakers. They're about on a par with the speaker from the original Google Home, but there's two of them, and they operate independently. That's still a massive step up from the Google Home Mini, or the Google Home Hub, though not quite ready to battle it out against the big ol' Google Home Max (and while we're at it, Google, you really need to fix our naming convention because it's getting seriously confusing).
Otherwise, as a Google Assistant speaker, we can honestly say it does what it does and does it well. As a Nest camera, there's a big catch though….
As you might be aware, Google and Nest haven't completely merged their systems yet, but the "Works With Nest" programme that allowed third-party devices to work seamlessly with your security setup is no longer taking new devices/vendors.
Unfortunately, because the Nest app is being wound down, there's no option to add your Hub Max that way. That means, the only way to get the Nest functionality working is to migrate any existing devices to your Google Account - something Google would be delighted if you did, but you might be less impressed when you discover that your third-party integrations have gone awry - and although Google Home has some of the same features, they're not nearly so comprehensive at time of launch, and that's a real shame.
This device seems to want to show us the best from Google Home and Nest in one device - but the fact that things are (in typical Google fashion) still in flux actually negates the point of having a Nest function at all, alas.
As smart displays go, there's not much wrong with the Google Nest Hub Max. It's stylish, bright, responsive and generally a cut above most others. The real let down is the fact that, as a Nest device, it could put their most loyal customers in an awkward position.
The upshot, if you want a recommendation for a smart display, then here it is, fill your boots. If you want us to recommend it as a worthy addition to your Nest rig, then we can't, not yet anyway (though this is all fixable from a software standpoint).
Improved form factor, nice design, crisp display, video call functionality, punchy stereo sound.
No physical lens cover, a bit pricier than Lenovo's 10in smart display.
You're forced to migrate your other Nest products to make full use of it, despite the loss of functionality.