Apple’s entry into the smart speaker segment seems to have opened Amazon and Google’s eyes to the importance of audio quality on smart speakers. The Google Nest Audio is one such product, meant to deliver as much for music listeners as it will for smart home buyers. Alternatively, it could also be a sign that Google, Amazon, and Apple don’t think the smart home ecosystem is proliferating fast enough worldwide.
No matter the reason, the fact remains that the Nest Audio’s primary value proposition comes in the form of audio quality. In fact, between the Nest Mini, Nest Hub, and Nest Audio, Google now has a decent portfolio to take on Amazon in India, though the e-commerce giant admittedly has more offerings and its own e-commerce channel to highlight them.
But 2020 also seems to be the year when Google sells products at India-friendly prices. The Nest Audio is priced at Rs. 6,999 for the time being (MRP Rs. 7,999), which is certainly an attractive price for what it does. It sounds much better than an Amazon Echo (3rd Gen), which will cost you about the same. In fact, its audio quality is closer to the Bose Home Speaker 500 or Apple’s Homepod than a regular smart speaker you can think of.
That does not mean it sounds as good as the HomePod or the Bose, but it’s markedly superior compared to pretty much all Amazon Echos, screen-weidling devices from Lenovo, or the Mi Home Speaker from Xiaomi. If you want a smart speaker but aren’t sure you will actually invest in creating the smart home ecosystem in your home, that’s good news for you. If the Nest Audio doesn’t turn the lights on for you, it will at least serve as an adept speaker.
Compared to a third-generation Echo, the Nest Audio produces more nuanced sound. Audio has better definition, instruments don’t get muddled and bass output is quite good too. Apple’s HomePod is much better at all this, but given the humongous price difference, I can see how the Nest Audio makes sense.
What you shouldn’t expect is loud, thumping bass. The Nest Audio has a tweeter and woofer inside, but its compact size just didn’t allow that kind of bass output. If you have heard the original Google Home, this is miles ahead, but if you’re comparing it to the Bose Home Speaker 500 or Apple’s HomePod, this is nowhere close. The Nest Audio’s audio quality is similar to comparably priced portable speakers from JBL etc. It’s obviously not portable in the real sense, but if you happen to have wall sockets available, you could think of this as an alternative too. It looks and weighs somewhat like those
Milton Kool Rider water bottles we used to take to school as kids, but without the lid part of it.
Interestingly, the big downside to the Nest Audio is actually in its smart features. For instance, false triggers happen much more often on my Nest devices than the Echos. Since one of the trigger phrases is “Ok Google”, it often starts listening when a character on a TV show says “Ok” in some dialogue.
In my experience, this happened at least once or twice every day, and it’s unnerving to see that happen on a device that listens to you all the time and in theory, could record your conversations. Additionally, if you have an AndroidTV, the volume on the TV will be lowered temporarily every time the Nest Audio comes alive, which is annoying when false triggers happen. Google has a solution for this though – you can turn the mic off using a hardware button on the speaker – but unless you’re sitting at arm’s length from the speaker you’ll also need to get up and turn it back on whenever you want to talk to it.
It’s interesting how companies can make pop-up cameras on phones that rise up via software but can’t design ways to mute microphones and shutter cameras on speakers that way. The Nest Audio also lacks any input ports, meaning you can’t connect it to other things like some do with an Echo Input or Dot.
On the brightside, Google’s ecosystem of supported smart home devices in India is pretty much as strong as Amazon’s now. In fact, add AndroidTV-based televisions to that and you may even be looking at a larger ecosystem. And both ecosystems still have trouble dealing with services in India and our accents.
Having said all that, the Nest Audio might be just what Google needs to take on Amazon’s rampage in India with the Echo. Neither company has sold a huge number of these devices here yet, but the Nest Audio has the one thing Amazon’s devices can’t really promise — great audio quality.