While scrolling through the headlines this morning, you might see a few that read “Google Nest Audio Review,” but this isn’t that. At the time of writing, I’ve only spent 24 hours with Google’s new (and Mark Ronson-approved) $99 smart speaker. So these are just my initial impressions.
Here at Mashable, we believe in a work-life balance. And since I received my Nest Audio review unit the day after it was announced, that means not working over the weekend to meet Google’s tight turnaround for coverage.
This is all to say: A full review is in the works, so keep an eye out for that. But for now, here are some things you can look forward to.
1. It no longer looks like a Glade air freshener
I’ve owned the original Google Home for three years now, and I never really thought much of its design. Its mismatched body and base always stuck out like a sore thumb in both my kitchen and living room. But since I relied on it so much, whether to play music or ask questions, I learned to live with its look. Plus, it’s been so long since Google updated the design of its smart speaker (aside from releasing interchangeable base colors), I figured this was the best it was going to get.
And then, the Nest Audio came along, making me question why I never realized how dated the Google Home looked.
For starters, the Nest Audio abandons the circular design of its predecessor for a rectangular shape with curved edges. It’s also fully wrapped in fabric, giving it a more seamless look that’s easier on the eyes. Its touch controls are easy to use and responsive, too: Tap the left corner to lower the volume; tap the right to raise it; and tap the middle for pause or playback.
But this design technically isn’t new — Google clearly pulled inspiration from its Nest Mini and Google Home Max, which are both also encased in fabric and have much softer aesthetics. So, if you’re loyal to the Nest lineup and already have those devices scattered throughout your home, the Nest Audio will fit in nicely.
It comes in similar colors as the Nest Mini, too: chalk, charcoal, sand, sage, and sky. Sadly, Google sent me the chalk color. It’s fine in the sense that it easily blends in with any furniture, but I was hoping for a pop of color.
The device is compact too, which is both a blessing and a curse. While its small footprint means you’ll have an easy time finding a surface for it in the house, it looks kind of bare on its own. Google says it’s best enjoyed in pairs, mainly because of its stereo pairing feature (which allows you to connect two Nest Audios for stereo sound).
But I think it was designed to be placed in pairs as well because otherwise it looks kind of lonely and sad. At $99 each, I am not saying you have to buy two of these for the sake of interior decor. But if you feel as weird about it as I do, you might have to get creative with how you place it.
I really do think it’s a beautiful-looking speaker, but I still have this weird urge to swap it out with the Google Home. Perhaps that’s what happens when you wait too long to update a smart speaker. But maybe my attachment issues are also partly to blame here.
2. Bye-bye muffled audio
Look, I’m no audiophile. But I can assure you this device will be properly inspected by an audio expert (who will use words like “tinny,” distorted,” “canny,” and “sharp” when describing how the speaker sounds) for the full review.
In the meantime, I was able to accurately identify one thing with my own ears: The Nest Audio sounds a lot less muffled than the original Google Home. When I’d first plugged it in and played a few songs, I immediately noticed a clarity in sound that I wasn’t used to on its predecessor.
According to Google, the Nest Audio doesn’t sound as muffled because, unlike the Google Home, it doesn’t come with passive radiators. Allow me to explain.
When you take apart the Google Home, you’ll find a 50mm full range driver on the front that’s responsible for reproducing the frequencies of the song you’re listening to. To help provide that full frequency range, it relies on passive radiators to achieve greater levels of bass. However, that also results in a muffled sound.
Since the Nest Audio features a 75mm woofer for bass, it’s able to access the entire frequency range and provide more bass depth, so it no longer needs the help of passive radiators. Essentially, you’re only hearing the pure bass produced by the woofer which gives you punchier, more precise audio.
3. It’s not ‘one size fits all’ for every room in the house
If you’re contemplating buying the Nest Audio, I’d recommend basing your decision on the size of the space you’re planning to use it in.
At my apartment in NYC, I keep a Google Home Mini in my bedroom and a Google Home in the living room. Since my room is super small, the Mini is more than capable of filling the space with audio when I’m playing music or podcasts. I can also lower the volume enough that it doesn’t bother my roommates. Whereas the Google Home is my go-to speaker for when I have guests over and want to play music that reaches all the rooms in the apartment.
That same logic applies to the Nest Audio — I’d reserve this one for larger rooms in the house like the kitchen, family room, or basement. Even the bedroom I’m currently testing the Nest Audio in (also known as the room in my parents’ house), which is four times the size of my room in NYC, is too small for this speaker. What’s more, I’ve been keeping it at low volume while playing music so as not to disturb my brother who’s working in the next room.
4. It’s clearly built to stay put indoors
Prior to the official launch of the Nest Audio, a promotional video released by Google seemed to allude to the possibility that the speaker would be portable with a built-in battery.
But Google says it decision to skip out on portability had to do with two factors: cost and functionality. Basically, the company focused on making sure this thing sounded the best it could for its price point, packing in a woofer and tweeter.
The company also wanted to make sure its users would still receive all the benefits that come with Google Assistant and constant Wi-Fi connectivity, like controlling your smart home products or retrieving music from the cloud. So, even though you’re able to move it from room to room or to the backyard (if the Wi-Fi reaches that far), your portability is ultimately limited.
It is possible that Google might release an accessory that’s similar to the portable battery base it offered for the original Google Home. But that decision will likely be based on user feedback over time.
Its lack of portability also coincides with its lack of weatherproofing. Google doesn’t recommend using the Nest Audio in bathrooms and it’s not formally rated for use as an outdoor speaker. That means you shouldn’t leave it out in the rain, and you probably shouldn’t use it for pool parties, either.
5. The Nest Audio isn’t the speaker for everyone
While I can easily distinguish between the sound quality of a cheap $30 Bluetooth speaker and a more expensive one, my ears don’t pick up on the nuances that come with critiquing audio. And, according to Google, the Nest Audio isn’t for those discerning types, anyway. It’s really meant for those who are content with the sound and convenience the Nest Mini offers, and simply want an upgrade for bigger rooms in the house.
Even though I have yet to really put the Nest Audio to the test, one thing is already crystal clear: This isn’t a speaker for audiophiles. It’s for smart home junkies.
In fact, I’m probably Google’s ideal customer.