Google’s new Nest-branded smart speaker has been anointed with the suffix ‘Audio’, a moniker that suggests the Californian giant is highlighting how splendid its latest voice-activated device actually sounds, rather than what its Google Assistant can help you with.
The redesigned Google Nest Audio feels surprisingly tall and heavy in our hands. Whatever your thoughts on pebble-coloured, fabric-swathed cuboids, here is a second-gen speaker that could never be mistaken for an air freshener. So, will Google’s clear shot at nominative determinism succeed or struggle? Let’s see.
The Nest Audio’s dimensions are roughly that of a house brick turned upright, but the aesthetic here is altogether more calming. There’s no branding or visible controls, apart from a small switch around the back of the unit that turns off voice pick-up.
The speaker is so unassuming it almost fades into the background of your home decor, that is until you bark ‘Hey Google’ to fire up its makers’ AI calling card: a quartet of horizontal LED lights shining out from under the speaker’s skin. The enclosure is made from 70 per cent recycled plastic, too – another thoughtful touch.
Under the Nest Audio’s chalk-coloured jacket (also available in black) there’s a 19mm tweeter, 75mm woofer and Quad Core A53 1.8 GHz processor. There are three capacitive touch controls too: tap in the middle of the speaker’s curved top to pause and resume playback, tap to the left to reduce volume and tap on the right edge to increase it. These functions don’t require much force and work well.
It’s worth remembering that the Nest Audio must be plugged in to an electricity socket in your home to operate, so if you want your smart speaker to sit on a coffee table away from a wall and you don’t want to be worried about tripping over a power cable, think carefully.
Even for Google Home newbies, set-up is a breeze. Plug the Nest Audio in, download the Google Home app, follow the prompts and you’re in business. The speaker calmly locates our wi-fi, accepts our Spotify Premium account, assumes its ‘lounge’ location within our ‘home’ and takes on its new name to avoid confusion in our listening facility.
Bluetooth version 5.02
Power cable 1.5 m
Google Chromecast built-in Yes
Google Assistant built-in Yes
Dimensions (hwd) 17.5 x 12.4 x 7.8cm
In terms of streaming services, as well as Spotify, there is also YouTube Music, Deezer, TuneIn and a few others which once linked, can be accessed by saying ‘Hey Google, play Cardi B’, for example. With Chromecast built-in, you can also cast tracks to your Google Nest Audio with two clicks of your preferred music-streaming app on your smartphone.
Voice pick-up is impeccable throughout our tests, with Google answering accurately, clearly and snappily, even with music at high volume. While it’s possible to alter the Nest Audio’s EQ levels within the app, we don’t recommend doing so. After experimenting, we keep these neutral – augmenting the bass doesn’t yield a desired energetic weightiness and upping the treble only results in a harsher listen.
Within the well-designed Google Home app you can now create a stereo pair comprising two Google Nest Audios – a Nest Audio and Google Home can also be paired, but only in mono. Doing so creates a more room-filling, substantial sound with a broader soundscape. Google is currently offering a discount if you buy two Nest Audios, too, which could be a tempting proposition in terms of sound-per-pound value.
According to Google, this speaker is 75 per cent louder, and has 50 per cent more bass than the 2016 Google Home smart speaker it succeeds. So, can you get an enhanced and room-filling sound with just one Google Nest Audio, as the company claims? Sadly not. While those stats may be true, it simply doesn’t equate to the levelled-up sound quality we had hoped for.
The Google Nest Audio is rather likable as a background music provider and for listening to podcasts in the kitchen – and it is both fun and reliable when answering our requests – it isn’t quite the serious audio proposition we’d hoped for, even at this relatively low price-point.
Listen to a similarly-priced JBL Flip 5, for example, and while you won’t get smart capabilities (nor app support, nor streaming over wi-fi), Coheed and Cambria’s The Crowing sounds weightier, times better across the frequencies and features an extra layer of detail throughout the vocal.
Switching to Jojo Desmond’s Studio 54, Desmond’s lyrical, soulful and charismatic belt comes through centrally and is well handled through the midrange, but we lose the brooding disco bassline that pumps energy through the track. The more mellow Lonely Heart, a track that starts with a funky picked bass solo alongside a steady drumbeat, is just not quite as three-dimensional, emotive and dynamic as it ought to be.
When listening to Cardi B’s I Like It, we increase the volume in search of a room-filling bassline, but find that upping the loudness brings with it a harshness through the treble which becomes slightly tiring over time.
The Google Nest Audio is well-made, easy to operate, hears our requests accurately and answers them with finesse. It also plays music – and for some that’ll be every box ticked.
If you’re looking for a smart speaker to sit in the kitchen and provide a slightly bigger background noise than an entry-level Nest Mini, the Google Nest Audio is a good option. But, at three times as expensive as its Mini sibling, we cannot confirm that it’s three times as good.
For a product with a name that’s specifically intended to appeal to an audio-conscious market, the Google Nest Audio really needs to sound better.
- Sound 3
- Features 4
- Build 5
Read our guide to the best wireless speakers
Read our Google Home review
Read our JBL Flip 5 review