Nest Audio review: The Google Home successor has serious audio chops

The replacement for Google’s original, now discontinued smart speaker is here, and after listening to it for a few days, I’m not missing the old Google Home one bit. The rectangular Nest Audio delivers truly impressive sound considering its $100 price tag, and its sturdy, fabric-covered design looks handsome in person. With Google Assistant on board, the Nest Audio can also respond to voice commands and take charge of smart home devices. Waiting in the wings, however, is Amazon’s refreshed Echo speaker, which also costs $100 and packs in stereo (rather than mono) sound, plus a Zigbee smart home hub.

Design and specifications

From the moment pre-announcement photos of the speaker appeared online, the Nest Audio’s industrial design provoked furrowed brows and even some derision; indeed, I wrote that it looks like a “potato sack” or “a pillow standing on end.” Well, shame on me. Seeing it in person, the Nest Audio looks smaller than I imagined, and certainly more stylish and elegant than a crumpled pillow.

Ben Patterson/IDG

The Google Nest Mini looked pretty sharp sitting on a shelf in my dining room. Note the chunky wall wart in the background, however.

Placing it next to a red vase on a shelf near my dining room table, I actually thought it looked pretty sharp. The Nest Audio’s design makes even more sense when you see how its two front-firing drivers (a tweeter and a mid-woofer, which we’ll discuss in more detail momentarily) are vertically stacked, just like a conventional speaker.

Measuring 6.89 x 4.89 x 3.07 inches (HxWxD), the Nest Audio is more than an inch taller than the Google Home speaker it’s replacing, but it’s a half inch shorter than the biggest Google speaker, the Google Home Max. Weighing in at 2.65 pounds, the Nest Audio feels reassuringly substantial, and given its heft along with its broad, rubberized base, the speaker never felt in danger of tipping over.

google nest audio base Ben Patterson/IDG

Thanks to its heft and wide, rubberized base, the Nest Audio never felt in danger of tipping over.

The Nest Audio’s tight, tactile fabric covering, which comes in “chalk”, “charcoal,” “sage,” “sand,” and “sky” flavors (I tested the chalk version), should feel familiar to anyone who has a Google Home Max or a Nest Mini. The fabric wraps around the entire shell of the Nest Audio, save for its base. The front of the Nest Audio is featureless, save for the four telltale LEDs that peek through the fabric when you’re chatting up Google Assistant or adjusting the speaker volume.

Ports and connectors

As for ports on the Nest Audio, there’s only the barrel-shaped DC power port in back. That port connects to a roughly five-foot power cord with a 24V adapter, necessary to accommodate the Nest Audio’s 30W power draw. That adapter comes in the form of a chunky, 1.5 x 2-inch wall wart, which will block any outlet that’s directly beneath it.

google nest audio power port Ben Patterson/IDG

The Nest Audio’s barrel-shaped power port sits near the speaker bottom-right corner; note the missing 3.5mm audio jack.

Notably, there’s no 3.5mm audio jack for connecting an external speaker, although one could argue that with its improved speakers (compared to the Google Home), the Nest Audio doesn’t need an analog audio output. In any case, if you do want to connect the Nest Audio to an external speaker, you can always do so via Bluetooth 5.0. (It’s worth noting that most of Amazon’s competing Echo speakers do come with 3.5mm audio outputs.)

Setup

As with Google’s other smart speakers, getting the Nest Audio connected to Wi-Fi is a snap. If you’re already using the Google Home app, a “Set up Nest Audio” banner simply appears at the top of the app’s main interface. Tap it, and the app connects the Nest Audio to your Wi-Fi network; I had to pick my network from a list of nearby Wi-Fi networks, but I didn’t need to enter my network password. If this is your first Google speaker and you’re new to the Google Home app, you’ll need to install the application and sign in with your Google account to get started.

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