The Google Home Hub is great for controlling smart homes, checking the weather and news, and setting alarms or timers. But, if you don’t have Ambient Display installed to show your photos, you’re missing out on one of the best features.

Google Home Hub is more than a voice assistant

You probably use voice commands quite often on your Google Home Hub, but this ignores the main feature that separates the Hub from other Google Home devices — the display. The Home Hub display can show the weather, play video news, offer recipe step-by-step instructions, control smart lights, and even play YouTube videos. But one of the best features of the Home Hub, external display mode, only appears when you’re not using the hub.

In the Home Hub, Google introduced the «Ambient EQ» light sensor, which allows the device to change its brightness and color temperature to best perform in its current environment. Essentially, the Hub should look good no matter what room you place it in. It’s hard to overstate how well this works, but you’ll almost swear you’re looking at a printed photo instead of a screen.

So, when you’re not using the Google Home Hub (which is probably most of the time), why not show off your photos? Remember those digital photo frames from a decade ago — only in this case the final product is not terrible.

If you have more than one Home Hub, you can even show the same set of photos without having to add one per device—your photos just need to be saved to Google Photos. You can even choose which people and pets show up on your Hub.

Upload your photos to Google Photos

To view your photos in your Home Hub, you need to upload them to Google Photos. However, if you just want to see beautiful art, you can jump straight to enabling Ambient Mode in the Google Home Hub.

If you haven’t already, start by uploading your photos to Google Photos. It’s possible that all the photos you’re interested in are already there, especially if you’re taking pictures on an Android phone. But if you haven’t, start by going to Google Photos and signing in with your Google account. Then upload any images you want to display on your hubs. You can also do this from the Google Photos app for iPhone and Android, but if you already have all of your photos on your computer, you can download them all at once from your browser.

Once you’ve uploaded your photos, click on the search bar at the top of the screen (to the left of the «Upload» button). You’ll see a series of faces — click on them and tag those faces to group your photos by people. This will be useful later if you want your Google Home Hub to display specific people (such as family members or pets).

Take the time to identify people in more than one picture, especially children who may have pictures at different stages of life. Initially, Google may not recognize a person at age four and then at age six as the same person, but if you tag each of them with the same name, it will offer to merge the images. Keep doing this and eventually Google will learn and accurately display children as they grow, even if you haven’t identified specific photos. Impressively, we’ve also seen Google recognize a person with a darkened face based on the clothes they wear. Google calls this feature Live Albums, and it’s not limited to the Google Home Hub. You can also share these albums with family and friends using the Google Photos app.

Unfortunately, face grouping is not available in the UK, Illinois, or Texas.

Activate Ambient Mode on your Google Home Hub

Google Home App shows Living Room display title with

You will be setting the environment mode on each of your Google Home Hubs. First, open the Google Home app on your phone, highlight your Google Home device, and tap its icon above the words Play Music. In this example, we are using a hub named Kitchen Display.

Google Home App with a border around the kitchen display option (aka Google Home Hub)

If you have the «Personalize environment» option in the bottom left corner, click on it. Otherwise, tap the advanced options menu (which looks like three vertical dots) and then Ambient Mode Settings.

On the next screen, you’ll choose what to display when your Google Home Hub is in Ambient mode — Google Photos, Art Gallery, Full Screen Clock, or Experimental. Google Photos will pull photos from your Google Photos albums; The art gallery will show Google selected images such as fine art, images created by NASA, images of cities, and so on. A full screen clock is what it looks like; You will always see the watch face. Experimental will fetch images from your linked Facebook or Flickr accounts (given that this is an experimental option, it may change).

In this example, we will select Google Photos to view our personal photos.

Ambient Mode settings with options for Google Photos, Art Gallery, etc.

If you have existing albums, you can select them. Alternatively, you can try Recent Highlights, which will rely on Google’s algorithms to display interesting photos you’ve recently taken. Unfortunately, the AI ​​can learn things but doesn’t understand them, so it can lead to weird results, like showing a collage of carpet samples.

In this example, we’ll tap «Select Family and Friends» and highlight four people to highlight. Once you’ve chosen the people you want to show, Google creates a new album called Family and Friends that you can use in other Google Home hubs. Click the back arrow in the top left corner to leave this screen once you’ve made your selection.

Unfortunately, because it is based on grouping of faces, the Family and Friends feature of the Album is not available in the UK, Illinois, or Texas.

Google Photos settings with Choose family and friends option

Now that we’re back in the Ambient Mode settings, scroll down to find more settings. Here you can turn weather, time, and personal photo data on and off. The first two, Weather and Time, speak for themselves. The photo’s personal data adds a label to the display explaining which album the photo came from and who owns it (if you’re sharing your Google Photos).

If you set your «Personal Photo Processing» to «Live Albums Only», Google will attempt to weed out any blurry or poorly exposed photos. If you leave the «All albums» setting, then all photos, good and bad, will be shown. Below these options you will find the slide show speed. We recommend setting this to one minute, but choose what you like best. Select the options you prefer and click the back arrow in the top left corner.

Additional Ambient mode settings with calls around the weather and other options

You did it! You will need to repeat these steps for any of your other Google Home Hubs. If you want to use the same list of people you selected above, then select the Friends and Family album instead of the Select Family and Friends option. Look at your work and be amazed at how good your photos look on this display. When you turn off the lights in a room, your home hub will automatically dim and display the time instead.

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