Google launched their first smart display back in 2018, bringing Assistant to the screen and opening up a whole new range of features.
The first smart displays from Google launched as the Google Home Hub, but after a rebranding exercise six months later the line is now solidly rocking the Nest branding. The Nest Hub (2nd gen) launched earlier this month offering improved audio and a new sleep tracking feature powered by their Soli radar sensor.
Google first announced Soli in 2015 at Google I/O, their annual developer conference but the sensor didn’t reappear until the Pixel 4 where it powered the gesture controls. Google is looking to build on the Soli feature set with the new Nest Hub including a sleep tracking feature called Sleep Sensing as well as the gesture controls.
It’s not just Sleep Sensing that Google has added to this 2nd Gen Nest Hub with a more powerful audio system tuned with ‘50% more bass’ than the Gen 1. There’s also a Thread radio for Smart Home devices as part of Google’s involvement with CHIP, the Connected Home over IP group.
The Google Nest Hub (2nd gen) went up for pre-order on March 17th, with sales beginning March 31st. The unit sells for $149, a drop in price from the $219 price tag the original sold for, though over the $99 price tag the gen 1 currently sells for (if you can find stock).
I’ve been using the Nest Hub (2nd gen) for just under a week now, and here’s how it went.
Hardware and Design
What struck me the first time I pulled the gen 1 Home Hub out of the box was just how tiny it was. The second gen Nest Hub is still just as minute as its predecessor, so if you’re looking to replace one it should fit in the same space quite comfortably.
The Nest Hub uses the same barrel power adapter, with a circular power adapter. These circular adapters don’t play well with other power adapters on a power board which is a shame, and I really would like to see Google (and other vendors) change to a more compact form factor.
The Nest Hub (2nd gen) has the same 7-inch (1024×600 res) LCD display as the original Nest Hub, it’s a decent screen, but can seem a little dim in brighter conditions – however you can tune the default brightness in the Home app to your personal preference.
Just like the original Nest Hub, the 2nd gen includes the Ambient EQ sensor which matches the brightness and colour to the surrounding area. It also uses this sensor for the Sunrise alarm which gently brightens the display to wake you up more naturally.
At 7” in size, the Nest Hub screen is great for displaying photos as well as other cards and dashboards from the Google Assistant. It can also play videos from Netflix, Disney+, Stan etc. and while I haven’t used it for much video playback my son has certainly enjoyed playing YouTube videos he Cast to it.
Like all the Nest speakers and smart displays, the Nest Hub can also stream music from Spotify, YouTube Music, and even be added to your ‘Cast’ speaker groups.
The display hides a couple of physical controls behind it, a volume rocker on the right for quick access if you don’t feel like asking the Assistant to change the volume. There’s also a mute switch for the microphone which ensures your privacy.
The mute switch kills all three far-field microphones on the Nest Hub (2nd gen), which is a step up from the two included on the last model. The mic setup is great on this model, but then I never had issues with Google Assistant hearing me on the last one. But, if you were having issues being heard this third mic may help.
The Nest Hub is primarily a smart display, but it of course has a speaker setup and Google is promising up to 50% more bass on the Nest Hub (2nd gen). I’ve compared the two and the overall sound is a little more ‘full’ with that additional bass offering improved low-end, while the mids and highs are clear.
While I wouldn’t recommend the Nest Hub as a speaker in and of itself, it’s a decent quality sound.
One thing I am pretty excited about in the Nest Hub but I haven’t been able to test is the Thread radio.
Google is including the Thread as part of their involvement with CHIP. The aim of CHIP is to make smart home ecosystems more able to be interoperable and compatible. Given the number of efforts on this front it’s easy to be cynical, but given Apple, Amazon and Google are in the consortium it’s a big deal.
The only problem with Thread is that there’s very few devices that support it. Apple included Thread support in the Apple Homepod mini, but as for devices there’s really only some Nanoleaf Bulbs and strips and some Door and Window sensors from Eve.
It’s a chicken/egg problem though and the theory is with devices like the Homepod, and now Nest Hub (2nd gen) there will be more devices coming now. I hope to see what Thread can do down the track, but for now, it has it but there’s not much you can do with it.
Soli – Gestures and Sleep Sensing
The new Nest Hub includes the Soli radar chip. Google first used Soli on the Pixel 4 where it offered the ability to snooze alarms, dismiss timers, silence calls and even skip tracks with a swipe. The Nest Hub offers the same swipe and tap gestures to let you play/pause music or timers and snooze alarms.
Given the Nest Hub lives on my bedside table the most use I got out of gestures was snoozing the alarm in the morning. It was pretty good at interpreting the vague wave in its direction to snooze the alarm as well.
But the big news for Soli in the Nest Hub is of course the Sleep Sensing feature. Google hopes that by tracking your sleep with Soli and applying the insights they’ve developed with the American Academy of Sleep Medicine will offer recommendations on how to improve your sleep personalised according to your sleep metrics.
To start with, Google goes to great pains to let you know that Sleep Sensing is opt-in. You have to specifically enable and calibrate Sleep Sensing through a setup process before it even starts. If you do decide you want to opt-in you can still disable Sleep Sensing at any time. You can double tap the screen to pause sleep sense, or swipe up from the bottom to access the quick settings menu to disable it temporarily.
Part of the setup process is setting your expected sleep patterns for Sleep Sensing to be active. I’m a shift worker, so I’m still exploring how this will affect the Google Sleep Sensing algorithm, and what I will have to do to track sleeping during the day while on shift.
The other part of the setup is putting it in the right place. You’ll need to set the Nest Hub up about 30-60cm away from you, at the height you sleep at. This means the Nest Hub had to sit on a couple of hardback novels as my bedside table was a little low.
Once you’re setup, all you have to do is sleep.
When you wake up you can see your sleep data on the Nest Hub display by asking Google ‘How did I sleep’. The sleep dashboard will show how long you slept for and the quality of your sleep.
If you choose to record respiratory events you can also see your ‘Respiratory Wellness’ card. The card shows any instances of coughing or snoring it captured during the night, and also your respiratory rate. You can also see your respiratory wellness report over a week for comparison.
Your sleep data, including your sleep schedule and duration will also appear in the Google Fit app on your phone. The Fit app was the only way I could see the additional sleep I took during the day ahead of a night shift in my data as it wasn’t displaying on the Nest Hub sleep card.
The actual tracking that Soli can achieve is fairly impressive. It can see when you’re awake and attending to a child, pets or nature and how well you’re sleeping. It’s also really easy to disable it if you don’t want Google aware of what’s happening in your bedroom at any time.
The Nest Hub can only track one person at a time, though there may be instances where their coughs or snores are recorded against your score. This also means you will need two Nest Hubs in your bedroom if your partner also wants to track their sleep.
Google will offer a Sleep report in the Wellness hub on the Nest Hub display. It shows up after your first week of tracking with the Nest Hub, provided you actually track at least four of those nights. The report has insights and personalised sleep tips on your sleep to help you get more healthy sleep.
I found my sleep patterns for the review were fairly regular, and I got restful sleep most nights. This meant my sleep report was fairly boring. I am intrigued with what these tips and insights will offer after it tracks me during a full work rotation including overnight shifts and sleeping during the day. I asked Google about this and they said they will offer recommended schedules for getting ‘efficient’ sleep – so we’ll see how it goes.
Something sticking out for me with the launch of the new Nest Hub is the Sleep Sensing service is being provided free for a year. Google wouldn’t announce any potential pricing for the service after this time, including that they even may not charge for it after this time.
I am concerned about this potential monetisation of the service down the track. It would be disappointing to use the service for a year, only to find it being moved behind a paywall after you’re well and truly hooked.
I don’t mind paying for services, but it’s disappointing to be told that it may be monetised, yet no details are available. As it stands, it’s a service you do get access to for a year, so it may be worth seeing what you get out of it
Should You Buy It?
The original Nest Hub has been living in our bedroom since it launched, and my son also has one in his room. It’s a great device for displaying photos but not being overbearing. Having a second hasn’t lit the room up to any degree with the Ambient EQ really doing a great job of keeping the display brightness just right.
The new Sleep Sensing feature on the Nest Hub are an interesting implementation of Soli, and sleep is a huge part of everyone’s lives. Sleep is also individual so having a way to get insights into the best way you can get a good nights sleep can be invaluable for a lot of people.
I’m still a bit concerned about the potential for Google charging for Sleep Sensing down the track, but if it helps you get better sleep for a year it may be worth it.
As far as the hardware goes,I’m a big fan of the compact form factor of the Nest Hub, and as the original Nest Hub appears to mostly be sold out the Nest Hub (2nd gen) is ready to take its place on store shelves.
I won’t be replacing the existing gen 1 Nest Hubs we have, but if you’re looking at something to replace an alarm clock or maybe some sleep insights it’s a good option.
You can check the new Nest Hub on the Google Store now.