If something isn’t broken, don’t repair it. That appears to be the philosophy behind the second-generation Google Nest Hub, which could easily be mistaken for the original at first glance. This latest Nest Hub includes onboard Google Assistant, an elegant, easy-to-use interface, plenty of video, music, and other entertainment options, and some of the best home automation features you’ll find in a smart panel, as well as a slim, fabric-covered base and “floating” seven-inch display, as well as onboard Google Assistant, an attractive, easy-to-use interface, plenty of videos, music, and other entertainment options, and some of the best home automation functionality.
Doesn’t that sound like a yawner? When it comes to the Nest Hub deux’s big new function, Sleep Sensing, an opt-in feature that enables the display to track your sleep without the use of a wristband, this is literally real. The Nest Hub, which is operated by a tiny built-in radar, can actually detect your breathing while you sleep and provide detailed reports on your sleep history and efficiency. It’s cool, but Sleep Sensing still feels like a work in progress, and we’re worried about Google’s hints that it could charge for Sleep Sensing functionality in the future (either some or all of it).
We were — and continue to be — major fans of the first-generation Nest Hub, which has gotten better over time thanks to regular updates. And, since the latest $100 Nest Hub is just $10 more costly than the initial (which originally cost $150 until a series of discounts), we’d highly suggest the newer display to first-time buyers, even if they don’t care about Sleep Sensing. Do owners of the original, on the other hand, need to upgrade? Let’s look into the specifics to find out.
Design of Nest Hub
The second-generation Nest Hub appears similar to its predecessor at first glance, with the same large, cloth-covered base, a seven-inch display that appears to float (thanks to its clever design), and a white detachable power cord. The ambient light sensor, which is embedded in the top bezel of the screen and flanked by a pair of far-field microphones, is also unchanged (at least cosmetically).
A modern, easier-to-clean edgeless glass feature is one of the second-generation Nest Hub’s cosmetic improvements.
However, if you look closely, you’ll notice a few minor differences. The new Nest Hub is slightly taller and deeper than the original, measuring 4.7 x 7 x 2.7 inches (HxWxD), and it weighs nearly two ounces more at 19.7 ounces. The show now has an edgeless glass design for quick cleaning, and in addition to the original chalk, charcoal, and sand flavors, you can now order a “mist” version of the Nest Hub.
Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by how compact the Nest Hub appeared in person (I’m used to the bigger, bulkier Nest Hub Max), and it fits perfectly on my crowded bedside table.
How to Setup Nest Hub
When you place the monitor in its proper location and turn it on, a “Set up Nest Hub” option will appear in the Google Home app for iOS and Android (assuming you have the app installed and a Google account, of course). When you push the button, Google Home will guide you through connecting the Nest Hub to your home wireless network. I had to try a few times to get the monitor linked to Wi-Fi (I kept getting a “Couldn’t link to Wi-Fi” error), but the third time was the charm, and I had no more problems.
After connecting to Wi-Fi, you’ll have to wade through a maze of privacy notifications and disclosures pertaining to features like Voice Match (which allows Google Assistant to recognize your voice for customized search results), Fast Gestures (which, as I’ll soon explain, allows the screen to respond to simple hand gestures), and the new Sleep Sensing feature (which I’ll cover later).
You’ll be asked to “teach” the display where you sleep during the initial setup phase if you want the Nest Hub to monitor your sleep (Sleep Sensing is an opt-in feature). The Nest Hub should be placed within arm’s reach and preferably on your bedside table, rather than at the foot of your bed or on your headboard, and facing you, according to the on-screen directions. The Nest Hub’s tiny Soli chip (basically a miniature radar) will then ask you to lie still—and alone—in your regular sleeping position while it learns where you’ll be in bed.
The Nest Hub will also ask if you want to see Google Photos snapshots on its screen, which I strongly suggest. If you choose, you can choose an existing picture album, but Google can also create an auto-updating album of all of your family, friends, or loved ones. The Nest Hub can show two portrait-oriented photos side by side (much better than Amazon’s Echo displays, which simply blur the left and right sides of a single portrait image), and it can frame people without cropping their heads off.
Finally, the Nest Hub’s Ambient IQ feature, which adjusts the display’s colours and brightness based on the ambient light in the room, does an excellent job of making your photos appear as printed photos rather than illuminated digital images. When both of these features are combined, the Nest Hub (and its larger sibling, the Nest Hub Max) becomes one of the best—and smartest—small digital picture frames available.
Interface and controls
The new Nest Hub has a physical mic mute switch in the back of the display, similar to the original Nest Hub and the larger Nest Hub Max (the switch also switches off the camera on the Hub Max), and a slim rocker along the right rear of the screen allows you to change the volume. When the mic-mute switch is switched on, a small LED in the top display illuminates. The mic mute switch on the Nest Hub is near the top of the show, near the back.
Sliding in from the right side of the Nest Hub’s monitor shows an appealing tabbed interface that allows you to navigate the display’s various features and informational displays, ranging from Weather and Wellness to Home Control and Communication.
You can manage the Nest Hub with Rapid Gestures, which are hand gestures that you execute without touching the screen, in addition to tapping the display. That means you can use a tapping gesture in the air to play and pause music, dismiss an alarm, or even silence Google Assistant on the Nest Hub. (Quick Movements are also assisted by the Nest Hub Max, but instead of tapping the air, you keep your palm up in the air.) Quick Gestures, which are powered by the same Soli chip that allowed the Nest Hub’s Sleep Sensing function, allow you to communicate with the Nest Hub without touching it or addressing the Assistant.
Google Assistant and smart home control
Of course, the most common way to communicate with the Nest Hub is through Google Assistant, a competent and knowledgeable voice assistant whose swift responses are aided by the display’s new machine-learning chip (also found in the Nest Audio and Nest Mini). The Assistant can answer a wide range of obscure questions, as well as provide weather forecasts, check your schedule, set reminders and alarms (including “sunrise” alarms that gradually increase the brightness of the screen), and read the news, thanks to Google’s vast knowledge base.
Nest Hub’s Google Assistant can also control your smart home gadgets. Although the Assistant lacks Amazon’s Alexa’s near-ubiquitous support (Alexa is supported by over 100,000 smart devices versus over 50,000 for Google Assistant), it is no slouch in the smart home department. While Google Assistant on the Nest Hub doesn’t support as many smart home devices like Alexa, it’s quickly catching up.
Google Assistant, like Alexa, works with a wide range of smart home devices, from Philips Hue and Wyze to August and Roomba, and it lets you build routines that execute a series of tasks when prompted by a voice order, a certain time of day, or input from another smart device (such as a motion sensor).
The Nest Hub can also interact with Nest thermostats, cameras, video doorbells, and other home monitoring devices, enabling you to ask Google Assistant for more heat in the basement or to see who is standing on your front doorstep.
Finally, like the Nest Hub Max and the latest Apple HomePod mini, the Nest Hub comes with a Thread radio. Thread is a low-latency, low-power IoT protocol backed by Apple, Google, and Samsung that could take off in the next few years. Just a few consumer-oriented Thread devices are currently available (including some Nanoleaf smart lights and Eve smart plugs and door/window sensors), and the Nest Hub’s Thread radio is currently inactive (as is the one in the Nest Hub Max). The Nest Hub’s Thread support is solely academic at this stage, as exciting as it is (at least for smart home enthusiasts).
The new Nest Hub, like its predecessor (and as I previously stated), lacks a built-in camera, which is both a good and a bad thing. On the plus side, the Nest Hub’s camera is missing, so there’s no way the system is spying on you in your bedroom. On the downside, unlike the Nest Hub Max, the Nest Hub cannot allow video calls or act as a Nest surveillance camera (another Nest Hub Max trick).
However, you can use Google Duo to make voice calls from the Nest Portal, allowing you to communicate with someone who has the Google Duo app on their phone or device. You may also use Google Home to call other Google speakers in your home or give a message to all of them at once (“dinner time!”).
The Nest Hub can also make phone and landline calls, but you must first connect the monitor to a supported carrier; in the United States, your options are limited to Google Fi or Google Voice. Alexa on Amazon’s Echo devices, on the other hand, allows you to make free phone calls to everyone in the United States, Canada, or Mexico, regardless of carrier.
Music, video, and Chromecast
The Nest Hub only has a single 1.7-inch full-range operator, so don’t expect it to blow anyone’s socks off in terms of sound quality. Despite this, Google representatives say that the latest Nest Hub’s bass response is 50% better than its predecessor, and the display does, given its size and single-driver nature, pack a solid punch.
From Carlos Kleiber’s electrifying live performance of Beethoven’s Fourth Symphony to Ciara’s irresistible “Level Up,” I spent a lot of time casting lossless tunes from Qobuz to the Nest Hub through Chromecast, and I was pleasantly surprised by the Nest Hub’s peppy, dynamic audio.
The screen is sufficient for listening to music, but if you really want to enjoy the music, you’ll need to upgrade (a nod to Ciara) to a beefier speaker, such as the excellent Nest Audio.
The Nest Hub is a Chromecast system, which means you can cast video and audio to it from a variety of apps. In addition to casting from an app, the Nest Hub supports Netflix, Disney+, Hulu, Paramount+, Sling, and Starz natively, enabling you to access videos via voice command (“Hey Google, play The Crown on Netflix”).
Based solely on the features I’ve already covered, the Nest Hub is an excellent smart display, but the second-generation Nest Hub comes with an interesting bonus: the new Sleep Sensing feature.
The Nest Hub can monitor your sleep by detecting your movement in bed and listening for snoring and coughing using its built-in microphones, thanks to its presence-sensing Soli chip (which is already included in the Nest Hub Max but is new to Google’s smaller smart display). The Soli chip is so sensitive, according to Google, that it can sense your chest moving as you breathe in and out in bed.
The Nest Hub’s Sleep Sensing function is special in that it can monitor your sleep without the use of a wristband like a Fitbit or an Apple Watch. Indeed, one of my biggest gripes with using a Fitbit to track my sleep is that I often forget to wear it to bed (usually because it’s charging), resulting in a night of sleep monitoring being missed. You don’t need to remember anything with Sleep Sensing; all you have to do is slip into bed and drift off.
When you go further into the details, the Nest Hub will show you how long it took you to fall asleep and whether you went to bed and awoke on time (based on a sleep schedule that you enter during the initial setup process). It’ll even tell you whether you—or someone else—was snoring or coughing, as well as when any light changes disturbed your sleep. If you’re having trouble sleeping, Google Assistant will start giving sleep tips after collecting about a week’s worth of data—for example, she may recommend that you try going to bed earlier.
So, here’s the thing with the snoring and coughing. The Nest Hub was indicating that I was snoring for up to two hours on some occasions, which seems excessive (I mean, yes, I snore, but not that much, surely). When I asked Google (not the voice assistant) if the Nest Hub’s microphones could confuse a partner’s or co-snores sleeper’s and coughs with those of a tracked sleeper, I was told that Sleep Sensing “may currently process and attribute those sounds as sleep disturbances to you.” Future updates, according to the Google rep, can help Sleep Sense better “exclude nearby noises from your coughs and snores.”
The Sleep Sensing function on the Nest Hub will tell you how much coughing and snoring disturbed your sleep, but it may have trouble distinguishing your coughs and snores from those of a bed partner.
I also found that the Nest Hub wasn’t having a bead on my respiratory rate—at least not at first—showing just a dash for my RPM (essentially, your breaths per minute while at rest). When I inquired about it, a Google representative suggested that I try recalibrating the Nest Hub. That’s exactly what I did, and the next morning I did get an RPM reading. (I take about 10 to 11 breaths per minute on average, so I guess I’m a major snorer?)
Fitbit users can now note some discrepancies in Nest Hub’s sleep study. The Nest Hub, for example, would not tell you how much REM sleep you got or how much “deep” and “light” sleep you got. Given that Google now owns Fitbit, it’s possible that Google will try to fill some of those gaps, either by Nest Hub Sleep Sensing or a combination of Nest Hub Sleep Sensing and Fitbit wearing. However, the Sleep Sensing findings will vary from those from an Apple Watch or a Fitbit for the time being. Be ready for improvement if you’re a die-hard Fitbit guy.
In terms of privacy, if someone enters the Nest Hub, a message appears on the screen informing them that Sleep Sensing is active. Google, for one, goes to great lengths to stress that “raw” sleep data never leaves the Nest Hub. Just the results of Sleep Sensing—how long you slept, the quality of your sleep, and so on—are sent to the cloud, enabling you to check your sleep data on the Google Fit mobile app.
You (and/or your co-sleeper) will be given the option to delete the details of the previous night’s sleep each morning, and you can still delete any or all of your sleep data if you like. And, depending on how creeped out you are by the Nest Hub’s Sleep Sensing features, you may disable some of them (like coughing and snoring analysis) or switch them off entirely.
One last note on Sleep Sensing: although it is currently free, this might not be the case in the future. For Nest Hub users, Google is providing a “free demo” of Sleep Sensing before the end of the year. What happens after that is a little hazy. During an online briefing, Google representatives stated that they are “actively pursuing opportunities” with Fitbit, which charges $10 a month for its Fitbit Premium service. Though Google hasn’t stated that users will have to pay for Sleep Sensing in the future, the company is at least considering it.
The fresh, $99 Nest Hub is a great purchase if you don’t already have a smart display on your bedside table and assuming you have already invested (or ready to invest) in the Google Assistant ecosystem. It comes with Google Assistant-powered smart home control, a wide range of entertainment choices courtesy of Chromecast, and fantastic picture frame functionality. And, because the second-gen display is just $10 more than the recently discounted (and now discontinued) original, the Nest Hub’s nascent, fully optional Sleep Sensing functionality can be thought of as a nice bonus—until Google decides to charge for it.
Is it essential for owners of the first-generation Nest Hub to upgrade? That is largely determined by how you feel about Sleep Sensing. If you think the Nest Hub’s latest Sleep Sensing feature is a must-have, then go ahead and update. However, if your Sleep Sensing is just average, there’s no need to replace the original Nest Hub. It has virtually all of the new model’s features, with the exception of Sleep Sensing and Quick Gestures (which are nice but not essential), and it has the same fantastic design, with the exception of the few cosmetic changes I’ve described.