(Pocket-lint) - The Google Nest Hub (second gen) updates Google's first smart display, which originally launched as the Google Home Hub.
Sporting a 7-inch display, it rivals Amazon's Echo Show models, looking to bring a visual experience to Google Assistant, and slot the Mountain View company into the centre of your home.
This time around, however, Google has eyes on your bedroom.
Design and build
- 120.4 x 177.4 x 69.5mm, 558g
- Four colours
- Floating display design
Glance and you'll miss it. The design of the second-gen Nest Hub is essentially the same as the old, but there are some minor differences on the spec sheet - not that you'll really spot that from across the room.
The new Nest Hub remains a cute smart display and we've always liked this design. It fits in with the mesh covered designs we've seen from other Google devices over the past few years, using safe fabric colours to help it blend into your home décor.
It's a 7-inch display, so not huge - but glance at the offering from Amazon and you'll find it sandwiched by the likes of the Echo Show 5 and the Echo Show 8, although we do think it looks a little more sophisticated.
There's some bezel to the display - now incorporating a range of expanded sensors and mics - while there's a volume rocker on the rear right and a physical mute switch on the centre rear, within easy reach.
It's still a great looking device and while some might think that a 7-inch display is too big to have on your bedside table, that's exactly where Google wants you to put it.
Setup and introducing sleep sensing
- Google Home app
- Sleep tracking calibration
Setting up the Nest Hub is easy. You'll need to have the Google Home app on your smartphone, as this serves to control the device and gets setup underway. Once plugged in, it's a few simple steps to get the Nest Hub up and running - the important part being connecting to your Wi-Fi and logging in with your Google account.
If you've used any Google devices before, this will now be familiar - and like Amazon's Echo devices, signing in gets Google Assistant ready and so you're quickly connected with everything that you have setup without Assistant already.
That's great, because it means that all your connected smart home devices will now work from your Nest Hub, if you have Voice Match in Google Assistant active then it will know who you are and tailor results to you, so you're good to go.
That would be just about it for a regular Google device, but sleep sensing brings with it some additional requirement: calibration.
Sleep sensing on the Nest Hub uses a range of sensors, including temperature, light, sound and the Soli radar chip we previously saw in the Pixel 4 phones. Together, these sensors will be able to give you a complete picture of how you slept and the conditions you were sleeping it.
But first and foremost you need to make sure that the Soli radar will be able to see you. It sends out low power short-range electromagnetic waves allowing it to detect motion. It's important to understand that it's not using cameras for this, so it's not visually spying on your while you're asleep.
This means that positioning is important and there's a calibration process you'll have to run through to get the Nest Hub in the right position so it will work. It doesn't take long and all you have to do is basically lie in bed with the device on your bedside table and it will do its stuff. If it's in the wrong position, it will ask you to adjust it.
There's a few things you need to know here: firstly, it needs to be focused towards your upper body and secondly, it actually needs to be about level with you. If it's too low, it won't be able to detect anything because it's looking at the side of the bed, so it's no good putting it on the floor or on a bookcase a metre higher than you.
For most, it should be simple and within a few minutes it was all setup - but you have to remember you can't then move it too much and you can't put things in front of it, like a glass of water, because you'll block the view.
Sleep tracking and bedside performance
- Sensors to detect sleep
- Personalised sleep summary
- Syncing to Google Fit
Using all the sensors, the Nest Hub gathers data and, using an algorithm, can understand what's going on.
From this data it can tell when you get into bed, when you go to sleep, when you're disturbed during the night and when you get up. It also knows when you're awake but lounging in bed refusing to get up.
This is the first converged device to offer sleep tracking that doesn't require any physical touch. We've seen and used sleep tracking from the likes of Apple, Fitbit and Garmin where you need to wear a watch. We've used systems like ResMed SleepScore and Withings Sleep Analyzer - but the Nest Hub is likely to be more popular.
The problem with wearing something is that it can disturb you as you move around - and you're sweating into it all day and all night. The problem with some of the other detection devices is that they only do one thing - whereas Nest Hub is your familiar Google-based smart display and your sleep tracking buddy.
We've been sleeping with the Nest Hub over the last week and found the sleep tracking to be pretty accurate. But first of all, there's no need to be concerned about having a 7-inch LCD display next to the bed - it dims really well so it's not glowing at the side of the bed and keeping you awake.
Detection on getting into bed appears to happen at any point that you get into bed. Come back from a run and flop onto the bed while you check your Strava stats and you'll see the on-screen notification telling you that it has detected you.
But the Nest Hub is smart enough to figure out what's happening when. Because there's processing to be done there are moments when you'll be told that it's processing - for example when you wake up. That's mostly because it's waiting to see when you leave bed so that it can report on how long it took you to get up and so on.
Data is available to tap though on the display in the morning or you can ask Google Assistant. The results also sync to Google Fit so you can examine them on your phone, but again, these will vary and might change slightly depending on when you look at Google Fit and how that corresponds with any processing that the Nest Hub is doing.
The results are interesting and certainly accurate, but there's no breakdown of heavy or light sleep like you'll get from Fitbit. It also won't think you're asleep on the sofa when you're watching a movie like Garmin sometimes does, but there are limits.
For example, on a disturbed night, you might try to sleep, then do some reading, toss and turn a bit and as a last resort, attempt to get to sleep by putting yourself into a meditative state. Anyone reading who suffers from insomnia will know what it's like to clear your mind, calm your breathing and just lie still, hoping that you'll get to sleep - and it's here that Google thinks you are asleep, when you're not.
Otherwise, on normal sleeping days, we've found the reports to be accurate, detecting those middle of the night toilet breaks, and knowing when you've woken up earlier than you wanted to. It also detects snoring and coughing, which can be a bit thing that disturbs sleep.
Google's analysis then attempts to give you feedback to improve your habits. For us, our average sleep time has been a little short and the Nest Hub tells us that we're sometimes going to bed too early and staying in bed awake when we should be getting up in the morning. It's trying to establish a better routine.
It all makes sense too: those days where we're told sleep is "fairly restful" we're awaking feeling refreshed; on the days when it's been "restless", we can feel that too. The thing is, we don't need telling that. Whether this information is useful will be a personal decision.
What Google doesn’t seem to be doing is putting this into context with anything else. There's no relationship between sleeping and activity like you get from Garmin's Body Battery. It's also unclear what you might have to pay for this data in the future.
That's right - it's a free preview through to the end of 2021, but then Google says: "After the preview ends, paid subscription may be required." Currently we don't know what that cost might be. We also don't know how this data might integrate with Fitbit, but Google has said it's looking at how that might work.
Of course, if everything above fills you with horror, it's an opt-in service. You don't have to have sleep tracking at all.
Display, interface and sound quality
- 7-inch 1024 x 600 pixels
- 3 mics, 1.7-inch speaker driver
- Google Assistant
There's a 7-inch display on the front of the Nest Hub, with a 1024 x 600 pixel resolution. That's not hugely high in terms of resolution, but we've nothing to complain about when it comes to quality.
There's a visually engaging interface presented by Google and we think it's better than Amazon's equivalent on the Echo Show models: it just looks and feels a little more useful. Much of that comes down to the fact that Google has more information to pull in to serve you content you like, like relevant news.
You can swipe through the screens to access various sections - wellness, home control, media, communication, including the discover section. The media option will already be connected to your Spotify account (if you've linked the two) while YouTube is front and centre.
Google can also take advantage of Chromecast support, allowing you to cast content to the Nest Hub too - so it can be a little more dynamic than Amazon's device.
Google Assistant remains as smart as ever and has progressive developed over the past few years. We've one criticism and that's the hiss that accompanies spoken replies. That was detectable on the Nest Audio too - something that Google really should fix to increase the overall offering - it's not something that Alexa does.
Of the two, we'd say that Google is a little smarter, often being able to give smarter replies, but there are some services better optimised for Echo devices - like requesting the BBC news: it's just better when Alexa serves that up.
When it comes to speaker quality, the Nest Hub has a single 1.7-inch driver. It has boosted bass over the previous version for a richer overall sound and we think it's great as a bedside unit, perhaps a little weak if you're planning to use it as a main speaker in a room - you'd want the Nest Hub Max for that instead.
Comparing that to Alexa briefly and the Echo Show 8 - slightly larger than this model - does have a bigger sound too. The smallest Echo Show 5 also has a 1.7-inch driver, giving you an idea of how these devices compare.
Smart home and expanded functions
- Thread, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi
- Chromecast built in
There's no camera by design on the Nest Hub and Google had to opportunity to put one on this refreshed version and decided not to. For some people that will be a major downside, for others, a significant advantage.
There are a range of other connectivity technologies however and we've covered most already - Wi-Fi for the connection to the internet, Chromecast via the same route, Bluetooth to use your Nest Hub as a speaker or to connect it to a Bluetooth speaker.
Then there's Thread. Thread is a relatively new wireless smart home protocol which works on a mesh network. The Nest Hub can be part of a Thread system, just as the Apple HomePod Mini can be - very much working in the same was a Zigbee on the Echo models.
As this is a technology that's just starting to establish itself, we haven't tested it. We did test the Nest Hub with the wider set of smart home devices we've already linked to Google Assistant via the Home app and found no problems - and in the future, if you are buying Thread-equipped devices, the idea will be that you can control those directly from the Nest Hub without the need to a dedicated hub for whatever those devices are.
All in, the Nest Hub is still a super-connected device, able to play its part as the centre of your smart home, just as the name suggests.
This new version of the Nest Hub only makes a couple of changes from the previous version: indeed, if you're not interested in the sleep tracking, then you might be better off trying to find the older model at a discounted price, because you're not missing out.
The sleep tracking adds a new dimension. As people are increasingly turning to technologies to track wellbeing, and sleep being a growing area. While the technology works, uncertainty about future subscription costs might give pause for though - or you might want to try it and cross that bridge in 2022.
Fundamentally, the Nest Hub 2021 is a good device. It's connected, good quality, a refreshingly simple interface and offers the best voice assistant in the business. If you want your home to be smarter, this is a great place to start.
Alternatives to consider
Lenovo Smart Clock
The Lenovo is a compact bedside device that gives you all the advantages of Google Assistant in a small package.
Amazon Echo Show 8
The Echo Show 8 is larger, but features a camera as well as the full skills of Alexa.