When we reviewed the original Google Nest Hub almost two years ago, we noted how it “does a lot of things well enough — as a display for your precious family photos or as a speaker for casual listening” and that “its full potential is unleashed if you have a smart-enabled home, providing unparalleled convenience in controlling your home”.
I’m happy to report that with Google’s new 2nd Generation Nest Hub, both these statements continue to ring true. And with the new device boasting a Sleep Sensing feature, you may be wondering if it’s time to get an upgrade or, for those who have yet to dive into the wonderful world of virtual home assistants, if it’s finally time for you to take the plunge.
Design & Function
First things first, when looking at the 2nd Gen Nest Hub, you’ll be forgiven for confusing it with its predecessor because the changes in terms of physical design have been minimal. The body of the device is almost identical, measuring at a minutely taller 120.4 mm and carrying a minimally leaner frame that’s 177.4 mm wide. The screen itself is an identical 7-inch touchscreen display and is, again, supported by an ambient EQ/light sensor that automatically adjusts the screen brightness according to the display’s surrounding environment.
Functionality-wise, the 2nd-gen Google Nest Hub handles what its predecessor did with the same amount of poise and ease. Standout features include providing sci-fi movie-esque convenience when controlling devices in your space, scheduling appointments and reminders (great if you’re as scatterbrained as me), getting updates on weather conditions and sports scores, and swiftly setting timers to prevent your dinner from burning. That said, if all this sounds exactly like the original is because… it is.
Thankfully, there have been some meaningful hardware changes where things mattered most – sound. This was a big caveat in the original Nest Hub, and we specifically criticised it for lacking punchy bass and sounding thin at higher registers.
As a daily user of the original for more than a year, the tinny and low-quality sound output was a big reason for me to fork out extra money to get other Google Assistant-enabled speakers to pair with the Nest Hub to satisfy my earworm cravings.
While the 2nd Gen Nest Hub speaker is much improved, it’s still unlikely to blow your eardrums away. The fuller overall sound profile, significantly punchier bass, and an analogue-controlled Treble & Bass equaliser make for a major step up where the original was most sorely lacking. Frustratingly though, that’s where improvements to the product experience seem to end.
Motion and Sleep Sensing
Rather than doubling down on what made the original great, Google has instead chosen to diversify and broaden the scope of Nest Hub by introducing new motion sensing and Sleep Sensing features into this revision.
While these features have their own standalone use cases, including how motion sensing can now be used to pause music with the ‘pat’ of a hand without touching the screen, the remaining additions centred around sleep tracking feel half-baked at best.
For new users, setting up the 2nd Gen Nest Hub for sleep tracking is a straightforward task. Just follow the step-by-step instructions after booting up the device, and you should be good to go. But there’s a big caveat here. This all works smoothly IF your current room and sleeping arrangement is suitable for Nest Hub.
In my experience, I ran into a lot of trouble before getting the device to track my sleep successfully. Despite following the instructions and getting Google Assistant’s thumbs up after each calibration, I went through a couple of weeks of testing and troubleshooting before finding a room and arrangement that allowed Nest Hub to track my sleep accurately. It turns out that Nest Hub’s tracking seemed to work only with a traditional bed plus bedside table arrangements. You know, the kind you see in the Master Bedroom section of IKEA catalogues?
Unfortunately, this means that smaller rooms or atypical sleeping arrangements could prove to be a stumbling block for this flagship feature. And sadly, there’s no real way to know if it’ll work for you until you actually pick one up and try it out.
For existing Google Home users like myself, configuring the backend during setup also proved to be a lot more confusing and frustrating than it probably should have been. With new features comes new permissions menus. Sorting them out before the 2nd Gen Nest Hub can run at full functionality, proved to be incredibly tedious and painful when not having a setup guide like for new users.
As for the Sleep Sensing feature itself, you do get what appears to be pretty accurate sleep data. You have the standard slew of data points that you’ll also gain from most fitness trackers such as a Fitbit, a smartphone, or a smartwatch. This includes sleep schedule alignment, quality of sleep measured by sleep stages (Deep, Light, REM, and Awake), and your overall sleep duration. All of this data can be accessed directly on Nest Hub, and is also synced with your Google Fit mobile app.
Interestingly, unlike wearables that usually track heart rate, the 2nd Gen Nest Hub takes advantage of its ability to track motion and sound. Thus, providing tracking of your respiratory rate (in respirations per minute) and any instances of snoring and coughing.
The device does this using its Soli Sensor for Motion Sense, which utilises low-energy radar to detect movement. Since there are no cameras on the device, Nest Hub isn’t technically watching you from your bedside table while you sleep. However, it still kind of feels like it’s watching you. If you catch my drift.
If any of this sounds remotely creepy to you, then you may be better off with wearables for sleep tracking. That said, for those who have difficulty sleeping with wearables attached to their bodies, Nest Hub provides a competent sleep tracking alternative, if that’s what you’re in the market for.
From a design perspective, the 2nd Gen Nest Hub feels like taking a polished product experience and forcibly tacking on features that don’t build on the existing experience. As a current original Nest Hub user, I place my device in a part of my one-room setup near my work desk. A big reason for this is that I have found visibility and access to the screen when using the product’s features to be incredibly useful.
However, with the 2nd Gen Nest Hub, the device must be positioned near the bed and kept at a very specific angle to take advantage of its sleep tracking feature. But positioning it in such a way also renders the screen unusable as I won’t be able to see and interact with it regularly. It feels like someone meant for me only to use this device while lying in bed with my neck cranked at an uncomfortable angle.
It’s frustrating because despite being an objectively more capable device – marketed with more use cases, the 2nd Gen Nest Hub fails to deliver meaningfully on either of these promises and is essentially splitting its eggs into multiple incomplete baskets. But I digress.
Ultimately, Google’s 2nd Generation Nest Hub is a welcome and well-rounded upgrade to the original, with specific attention paid to its greatest shortcomings. If you were thinking of finally taking that plunge into the world of virtual home assistants, this new Nest Hub is still positioned to be a perfect starter for newcomers.
However, its sleep functionality, while nifty, has limited use cases and isn’t quite the system-seller it’s marketed to be. But if you’re someone who is planning to get into sleep tracking, can’t stand wearables, and has a nice traditional bed and nightstand setup, then the 2nd Gen Nest Hub may be worth checking out for its sleep functions alone.
Photos by Darren Chiong of the DANAMIC Team.