Google’s new Nest Hub (2nd gen) smart display launches today in Ireland and offers improved audio and a new sleep tracking feature powered by their Soli radar sensor. For those of you wondering what Soli, Google first announced its radar sensing tech in 2015 at their annual developer conference, Google I/O, but the sensor didn’t actual hit a consumer product until the launch of the Pixel 4 and 4XL in 2019 where it powered the device’s gesture controls.
Fast forward to 2021 and Google is obviously looking to expand the functionality and applications for Soli with the new Nest Hub including a sleep tracking feature called ‘Sleep Sensing’ as well as the gesture controls.
On top of these new features, Google has also upgraded the 2nd Gen Nest Hub with a more powerful audio system tuned with ‘50% more bass’ than the 1st gen model. I’ve been using the new Nest Hub for nearly two weeks now and here’s how it went.
Design & Build Quality
One thing you’ll notice straight away when taking the new Nest Hub out of the box is just how tiny it is. It has the same 7″ (1024×600 res) LCD display as the original Nest Hub, which is surprisingly sharp given its resolution, 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 your curated Google Photos albums as well as other cards and dashboards from the Google Assistant. It can also play videos from YouTube, Netflix, Disney+ etc. but, given its small size, we don’t see many using it all that often for binge watching their favourite shows. Still, it’s good the functionality is there.
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 which is all very handy if you’ve a few Google smart speakers dotted around and want to fill your home with music.
On the rear, there are a couple of physical buttons, 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 at the top for the microphone which ensures your privacy.
The Nest Hub is primarily a smart display, but it also obviously has an in-built speaker and Google is promising up to 50% more bass than that found on the original Nest Hub. Having compared both, the new Nest Hub definitely sounds more ‘full’ with that additional bass offering improved low-end, while the mids and highs are clear.
Gesture Controls Functionality & Sleep Sensing with Soli
As mentioned at the start, one of the key selling points for this device is its in-built 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 sits on my bedside locker, 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 but some people may just find it easier to simply tap the screen.
While these gesture controls are handy, the key reason 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, thankfully, my routine is fairly predictable and regular but might not be as convenient for people that work varying shifts and have different times of the day that they’ll be in bed. 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.
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.
For more detailed information, Your sleep data, including your sleep schedule and duration will also appear in the Google Fit app on your phone as well.
The actual tracking that Soli can achieve is fairly impressive. It can see when you’re awake or when you’ve popped out of the bed to head to the bathroom along with 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 to people who have a more difficult time sleeping or their sleeping schedule is more broken.
Sleep Sensing’s Potential Subscription Service
Something sticking out for me with the launch of the new Nest Hub is that the Sleep Sensing service is being provided free for a year to users. Google hasn’t announced any potential pricing for the service after this time, including that they may not even charge for it at all.
It’s interesting to see what way Google handles the potential monetisation of the service down the track. It would be a bit annoying to use the service for a year, only to find it being moved behind a paywall after you’re well and truly hooked.
The original Google Nest Hub has been set up in m kitchen since it launched and I use it every day. It’s a great device for displaying photos but not being overbearing. With the new Nest Hub 2nd Gen, I’ve now replaced the Nest Mini speaker that was on my bedside locker so that I could fully test out the sleep sending tech.
I was worried having a display in the room would cause too much ambient light but, with the Ambient EQ setting, it really does a great job of keeping the brightness at the right level and drops to almost pitch black when all the lights are off whilst still displaying an extremely feint digital clock for telling the time in the middle of the night.
The new Sleep Sensing feature is an interesting implementation of Soli, and sleep is an understandable huge part of everyone’s lives. How well you actually sleep is also extremely specific so having a way to get personal insights into the best way you can get a good nights sleep can be invaluable for a lot of people.
All that being said, I’m still a bit worried about the potential for Google to start charging for Sleep Sensing features and tracking down the line but, as of right now, if it helps you get better sleep for a year, it may be worth it.
In terms of hardware, I’m a big fan of the compact form factor of the Nest Hub 2nd Gen, the improved audio and bass is definitely welcomed and is more than capable of delivering respectable music and video playback, if it’s the main speaker in a room.
Pricing & Availability
The new Google Nest Hub 2nd Gen is available from today at €99.99 from the Google Store. If you’re looking for a bargain though, Virgin Media Ireland has also just announced a new online flash sale and are offering the new Nest Hub for free to anyone who signs up to one of their TV, Broadband and Home Phone packages for 12 months.