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Technology Google Nest Hub (2nd gen) review: More for your money

13:35  01 april  2021
13:35  01 april  2021 Source:   cnet.com

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If you own a Google smart display, chances are it's the first-generation Nest Hub. There have been others: the Lenovo Smart Display powered by Google Assistant or the pricey, camera-equipped Nest Hub Max. At $130 and often on sale, the smaller Nest Hub was the go-to for many smart home consumers.

a person sitting on a bed: Chris Monroe/CNET © Provided by CNET Chris Monroe/CNET

Now, there's a new model replacing it. The second-gen Nest Hub is cheaper at $100 (£90, AU$149) and smarter too. What's not to love? Well, like Amazon's Echo Show 10, Google showed up with a new feature that might creep you out: Sleep Sensing.

Yes, Sleep Sensing is the shiny new feature on the second-gen Nest Hub, but that's not the whole story. The new Nest Hub is also 30% cheaper than the original, with 50% more bass, new color options and a more eco-friendly design. Google's new and improved smart display is the best bet for most smart homes.

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graphical user interface, website © Google

Sleep Sensing

The big feature headlining the new Nest Hub is Sleep Sensing. It uses Google's miniature radar technology called Soli to detect submillimeter movements of the person sleeping closest to the display.

During setup, a visual guide shows you where to place and aim the display (spoiler: it should be on your nightstand for best results) and asks you to get into your normal sleep position for a few seconds of calibration. After that, you're good to go. A small icon appears on the top right corner of the display when it senses someone in bed, and a larger, banner notification pops up when the display begins tracking sleep.

a screen shot of a video game box on a table: A banner notification appears to indicate Sleep Sensing is active. Molly Price/CNET © Provided by CNET A banner notification appears to indicate Sleep Sensing is active. Molly Price/CNET

I tried fooling the display by reading in bed and wasn't able to. That's likely because the display also tracks sound, light and respiratory rates. With all those environmental clues, the display gathered that I wasn't sleeping.

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The Nest Hub also offers a Respiratory Wellness feature that records how often the display heard coughing or snoring during the night, as well as your respiratory rate (the number of breaths you take per minute) during sleep. Those are things my smart watch can't do. While Google partnered with the American Academy of Sleep Medicine to build a catalog of tips and recommendations, the Nest Hub doesn't claim to diagnose or pinpoint any specific health conditions, and it isn't certified in any way as a health or medical device. Google's disclaimer on the product site and app reads:

"Sleep Sensing is not intended to diagnose, cure, mitigate, prevent or treat any disease or condition. Consult your healthcare professional for questions about your health."

The upside of having a wearable, as annoying as it might feel falling asleep with something on your wrist, is that it goes where I go. So on a Sunday morning, when I get out of bed, feed the dog and "accidentally" fall back asleep on the couch, that impromptu nap gets recorded and added to my total sleep for the day.

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Nest Hub only knows about the sleep that happens right in front of it. That's a downside for travel, too. A long weekend out of town will result in a gap in your sleep stats and running averages unless your smart display tags along and you recalibrate it in your vacation digs.

Each morning you can see a sleep report. Three circles for quality, duration and schedule will align to create a purple circle if things are going well. If not, you'll see three separate circles, like a widely separated Venn diagram, indicating areas where you could improve.

a laptop computer sitting on top of a wooden table: My sleep analysis is good, creating this aligned, purple circle. Molly Price/CNET © Provided by CNET My sleep analysis is good, creating this aligned, purple circle. Molly Price/CNET

I've spent nearly two weeks tracking my sleep with the Nest Hub and comparing it to what my Samsung Galaxy Watch Active tells me about my snoozing. So far, results have been similar but not exactly the same. Mileage may vary based on your wearable, but my watch and the Nest Hub were never more than 15 minutes apart in their estimation of when I fell asleep and when I woke up. I definitely get more detail from my wearable about sleep quality, like how much time I spent in deep sleep, light sleep and REM sleep. Nest Hub offers more detail on my environment and how it affects my sleep. Neither is a finely detailed picture.

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It's worth noting that I have a complicated sleeping environment at the moment. I didn't notice any anomalies caused by my surroundings, but I do have a dog who hops on and off the bed all night, a husband who comes home from work at 2 a.m., and I myself am nine months pregnant, thus constantly tossing and turning at night. The Nest Hub was able to dodge all those complications and still deliver data roughly similar to what my wearable measured. For a device an arm's length away, that's not too shabby.

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graphical user interface, application: Here's a look at my Sleep Sensing data in Google Fit after four nights with the second-gen Nest Hub. Screenshots by Molly Price/CNET © Provided by CNET Here's a look at my Sleep Sensing data in Google Fit after four nights with the second-gen Nest Hub. Screenshots by Molly Price/CNET

Privacy and sleep data

What does Google gather while you sleep? Since there's no camera, Google obviously isn't recording any facial images or movements. There are microphones, light sensors and temperature sensors involved, but you can adjust what Google records and keeps. Coughing and snoring data (captured by the mic) is only stored locally on your device. You can also choose to disable coughing and snoring detection, but keep sleep tracking on. You can always review and delete your sleep data in the Google Fit app. Google has a helpful page explaining the ins and outs of the Sleep Sensing experience.

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Sleep Sensing is entirely optional. If you're not interested in using it at all, you can disable it entirely from the device settings menu. You can also disable Quick Gestures, another feature of the Hub that makes use of motion sensing, so you can tap the air in front of the display to play or pause media.

The bummer here is that, if you do like Sleep Sensing, it's only a free preview "until next year," according to Google. At that point, it will likely slide behind a paywall. Google's only official statement on the future of Sleep Sensing reads:

Enjoy a preview of Sleep Sensing. It's free until next year. As we learn and innovate on this new technology, we're excited to explore how this can become a part of the Fitbit and Fitbit Premium experiences in the future. We will keep you updated on any future plans related to Fitbit and Sleep Sensing.

It feels like Google wants to use its new Fitbit Premium asset and Sleep Sensing feature to compete with monetized products like Apple Fitness Plus, but we don't know much yet.

Quick Gestures

Motion Sense with Soli isn't just onboard to power the Sleep Sensing feature. The mini radar also enables gesture control for streaming media. You can tap the air in front of the device to pause or play content. You can also use an air tap to silence an alarm, dismiss a timer or stop Google Assistant's chatter.

Gesture control is a nice to have, especially with messy hands in the kitchen or while you're working on a project across the room. It's faster and simpler than "Hey Google, pause" (which still works just fine) and it doesn't require yelling over your music to get Google Assistant's attention. I wish there were swiping options for skipping to the next song or video while streaming, or a motion to raise or lower volume. I feel like there's more potential there than Google unleashed.

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Quick Gestures worked well in my testing, but it was also a bit sensitive. At one point, I accidentally paused the YouTube video I was watching while folding laundry in front of the display. I guess the lesson here is to be careful where you aim your air guitar.

Audio

Google says the new Nest Hub has 50% more bass than the previous model. Google added a third microphone to this model for better listening, too. That's one more than the previous Nest Hub and one more than the Nest Hub Max, too. The switches and buttons that mute the microphones and control volume remain unchanged.

This isn't Nest Audio, so don't expect premium sound out of a device that's first and foremost a screen. However, it's plenty loud enough and offers great quality for everyday entertaining. Paired in a speaker group with other Nest speakers, it keeps up and performs well.

graphical user interface, website: Chris Monroe/CNET © Provided by CNET Chris Monroe/CNET

Other smarts

When it comes to smarts, all the updates are internal and future-focused. Like the Nest Hub Max and Nest WiFi, the new Nest Hub has built-in support for Thread, a wireless, low-energy IPv6 protocol that makes connecting third-party smart home devices simpler. Thread functionality isn't turned on yet for new Nest Hubs, but Google's continued inclusion of Thread is a nod to Project Connected Home Over IP, aka CHIP, an effort led by Apple, Amazon, Google and the Zigbee Alliances to create a universal smart home standard. Right now, other Thread-certified devices include products from Nanoleaf and Eve, among others.

This Nest Hub also includes the same machine-learning chip found on the latest Nest Mini and Nest Audio, Google's most affordable smart speaker. That ML chip processes your most common commands locally, helping Google Assistant speed up response time.

You'll still be able to stream video from YouTube, Netflix, and Disney Plus and more on the 7-inch HD display. Music streaming from Apple Music, Spotify, YouTube Music and Pandora are there as well. You'll also find tabs for Photo Frame, Your Day, Home Control, Wellness, Media, Communicate, Family and Discover.

Overall, the things we loved about the Nest Hub remain the same. You'll get a great digital photo frame with ambient light sensing and adaptive color. Sunrise alarm functionality helps you wake up gently with light in the 30 minutes prior to your alarm. You can view cameras, doorbells, thermostats, lights and more from the Home Control tab. There's still no built-in camera. While that's a personal preference, I'm happy to see Google stay the course on offering a camera-free smart display.

The verdict

With sensible updates, a lower price and more capability, the second-gen Nest Hub is a worthy successor to the original model. New features that might make some folks nervous are totally optional and you can review and delete your data at any time.

The second-gen Nest Hub is not overwhelmingly impressive or entirely redesigned. It's familiar, yet still improved and more affordable. That's enough for me to continue to recommend the Nest Hub as the best smart display for most smart homes.

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