Google recently updated the smaller of its two smart displays, the Google Nest Hub, with a 2nd generation model that doesn’t change much visually if you’ve ever seen the original model.
For those coming to the party late, Smart Displays are effectively smart speakers – think devices like the Google Nest Mini, Amazon’s Echo speakers or Apple’s HomePod Mini – with screens on them to display contextual information, photos, videos and in some cases to act as integrated security cameras.
The original Google Nest Hub has had a lot of success in Australia, where Google’s Assistant is the dominant brand in smart assistants with between 64-80% of the total smart speaker market.
The new model is a little cheaper than the original was when it first came to market, although there’s been a bit of late rush recently of the first gen model being on sale even cheaper. While the design is much the same – a 7 inch screen that sits in front of a speaker wrapped in either a grey or black fabric – Google has made some interesting changes behind the screen.
The speakers haven’t changed in terms of output power, but Google’s claim is that they’ve got improved bass thanks to a larger internal chamber where the speaker sits. You pretty much have to sit two of them side by side to notice it markedly, but it’s an improvement no doubt.
The general features that make the Nest Hub attractive for many are still present; you can ask Google Assistant just about any question you’d throw into a Google search and it’ll either speak the answer, show you the answer or where it can do so, give you both. The 2nd Gen Nest Hub increases the microphone count from 2 to 3, and here I’ve seen some solid improvement in its ability to catch my voice from across a room, even when a noisy TV was running.
One of the defining aspects of the original Nest Hub was that it lacked a camera, with Google citing privacy concerns at the time. If you wanted that for security monitoring or for video calling through Google Duo, you had to pony up for the much pricier Nest Hub Max.
The Google Nest Hub 2nd Gen doesn’t quite have a camera, but it very nearly does. Specifically, it uses Google’s Soli radar technology, also seen in the Google Pixel 4 phone and Nest Hub Max for a couple of key features. You can access specific screen commands without touching the screen, thanks to radar tracking of your hands, although as with the Nest Hub Max this is a little bit quirky in real world use. The other area – and the one that’s drawn a lot of attention in tech circles – is the ability for the Nest Hub 2nd Gen to manage sleep tracking without you needing to wear a special tracking band or bracelet, or anything at all if you’re that way inclined!
Instead, you set it up by placing the Nest Hub 2nd Gen in your bedroom. Google reckons a lot of its Nest Hub users already do this, but the Nest Hub 2nd Gen’s radar can then grab a radar image – not a photo or video – of your form on top of your sheets. Then when you go to bed, it uses machine learning to track your sleep and provide you with metrics over a period, as well as advice on how to improve your sleep.
As technology goes it’s very cool, and Google’s at some pains to state that the actual tracking data stays on the device itself. Google says it’s not watching you while you sleep in that way, and in any case you’ve got to explicitly opt in to sleep tracking to even start using it.
In my experience, it’s surprising in a way how good the sleep tracking is on the Nest Hub 2nd Generation, but it’s far from flawless. It tended to overstate my sleep, and on more than one instance didn’t track when I was awake during the night due to some insomnia. That may improve over time, given that the Nest Hub itself has added all sorts of features such as video streaming since its first model debuted, but there’s another issue here. Google says that Sleep Tracking is a free feature for at least a year from now, but that indicates that it intends to charge for it, presumably at some point in 2022 or later. Right now I don’t know that it’s accurate enough to be worth paying for, and that’s assuming that you can get past the slightly-creepy factor of having radar watch you while you sleep.
Still, if you’re keen on a smart display, the faster processor and better microphone pickup in the Google Nest Hub 2nd Gen make it an easy enough recommendation. If you’ve already got a first generation model there’s not enough here to make it a must-have upgrade, however.
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