I wake up. It’s about 6:26 a.m., give or take a few minutes. I tap the big “Stop” button on the alarm screen present on my second-generation Google Nest Hub. I get dressed and head to the kitchen and fire up the Keurig. While I’m waiting for it to get warm, I open the Google Fit app to check how well the Nest Hub says I slept. It clocked me in at about five hours and 41 minutes, despite being in bed for eight hours. I thought that sounded right – I remember being pretty restless that night. “Hmm, that’s cool,” I say as I shrug off this newfound knowledge and slip my phone into my pocket. That information will now live in that app for all eternity, never to be shared with anyone but my friends for novelty reasons.
Days like these have been frequent ever since I started using the new Google Nest Hub. Priced at $99.99 ($30 less than the original model), the new Nest Hub does essentially everything the old Nest Hub did, but with better speakers and a slightly nicer design.
It also tracks your sleep using Google’s Soli sensors, the same sensors found in 2019’s Pixel 4. That’s been the main focus of my review, as it has been for many journalists.
But it’s clear it shouldn’t be used for anything more than personal use. The results it captures can be seemingly inaccurate, to say the least. There are even a couple of pieces of information you’ll probably know are inaccurate, which will make you question the rest of your sleep report.
It’s great that you now get more from a Nest Hub at a cheaper price, but sleep tracking shouldn’t be the reason you buy it. Buy it because you want a great smart display that can double as a solid sleep companion.
If you’re looking to upgrade your first-gen Nest Hub, the new version has a relatively short list of meaningful upgrades. The speaker performance gets a 50 percent boost in the bass department, and the design has been tweaked so the glass covering the 7-inch screen is flush with the rest of the frame.
I don’t have a first-gen Nest Hub to compare the second-gen to, but I can tell you that I’ve enjoyed how music sounds on the device. Everything I play sounds full, dynamic, and alive at whatever volume you choose. Other content like the Google Assistant’s voice also sounds great. It’s all thanks to a new 1.7-inch driver which does a lot more heavy lifting in terms of producing decent sound quality. I dig it.
The updated glass on the front of the Nest Hub is also a welcome addition. The design looks simpler and less cluttered on the front, and it’s easier to clean since the glass doesn’t have any huge seams. The 7-inch display remains identical generation-over-generation, and it still has a light sensor to adjust the color temperature of the screen so everything looks more natural. I’m a huge fan of how it looks when you set a Google Photos library as your screensaver.
Google also says the new Nest Hub is faster, but I have no idea what they’re talking about. I’ve been using the Nest Hub the same way as my three Lenovo Smart Displays and nothing about the Nest Hub is faster than any of them. I guess the Assistant’s a bit more responsive, but it’s also not slow on the other smart displays by any means.
There’s also support for Project Connected Home over IP (CHIP) which Google and other companies have formed to create a more cohesive experience for those building out their smart homes. However, the feature hasn’t been enabled yet, but at least it’s there for future-proofing.
Beyond these changes, the rest of the Nest Hub is virtually the same. You still don’t get a webcam for video calls, there’s a switch to disable the microphone when you don’t want it on, and the design is unchanged beyond the new pane of glass. There are four different colors to choose from, but of course I was sent the boring gray one.
Okay, I shouldn’t say there isn’t anything else new. Functionally, there’s a new array of sensors that power the sleep tracking I mentioned earlier. They line up with the sensors found on the Pixel 4, which means these are Soli sensors.
Taking sleep tracking out of the equation for a second, the Soli sensors on the new Nest Hub power a few cool gestures that let you control the device without your voice or touch input. To pause music, for instance, you can simply make a pumping gesture with your palm in front of the screen. To switch between songs, you can swipe either left or right. These gestures aren’t particularly exciting, but they could come in handy if your hands are dirty in the kitchen or you don’t wanna raise your voice to control playback.
In my testing, the gestures worked fine, although they can be kind of tricky to master. I essentially had the same experience as I did using the Pixel 4 when controlling my music through the air. It’s hard to nail the exact movements, but once you do, you’ll be good to go.
Time to get to the main reason some people might consider purchasing a Nest Hub: sleep tracking.
The appeal of tracking your sleep with the Nest Hub is simple: you don’t need to wear anything while you sleep. Most devices that can track your sleep require you to strap something to your body, more often than not your wrist. But when you use the Nest Hub to record your sleeping data, all you have to do is crawl into bed and go to sleep – it kicks in automatically.
It works by firing up the Soli sensors whenever you get into bed. If it detects you might be lying down, it’ll start a sleep tracking session. It’s when you leave your bed too soon for sleep tracking to go into effect that it’ll trash the session if, say, all you’re doing is tying your shoes in the morning.
This comes with its own set of challenges and limitations. For one, you have to make sure the Nest Hub is pointed in the correct direction. It needs to be a particular distance away from you (no more than roughly 5-6 feet from you), and if you share a bed with someone, it’ll have to be on your side of the bed. It also limits sleep tracking to when you’re in bed, so those occasional cat-naps on the sofa in the living room won’t be recorded.
Before I had my new bed built, I was able to set the Nest Hub in the perfect spot to record my sleeping patterns. However, after my new bed arrived, it was larger than I anticipated and blocked a portion of the device’s field of view. Because of that, since I got my new bed, I don’t think any readings from the last two weeks or so are worth sharing – I’m pretty sure they’re severely inaccurate.
I still have data to work with, though, and that data seems relatively accurate. The Nest Hub would tell me I slept for a certain number of hours, tossed and turned a bit, coughed or snored a couple of times (stupid sinuses!), and even told me how long I was in bed and when I finally fell asleep. It also tells me my respiratory rate, when I cough, when I snore, and the conditions of my room to help correctly set the mood in my bedroom for a perfect night’s sleep.
This is all great, but I have no way of telling whether any of it’s accurate. For instance, I know that the time it takes me to fall asleep is inaccurate almost 90 percent of the time. I like to read in bed before calling it a night, and sometimes I do it for about an hour. If that’s the case, the Nest Hub will tell me it took over an hour from the time I got in bed to actually doze off. In reality, it only took about 10 minutes for me to fall asleep after closing my Kindle. This leads my mind on a questioning rollercoaster when it comes to the other data. How am I supposed to trust any of it if a piece of data like this can be manipulated so easily?
The same issues go for other devices like my Apple Watch for sleep tracking, to be perfectly honest. Both the Nest Hub and my Series 3 seem fit to accurately track sleep (and if we’re being honest, I tend to trust the watch more because it’s on my body), but unless you have medical-grade tools at your disposal, all consumer-grade sleep tracking tools are more personal wellness tools than serious sleep trackers to help you diagnose a sleeping disorder.
By the way, that’s what Google says sleep tracking is on the Nest Hub. The data it collects is meant to be stored for nothing but personal use, which is good since it can help you make adjustments to your sleeping schedule so you get more rest.
But don’t buy the Nest Hub thinking it can do any more. I’ve never really cared about my sleeping habits, and the Nest Hub only made me curious as to how restless I am at night. If I lost the ability to track my sleep with the device tomorrow, I don’t think I’d care.
Eventually, that will happen, by the way. Google doesn’t plan on keeping sleep tracking through the Nest Hub a free feature. At some point this year, you’ll have to pay for it under God knows what kind of plan. All I have to say to that is for whatever price you pay per month, it better come with other tools you can use to track your health – I could never see myself paying just to collect the data you get with the Nest Hub.
This is all despite Google building its sleep tracking feature with professionals from the sleeping industry and actual scientists. I’m sorry, but there’s only so much you can do with radar sensors to track someone’s sleeping habits. Right off the bat, they probably knew this data wouldn’t be entirely accurate, so they had to get some big names involved so customers grow confidence in the feature. How would you like to get sleep reports the morning after from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine? Sounds legit, right?
Don’t get me wrong, this is a convenient and handy feature to have access to. If you track your sleep every single night without fail, you’ll probably love the Nest Hub. Just know that it might not be as accurate as, say, your Fitbit or Apple Watch.
Should you buy it?
The Google Nest Hub for 2021 is yet another perfect smart display for virtually any room you put it in. The speaker is great, the Assistant is always helpful, and the design is simple and elegant to fit into virtually any aesthetic. Sleep tracking isn’t all that bad, either. It’s just a little untrustworthy.
All of this adds up to a package that’s plenty worth its $99.99 asking price. And knowing Google, as seasons for special discounts come up on the calendar, you’ll see the Nest Hub enter some great promotional periods. It’s always worth it to wait if you don’t wanna hand over a Benjamin Franklin.
Just do me a favor: when you buy the Nest Hub, don’t think you’re getting anything more accurate than a Fitbit or Apple Watch for telling you how well you sleep at night. With those types of expectations, I think anyone buying the Nest Hub will be happy with their purchase.