Google Nest Hub 2nd Generation Review: While you were sleeping
Google’s Nest Hub benefits from better sound and Thread compatibility, but the much-hyped sleep tracking is too erratic to be truly trustworthy.
- Small screen means you can place it anywhere
- Google makes smart use of having a screen on an assistant
- Speakers have extra oomph for video watching
- Thread compatible for future IoT use
- Sleep tracking doesn’t work all that well
- Small display isn’t ideal for long form video watching
- No huge reason to upgrade from the original Hub
The original version of the Google Nest Hub – back when it was called the Google Home Hub – was released back in 2018, which is quite a while ago in technology terms.
Google's boffins have beavered away in their labs to bring us the 2nd generation update to the Nest Hub over the years, but they've really only tinkered around the edges. The upgraded speakers are a nice touch, but the heavily hyped sleep features don't really work as well as Google claims they do.
- Welcome to the new Nest Hub, same as the old one
- Only Chalk and Charcoal colours in Australia
Put the Google Nest Hub 2nd Gen next to the original model, and most folks won't be able to pick the difference. Google hasn't gone radically back to the design drawing board for the second generation, which means you're once again looking at a 7 inch 1024x600 pixel LCD display with moderately heavy bezels around it. The Google Nest Hub 2nd Gen is actually marginally larger than the original model by around 12mm, but you'd genuinely need them side by side to actually pick this detail.
As with the original Nest Hub, the Google Nest Hub 2nd Gen's display sits on a base that also houses its internal speaker. Because the idea of a smart display is that you're going to want to have it on show, Google gives you a choice of colour options to pick from. However, that choice in Australia is somewhat limited. You can only pick from Chalk or Charcoal. They aren't bad colours, but the one design difference between the new and old Nest Hubs is that the new model is being produced in a new Mist colour for overseas markets. Here in Australia, though, it's the same old story of more limited colour choices.
Inputs are limited, too, as the whole idea here is that you'll mostly use your voice to control the Google Nest Hub 2nd Gen – the same as any smart speaker, with just intermittent use of the display as a touch panel. There's a switch at the rear to allow you to mute the microphones on the Google Nest Hub 2nd Gen, which you may well want to do from time to time as Google's strong pitch here is that this will become a bedroom smart display.
I'm not going to judge you for what you get up to in the bedroom with consenting partners, but you probably shouldn't let Google listen in on that kind of detail.
- Good microphone pick-up
- Makes the most of its smart display
- Soli radar for sleep tracking is cool, but rather inaccurate
- Thread compatibility (though there's not much Thread gear yet)
While there isn't so much evidence of external changes in the Google Nest Hub 2nd Gen, that's not to say there are no significant differences with this model.
The 2nd Gen Nest Hub features three far field microphones, compared to the original model's dual microphone set-up, for theoretically improved accuracy. I tend to find that Google Assistant has more issues with the Australian accent and comprehensibility than whether it picks up my voice from across the room, but having better pick-up certainly can't hurt in the ongoing battle to be understood. Clearly, your accent and pronunciation of words is still key here. The Nest Hub 2nd Gen did respond to queries a touch faster than the original model Nest Hub, although I wouldn't call the older model notably slower.
Google's still using a speaker with a primary 1.7 inch driver, as it did with the original model, but Google says it's tweaked the internal arrangements around that driver to offer a 50% improvement in bass tones. The Google Nest Hub 2nd Gen isn't exactly what I'd call a high-end sound speaker in any case, but there's a noticeable bit more punch here, especially if you're using it for video playback. That small, lower resolution screen isn't ideal for lengthy movie watching, but it's great for shorter YouTube clips and the like. Google's done some strong work here to bring a lot of notable video streaming services on board, and while I wouldn't go out of my way to watch Netflix or Disney+ on the Google Nest Hub 2nd Gen's tiny screen, it's perfectly feasible to do so with simple voice commands.
One of the big omissions on the original Nest Hub/Google Home Hub was a camera, and Google was pretty explicit about why it skipped out on one. Google wanted people to feel comfortable putting a smart display into their homes, and it felt that for its first product, an absence of intrusive lenses was the best approach. It's not the case for the larger Google Nest Hub Max, which has yet to hit a second generation.
For the Google Nest Hub 2nd Gen, Google's taken a somewhat halfway approach to the camera question. It does feature a camera style sensor, but not one that – according to the company – captures actual video of any form. Instead, Google's grabbed the Soli radar sensor that you find in the Nest Hub Max and Google Pixel 4, and tweaked it specifically for the Google Nest Hub 2nd Gen to manage sleep sensing features. It's a camera, but not the way you might think of a camera.
What this means in essence is that the Google Nest Hub 2nd Gen does watch you while you sleep, but only effectively via radar, and only if you very explicitly opt in to have this feature enabled. There's a whole raft of security agreements you have to tap on, as well as a calibration step that involves you lying down on your bed, on top of the blankets, so that the radar can get a rough idea of your shape as you sleep. The Nest Hub 2nd Gen has to be placed specifically so that the radar can "see" you while you sleep, which could make it tricky to place in some bedrooms. I ended up putting it on a box on a side table for my review, but longer term I'd need some higher furniture to more permanently place it correctly.
Google says that all the actual radar data is only ever processed on the device, although you can export it to Google Fit, and over time it'll build up a smarter sleep profile for you based on your habits and healthy sleeping advice.
At least, in theory, that's what it's meant to do, but based on my review period, I have my doubts. Once you get past the while-you-were-sleeping-Google-is-watching-you problem – and if you're never going to, don't put it in your bedroom or enable sleep sensing – you've then got to wait and see how well it tracks you. What I've found is that the Google Nest Hub 2nd Gen tends to rather overestimate my actual sleep time, including missing a few times when I got up overnight to attend to children or nature's call. If you've used a sleep tracking bracelet before, you'll be aware that there is going to be a margin of error, but Google's sleep sensing seems to err far too heavily on the side of saying I'm dozing when I know I'm not. That's problematic in terms of overall sleep health, of course, because it's going to presume I'm sleeping well and for the full recommended 8 hours or more, when that's not the case.
It's also rather worrying that Google's language around Sleep Sensing is that it's a feature that will be a "free trial" through to 2022, which does rather suggest that at some point Google's going to charge you for its use.
That would be right after it's captured a whole lot of sleep data, and while it does go to some pains to point out how it's not using it for individual tracking, it seems unlikely (to put it politely) that it won't use data in aggregate to improve its products. Or in other words, you'll use it for a year, it'll get better at tracking your own sleep data and then Google will want you paying to use it. That's a very Google way of looking at charging you for data, but is it a system that consumers should buy into?
There's an undeniable cool factor to the underlying technology that can simply look at your lying down form and work out if you're asleep or not, and it's to Google's credit that it works at all. However, it doesn't quite feel like it's precise enough for the task at hand at launch.
Outside sleep tracking, the Nest Hub 2nd Gen is also a Thread compatible router in its own right, joining Apple's tiny HomePod Mini in that category. Thread based devices can offer faster connectivity without needing a core hub for each smart home device, but the challenge here is that there's precious few actual Thread devices out there as yet. Testing with a Nanoleaf Essentials Bulb did show some speed improvements in terms of switching on or off, but realistically, buying a Thread compatible hub right now is far more of an investment in future capabilities, rather than one that'll bear fruit right away.
Should you buy the Google Nest Hub 2nd Generation?
- Buy it if you want a good quality smart display that can also track your sleep.
- Don't buy it if you want accurate sleep tracking, or you're not happy to share some of that data with Google.
The Nest Hub 2nd Generation doesn't radically depart from the original model, and as such, there's not much of an upgrade path if you do own the first generation model.
If you don't, however, Google's Nest Hubs remain the go-to choice for Australian users at least. Amazon has competition in its Echo Show devices, but Google's got a fair lead in terms of services that actually make smart use of a display, especially when you consider that they're also Chromecast-capable screens in their own right.
Google hasn't quite cracked sleep tracking to a level where it feels like a must-have feature, but rather like Soli on the Pixel 4, it's early days, and it's possible that it may improve over time. If sleep tracking is important to you, however, the Nest Hub 2nd Gen's slightly slippery tracking means you'd be better off with an actual wearable device instead.
Pricing and availability
PriceThe Google Nest Hub 2nd Gen is available in Australia for $149.
Where to buy
Images: Alex Kidman