I was a big fan of the Nest Hub when it first launched. Not only did it provide people with a window into the world of the Google Assistant, it came in a compact, but well-designed package. Since it was released, Google has pioneered new technologies, and society has moved to try to live healthier—especially after being stuck at home this past year. So naturally several of these new design philosophies would inform the Second Generation Nest Hub.
At first glance, the latest Nest Hub feels very similar to its past iteration. It still has the small footprint—with the seven inch screen having a similar feel, and the cloth covered speaker base compliments the look of the overall device. The microphone mute toggle on the rear of the display making it easy to stop google from hearing you should you need privacy.
Refinements have been made to the Nest Hub 2021 though, most notably the screen. It now no longer has any lip, making it feel like a much more seamless experience overall when interacting with the Nest Hub. Considering Google only made minor adjustments to the new Nest Mini, it is to be expected that the Nest Hub would be similar, and thankfully it was a design that worked well. The Nest Hub 2021 also comes in a variety of colours; consumers can choose between: Chalk, Charcoal, Sand and Mist; so there should be something that fits most people’s taste, even if they’re not fans of Google’s very pastel palette.
Despite the look of the second generation Nest Hub being minimal, Google has made some significant changes under the hood. Boasting 50% more bass than the last iteration of the Nest Hub, Google has notably improved the overall sound quality on this little smart display. Even with the short time I have had with the new Nest Hub, I quickly noticed how clean the audio sounds. It has a crisp, clear sound that, even in its small package; easily filled the bedroom it was set-up in. That being said, it is not a huge speaker, so expectations should be set accordingly—but for evening listening, or audiobooks before bed; the Nest Hub 2021 should be a fantastic offering that will meet most people’s needs.
The microphones have also received an upgrade for this iteration, moving away from the two on offer in the first Nest Hub to now offering three, putting it in line with the Nest Mini and Nest Audio—which both have three far field microphones for picking up commands or listening to what is going on in the room. The Nest Hub will also act as a command centre for all your smart devices, providing an easy-to-use screen to manage all the devices around your home; making it really easy to get the house ready when it’s time to leave, or time for bed.
Perhaps the biggest upgrade this time around is in the Soli radar chip that is now included in this year’s Nest Hub. Much like with the Nest Hub Max, the Nest Hub will now be able to pick up Quick Gesture, but unlike the Nest Hub Max, it does not use a camera for it. This gives a much less intrusive way to utilize gestures, making it feel far less creepy to have it sitting on a night stand. What this also does is allow the Nest Hub to have Sleep Sensing sleep tracking.
The person who sleeps closest to the display can now be tracked—and I know I said it was less creepy, but hear me out—and thanks to the Soli low energy radar, there is no need to wear any device or band to bed for the Nest Hub to keep track of things. The Nest Hub will also be able to track overall disturbances the sleeper may be experiencing during the night thanks to the Ambient Light EQ sensor and the on board microphone.
Sleep Sensing is a unique, and potentially exciting new feature. Using the Soli radar, the Nest Hub is able to provide insight into your sleep habits. This includes many things—from how well you are sleeping, to if you wake up randomly in the night, if you are snoring, or are just constantly moving; preventing you from getting a truly restful sleep. The morning sleep summary provides a quick glimpse into what your night was like, and potentially give you clues to why you are tired or just not as rested as you feel you should be.
Once the Nest Hub experiences the few nights with you sleeping, and learning your routine; it can help work out a sleep schedule, along with offering suggestions on how you can get a better night’s sleep overall. Thankfully this will all be an opt-in feature, so for people that feel it is a bit invasive, they can leave it off and use it as any other smart display.
In practice, it feels like it could be exciting, but also will take time to get a clear picture on what is really going on. It gives users enough data to get an idea on what your body is doing at night, but will also need to see how it changes over time. I personally don’t move much when I sleep, yet I still feel I did not get a great night’s sleep, and the Nest Hub could not gprovide a clear picture as to why. I feel this will get better as Google improves the technology and software that powers it; but from what I do see, I am optimistic, and excited to see how it can evolve over time.
Sleep Sensing is available for free until next year—but even if it is not enabled, many of the settings, such as an actively dimming display, gesture based snooze, and an alarm that will gradually increase as you wake up; will still work. So even if you don’t want Sleep Sensing, there will be plenty on hand to make it a fantastic bedside companion.
The fact that Sleep Sensing is only free until next year, does raise questions on how it will be an upsell—especially with this as one of the biggest selling features on the Nest Hub 2021. It feels a bit half-baked at present, but I will reserve judgment on the overall value of this feature until the full release and when the cost is clearly outlined for anyone looking to keep it active past the free trial period.
Google has also added a Thread radio on the little smart display. This communication protocol is similar to Zigbee, and helps the Nest Hub communicate with smart devices better—giving it a more direct control over devices that support it. This same protocol is also found in the Nest Hub Max, so it is no surprise Google is pushing it down the product line, and when more technology supports it this will be a great addition to the device. Sadly at the time of testing, I had no supported devices, so I could not test this as fully as I would have liked.
Beyond the new additions, the Nest Hub 2021 carries over all the features you know and love from the first Nest Hub—including ability to watch Netflix and Disney+, use it as a digital photo frame, a portal to news and weather, and let’s not forget the Google Assistant, that feels responsive and easy to use, especially with the added far field microphones compared to the first generation display.
There is a lot to like about the second generation Nest Hub. It feels well thought out, and offers enough of an upgrade to make anyone feel comfortable adding it to their home, even if there is still a first generation device still kicking around. However, even with all the new features I feel are a great value to buyers; a few of the most boasted additions don’t feel fully realized yet. While Sleep Sensing is a great concept on paper, it could use some refinement, and even more so with this only being a free trial period until next year. But even without this feature, the Nest Hub feels a great addition to Google’s range of devices and at the $99 price point, it is one of the best smart displays you can buy, especially for under $200.