Smart speakers are getting, well, smarter. Google has unveiled its second generation Nest Hub smart display, which now doubles as a high-tech sleep tracker.
VERDICT: Google Nest Hub 2nd-gen review
Keeping the same camera-less, 7-inch form-factor as the original Nest Hub and sporting a few design refinements, plus new colors (Mist and Sand), the new 2021 Nest Hub really distinguishes itself under the hood.
Packing an on-device ML chip for a faster Assistant (the same as in the Google Nest Mini), a third mic for better Assistant hearing, and 50% more bass for music listening, the Nest Hub also fits a Thread radio, a temperature sensor, and Google's Soli gesture technology inside its diminutive design.
Previously found on the Pixel devices and in the new Nest Thermostat, Soli is a radar-based gesture recognition system that, on the Nest Hub, allows you to tap the air to pause and resume media on the device.
It also enables the device's sleep sensing capabilities, able to monitor chest rise and fall unobtrusively and - crucially for a bedroom - privately.
According to Google, the low-energy radar can only detect motion, not shapes or faces, and all audio and raw data from the sleep tracking is processed locally on the device, only the relevant sleep data is sent to the cloud.
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The second-gen Nest Hub retains all the existing features of the original, you can control your smart home from its touch-screen, activate Google Assistant, play music, watch videos, and - our personal favorite - use it as a gorgeous digital photo frame.
But now it's also capable of being a Thread border router in your smart home set up - the same capability as in the newly released HomePod Mini... although Google tells us the Thread radio on the device is not yet activated.
Instead it's "Thread//CHiP ready," and will presumably fire up once the CHiP protocol is widely available.
While smart home geeks such as ourselves are most excited about the Thread capability, for normal people it's the sleep-sensing that will set this device apart in the sea of smart speakers.
According to Google, 20% of all Nest Hubs are in the bedroom, a figure likely propelled by the company's decision not to include a camera in the device. Plus, its adaptive display is far superior to Amazon's.
Its ambient screen tech adjust the screen brightness to match the room, meaning it's always readable but never distracting. The Nest Hub has long been our bedside smart alarm clock of choice.
Now, with the second-gen, this smart display has become a bona-fide sleep tracker, one designed to not only track and monitor your sleep but also provide actionable tips to help improve it, something we've not really seen until now.
One of the best features here is that you don't have to do anything to track your sleep. No devices to wear or turn on, it's a completely contactless experience. Just angle the screen towards your torso and the Soli chip will analyze movement and breathing, and the built-in microphones, ambient light sensor, and temperature sensor will monitor for disturbances like coughing and snoring, and light and temperature changes.
Once you initially activate Sleep Sensing, on the device or in the Google Fit app, it will automatically start tracking from you when you lay down in bed, and then offer up a report on the display each morning.
This shows you your duration of sleep, your schedule and your quality. Quality presents a timeline highlighting snoring, coughing and light change in the room - all things you theoretically have control over.
A weekly sleep report will come with a recommendation of things you can do to improve your sleep and, over time, the Nest Hub will learn your sleep patterns and offer up insights and recommendations including a recommended sleep schedule. Yes, it's a Nest Learning Thermostat for your body.
Google told us that these recommendations will also tie in other smart home devices, sending suggestions for setting up a wind down routine to adjust lighting, play music, and set a bedtime reminder.
Sleep Sensing is completely opt-in and can be disabled at any time. You can pause and turn off tracking on the device with a tap, as well as delete the previous night's data if you so wish.
Other sleep-friendly features on the device include a new Bedtime Screen featuring sleep sounds, a dark theme UI and a Sunrise Alarm feature that gradually increases the brightness of the screen.
Sleep Sensing will be in a free preview until 2022. Following that Google is exploring a potential subscription as well as integration with Fitbit's sleep tracking features. Sleep Sensing only works with one person at a time.
Pre-orders for the new Nest Hub start today for $99.99 in US, Canada, UK, Germany, France and Australia. The device will ship 30 March.