Google Nest Hub Review: Sleep Tracking Comes to a Smart Home Screen

A voice assistant from Amazon or Google is a great way to control your smart home, but is it the best way? One alternative to a purely audio voice experience is to introduce a screen to the mix and use touch to manipulate your internet-connected devices. Google's Nest Hub has been around for a few years now, but its newly revised second-generation model is a perfect excuse to reconsider the cameraless smart display for your kitchen or bedroom.

Google Nest Hub
The second generation Nest Hub costs $99, and its Sleep Sensing feature will be free until 2022. TYLER HAYES

It can be a little confusing identifying this new Nest Hub because it looks just like the first version. The exterior stayed exactly the same, while the inside got a faster processor and a Soli sensor to add its Sleep Sensing feature to the mix.

Let's skip the small talk. If you're a current Nest Hub owner and wondering if you should upgrade from generation one to generation two, the answer is probably no. Yes, there are some differences and new abilities, but unless you need Sleep Sensing, skip this upgrade. On the other hand, if you're shopping for a new smart display to control items in your house and watch videos, this could be a perfect device.

Nest Hub and Sleep Tracking

The headlining feature of the new Nest Hub is its ability to track sleep. It's pretty much the only noticeable new ability. The unit should be faster with its upgraded processor, but I found that component hard to quantify in day-to-day use.

Not only is sleep tracking new to this device, but it does so in an almost unbelievable way. It uses a Soli sensor to detect motion and microphones to listen for specific sounds. There are no cameras watching, but the sensor can pick up depth and objects with its radar technology.

Google first put a Soli sensor on its Pixel 4 phone to enable people to skip songs or snooze alarms by waving their hands, without needing to touch the phone. It has also included the sensor in its latest Nest Thermostat for control of the device at a distance. So far, most of the time, the sensor's applications have relied on active user participation, but no longer on the Nest Hub. Once Sleep Sensing is configured, there's no need to remember what gestures are needed.

Google Nest Hub
The Sleep Sensing sleep tracking results can be displayed in this Google Fit mobile app. TYLER HAYES

The big question is, How does this passive sleep tracking work? Surprisingly well, in fact. I've been sleeping on an Eight Sleep mattress pod with built-in sleep tracking, so I have a direct comparison. Eight Sleep has sensors on the mattress, so it can even detect heart rate, but otherwise Nest Hub matches most of its sleeping metrics.

The Nest Hub can report on time in bed compared to time asleep, sleeping disturbances, restless periods and respiratory rate. The disturbances are also broken down between snoring, coughing and changes in light.

The results can be displayed on the Nest Hub itself but are also synced to the Google Fit app, so you can see them anywhere. Within Google Fit, you can see data in a weekly or monthly view. Compared with Eight Sleep's, the data collected by the radar sensor and mics on the Nest Hub is remarkably close. Throughout the first week, the metrics were within minutes of each other. After a few months of having data collected and direct sensor contact, I trust the Eight Sleep results as a baseline. I was pretty amazed by the similar accuracy Nest Hub displayed on the first night, and then beyond.

Google Nest Hub
The Nest Hub is an attractive and compelling bedside clock and smart home control center. TYLER HAYES

While Nest Hub might not be the most precise way to track sleep, the big takeaway here is that it does a solid job. It's good enough to provide insights into your sleeping habits, for sure. There's nothing to wear, and at $99, it's an economical option. Right now, Google advertises that the Sleep Sensing feature is free to use, but starting next year, it will likely be rolled into FitBit's premium paid service—a future consideration.

Another caveat to its sleep tracking is that it only works for one person. It should be sitting on a nightstand within a few feet of where you sleep to work properly. The requirements aren't unreasonable but may be an issue for some bedroom configurations.

A Smart Home Display

As a smart home display, Nest Hub continues to be a solid option. Again, there's nothing here that's different than the previous version, beyond that it may or may not feel speedier at times.

The Nest Hub Max is the bigger alternative, and it does include a camera for video calls. This smaller model is really aimed at being a bedside clock and a control center for lights and locks. Conveniently, if you have Nest Cams or a Nest Hello doorbell, the video streams are viewable on the Nest Hub.

Even though its 7-inch touch display doesn't provide a cinema viewing experience, it still handles video services. You can cast enabled apps to it as well as natively view YouTube, Netflix and other streaming content.

Google Nest Hub
The Nest Hub can be controlled with voice or touch and has a screen for visual results, but does not include a camera. TYLER HAYES

The device works well for casting music, as well, and is supported by all major streaming services, including Spotify, Apple Music and Pandora. The speaker inside isn't massive, but it does make a great media player, beyond its smart home capabilities.

Should You Buy a Google Nest Hub?

For general smart home use, including controlling lights, cameras and watching videos, it's hard to beat the $99 Nest Hub. Its cameraless display means it can reside nearly anywhere without creating an uncomfortable feeling. Now that it has surprisingly good sleep tracking built-in, it's an amazing bedside clock, too.

The downsides for the Nest Hub aren't in what it can or can't do but rather how you go about doing some of those things. When the display is passively showing you weather and photos, even suggesting smart home controls, it's great. When you need to go searching for a specific task, Google's messy Home and Assistant companion apps are where things can get complicated.

I find Google Home's exhaustive feature list and menu items unbearable to sort through and use. But, luckily, most of the time, I can avoid hunting and pecking through the apps.

Overall, the new Nest Hub is great for newcomers, like it's always been. The upsell for existing owners is much harder, but if you need to track your sleep, this does it well.

Buy at Best Buy.

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