I’ve always had a difficult relationship with sleep. It’s something my parents quickly came to terms with when I was a toddler: Instead of drifting off into dreamland, I’d climb out of my crib in the middle of the night ready to party like it was my birthday. And at 27 years old, I’m still a night owl. (I consider going to bed at midnight to be “early.”) 

So when I found out I’d be reviewing Google’s latest Nest Hub smart display with its sleep-tracking “super power,” I panicked. Now Google and the internet would know all about my terrible sleep habits.

Google’s second-generation Nest Hub (or as I like to call it, “my sleep warden”) comes with some fairly incremental upgrades: It has speakers that pack more bass and a machine-learning chip to speed up Google Assistant’s response time. At an affordable $100, it’s also much cheaper than the original $149 Nest Hub. 

Understandably, Google needed to spiced things up for this second attempt, which is why it added that “Sleep Sense” sleep-tracking feature. But rather than rely on a creepy camera to track users while they sleep, Google recycled its Soli Radar chip and Motion Sense technology instead. 

First introduced on the Pixel 4 in 2019, Motion Sense allowed users to trigger certain UI controls by frantically waving their hand over the display. But the feature proved to be short-lived as Google nixed it just one year later with the release of the Pixel 5. Rest assured, users can now frantically wave their hand in front the second-gen Nest Hub instead. 

On the new Nest Hub, this combo of Soli Radar and Motion Sense is now used to track sleep quality at night. In the morning, the display provides you with a summary of how well you slept, tracking metrics like time spent in bed before falling asleep, total time asleep, time you got into bed, and time you woke up. This summary also factors in your respiratory rate, and any snoring or coughing throughout the night. It’s all meant to help you gain a clear understanding of how to better sleep. 

That’s the idea, anyway.

If you’re like me and have a tendency to overanalyze your unusual sleep habits, then you don’t have to use it. The sleep-tracking feature is completely optional and free to use… for a year. (Google hasn’t said how much it’ll cost to subscribe after that trial period.) You can easily turn it off and use the Nest Hub solely as a smart display, and turn it back on if/when you’re ready to maximize those zzzs. And if you’re never ready, that’s fine, too.

As a reviewer, however, I didn’t have that luxury. I had to track my sleep. So it felt more like the Nest Hub was pressuring me into fixating on my awful sleep habits — and I didn’t appreciate it.

The same, but different

Design-wise, the new Nest Hub looks identical to the first-generation model. The front features a 7-inch touchscreen LCD display, which is super bright and responsive. Although, at times, loading apps and scrolling through sleep metrics did cause the display to lag a bit. 

You can use the Nest Hub to watch pre-installed streaming apps like YouTube, Netflix, Disney+, Hulu, and Paramount+, but I wouldn’t necessarily consider it a cheap TV replacement for your room. With a 1024 x 600 resolution, the Nest Hub is better off as a digital photo frame, especially once you connect your Google Photos account. 

The display had a tendency to lag when loading apps and scrolling through metrics.

Image: brenda stolyar / mashable

At the top of the display are built-in microphones for that Google Assistant integration, along with an Ambient EQ light sensor (which dynamically adjusts the brightness) and temperature sensors. On back, you’ll find a microphone mute switch (in case you’re worried about privacy) and the volume rocker. 

The display is attached to a fabric-covered speaker which comes in chalk, charcoal, mist, and sand. I was given the mist color which I personally think is the most calming of them all. It gives a serene baby blue tint to the Nest Hub’s combo of plastic and fabric. 

See, mist is a calming color.

See, mist is a calming color.

Image: brenda stolyar / mashable

The Nest Hub’s speaker packs a 43.5 mm driver, which, according to Google, provides 50 percent more bass than the previous version, giving it a bigger and richer sound. While I mainly used the Nest Hub for its smart home capabilities — connecting it to the Google Home app allows you to control compatible smart bulbs, smart plugs, and more — its sound quality is fairly crisp when listening to podcasts and music. If you’re looking for more of a smart speaker, however, then you’re better off with the Google Nest Audio, which sounds a lot less muffled, especially at higher volumes.

Nightstand required

Now, about that Soli Radar chip…

It’s essentially a miniature radar that can detect human motion at different levels. This means it can measure larger-scale movement, such as your limbs moving, or more precise fluctuations, like how much your chest moves while breathing. When combined with the Nest Hub’s built-in microphones, it can even pick up on snoring and coughing. 

Given all this, your nightstand is the best spot to place the Nest Hub to ideally detect your nighttime movements. 

If you don’t have one, it’s still easy to figure out a spot that works. When you first set up the Nest Hub, it’ll ask you to calibrate it by setting it down nearby while you lie on your bed and breathe. If it can’t detect your movement, it’ll let you know. When the feature is properly enabled, you’ll see a bed icon appear in the corner of the display. 

The switch is orange to indicate that the mic is muted.

The switch is orange to indicate that the mic is muted.

Image: brenda stolyar / mashable

Since I live in a small apartment in New York City, I placed my Nest Hub on the windowsill behind my bed and slept closer to that window. With this placement, its sleep-tracking was accurate … for the most part. 

But there was one area where it struggled: tracking my wake time. 

Typically, I wake up around 8:30 a.m. every morning and work on my laptop for about an hour from the comfort of my bed (ah, the beauty of working from home). However, there were instances when the Nest Hub recorded incorrect data. Some days, it would claim that I woke up later than I actually did, and on others, it would claim I woke up earlier than I did. 

For example, last Monday morning, the Nest Hub said I woke up at 7:07 a.m. Yes, I did wake up to check the time at that recorded time, but then I went back to sleep for about 20 more minutes before finally getting out of bed. On another morning last week, I woke up around 8:45 a.m. and grabbed my laptop, but the Nest Hub incorrectly tracked my wake-up time as 9:08 a.m. I know this is wrong because my work slack messages prove otherwise… and also because I come with receipts!

A sleep summary is ready to greet you in the morning.

A sleep summary is ready to greet you in the morning.

Image: brenda stolyar / mashable

This wake time inconsistency is a bit confusing considering the other sleep metrics have been pretty spot on. My only guess is that it’s because the bed frame slightly obscures the Nest Hub’s sensors, so it’s unable to recognize when I’m awake unless I physically get out of my bed. 

If you intend to use the Nest Hub for non-sleep-focused activities like streaming content or controlling your smart home, then it’s not as important to take its bedside placement into account. But if you’re purchasing this display to take advantage of its sleep-tracking capabilities, then I’d highly recommend making sure it’s placed where your alarm clock usually sits. 

But do so at your own risk because having a display next to you while you sleep might not be ideal. Dr. Rebecca Robbins, a sleep scientist at Harvard Medical School’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital, recommends keeping clocks and smart displays like the Nest Hub out of the bedroom.  

You can tap on the display to see more in-depth sleep metrics.

You can tap on the display to see more in-depth sleep metrics.

Image: brenda stolyar / mashable

“For people who have any sort of sleep difficulties, it’s going to result in a technical term [called] ‘late night clock watching.’ So, you’re up. You can’t fall asleep. You turn around [and] it’s three o’clock in the morning. And then your heart rate starts to increase because you’re stressed and all of that kind of starts to spiral out of control,” she said. 

Google does have a setting that allows you to turn off the Nest Hub’s screen in low-light environments. So if you’re the type who struggles to fall back asleep after waking up in the middle of the night and checking the time, I’d suggest turning that on. 

Let’s get into those judgmental sleep metrics 

Setting up Sleep Sense on the Nest Hub first requires inputting the times you’d normally go to bed and wake up. That way, your morning summary can base your actual sleep “scores” against your intended schedule. After two weeks of consistently tracking your sleep habits, the Nest Hub will then start to make “helpful” suggestions, including what time it thinks you should go to bed.

I’m someone who doesn’t have a regular bedtime and I also try not to judge myself for waking up late— those are the perks of being in my late twenties and no longer needing adult supervision. But a smart display telling me it’s “past my bedtime” essentially undoes this grown-up freedom. And its parent-like “judgment” only gets worse the more you use it. 

Who needs a mom to nag you when you have the sleep-tracking Nest Hub?

Who needs a mom to nag you when you have the sleep-tracking Nest Hub?

Image: brenda stolyar / mashable

Every morning, you’ll get a summary that consists of three circles: 

  • Schedule (the consistency of the times you got into bed and woke up)

  • Duration (whether you slept the recommended 7-9 hours)

  • Quality (how restful your sleep was)

When you swipe to the left past the circles, you’ll also see the amount of times you coughed throughout the night, your respiratory rate (RPM), and the amount of times you snored. 

When you’ve slept well — as in, went to bed and woke up on time and slept for at least seven hours without disturbances — the circles will turn purple and overlap, which is the goal. If you don’t do any of those things, the circles will turn orange and appear next to each other. 

You never want those circles to turn orange.

You never want those circles to turn orange.

Image: brenda stolyar / mashable

I’m proud to say that I’ve yet to see the circles turn orange. But in the week I’ve been using this thing, I’ve also never seen them overlap. And that poor sleep performance has truly weighed on my mind. 

I’m also happy to report that: 

  • My RPM is consistently between the average 12 to 20 breaths per minute for adults. 

  • I coughed once in all seven of my sleep-tracked days.

  • I snored for only five minutes. 

Despite all this relatively good sleep performance, I actually felt…uneasy. Just knowing the Nest Hub would be there at night to monitor and tell on me when I went to bed too late or didn’t get enough sleep was enough to give me anxiety. 

You see sleep metrics. I see JUDGMENT.

You see sleep metrics. I see JUDGMENT.

Image: brenda stolyar / mashable

That’s not to say the Nest Hub’s Sleep Sense technology isn’t useful — in fact, Dr. Robbins says that tracking sleep helps to implement behavioral monitoring. It just may not be ideal for Type-A personalities like me who want to perfect every aspect of their lives. 

“For the vast majority of adults, it’s an overwhelmingly positive thing to track your behavior, open up your app, and see how you did the night before. Because what that does, and why behavioral monitoring is so powerful, is it automatically prompts [you] to reflect when you’ve had a bad night,” Dr. Robbins said.

But for me, it formed more of an addictive behavior. It was the first thing I’d check when I woke up and even sometimes randomly throughout the day. Plus, by connecting it to the Google Fit app on my phone, I was able to overanalyze my results even when I was away from the smart display. 

You can also ask Google Assistant to remind you of your bedtime.

You can also ask Google Assistant to remind you of your bedtime.

Image: brenda stolyar / mashable

According to Dr. Robbins, this can be a common behavior for those who experience insomnia or a bit of anxiety around sleep.

“Sometimes, giving [people] data about how good or bad their sleep was might further exacerbate some anxiety around sleep,” she said. “So, if it’s stressing you out, take a break from tracking and try to go old school by emphasizing healthy sleep strategies [like] doing your best to maintain a consistent sleep schedule [and] to really retain your bedroom as a stress-free environment. And maybe that means putting your tracker in the other room because it’s not serving you.” 

So what are the alternatives?

If you don’t want to go the Nest Hub route for sleep tracking and would prefer other more “wearable” nighttime alternatives, you’ve got options.

The Apple Watch Series 3 (and up) includes sleep tracking with watchOS 7. But since the feature just recently launched, it only tracks the times when you’ve gone to sleep and woken up, along with the duration of your sleep. 

If you’re looking for more in-depth sleep metrics, then a Fitbit Inspire 2 or Charge 4 would be a better option. Fitbit’s Sleep Score feature provides you with additional information like your blood oxygen levels throughout the night as well as specifics regarding your sleep cycle (i.e., REM, light, and deep sleep).

Otherwise, you can always just use your phone and a sleep-tracking app. The Sleep Cycle app, for example, works similarly to the new Nest Hub. But instead of a Soli Radar chip, it uses your phone’s microphone to pick up on movements and sounds throughout the night to track your sleep. 

Counting sheep, Google style

Look, the second-generation Nest Hub isn’t a bust by any means. At $100, it’s an excellent and affordable follow-up to Google’s older, non-sleep-tracking model. And for those who want to improve their sleep habits without the hassle of a wearing an uncomfortable smartwatch or smart band to bed, this smart display could actually be the ideal solution. 

That said, if you already know you’re not going to take advantage of the Soli chip and Sleep Sense, then save yourself $10 and purchase the OG Nest Hub instead for $89.99. Since it has the same design and mostly all of the same features, you’re really not missing out on anything other than some unwelcome morning “judgment.”

I know I won’t miss it. I’ve happily relocated the Nest Hub from its former watchdog perch on my windowsill to a spot on my desk. Now, it’s less of a nighttime nag and more of a smart work companion — I can view upcoming Google Calendar appointments, check Google News, and even control the lights. 

As for my “Googlefied” bedtime habits… I’ll continue to use the Nest Mini to lull me to sleep with rain sounds instead of relying on the Nest Hub’s stress-inducing sleep metrics. 

And when I say sleep, I do mean my standard
(and statistically subpar) four to five hours, thank you very much.

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