Google has announced a follow-up to the Nest Hub (formerly the Google Home Hub): the “second generation” Nest Hub. It looks exactly like the existing Nest Hub – with the same design and 7-inch screen – but with better sound and a few extra sensors. The headline feature is the inclusion of Google’s Soli Radar technology, which enables air gestures and sleep tracking.
Like the other second-generation Nest Audio speakers, the Nest Hub 2 has better sound. “The new Nest Hub’s speaker is based on the same audio technology as Nest Audio,” says the Google blog post, “and has 50 percent more bass than the original Hub.” Like the second-generation speaker hardware, the new Hub comes with “a special on-device machine learning chip that moves some Assistant experiences from our data centers directly to the device so that responses to common commands over time.” get faster.” Google notes that the ML on the device is only available in the US.
Soli is the main new addition. Google’s internal chip was previously included in (and subsequently removed from) the Pixel line. The technology is interesting: Google miniaturized radar into a chip small enough to slide into an electronic device. The early demos promised to capture “sub-millimeter movements of your fingers,” allowing for gestures like turning a virtual watch face or tapping a button. On the road to commercialization, Google had to cut down these lab prototypes, and now Soli can only detect large arm-waving gestures, which are a lot less useful. Soli was a flop on the Pixel 4 because it offered imprecise gestures that didn’t bring much value compared to the giant touchscreen on a phone, which had clear labels and better accuracy.
Google seems to be porting the feature over to the Nest Hub, unimproved, with “Quick Gestures.” The only gesture mentioned is a large, hand-up “stop” gesture that you can do a few inches in front of the screen. This gesture plays or pauses content, snoozes an alarm, and stops a timer. As on the Pixel 4, there’s also a huge, more precise touch button on the screen when this happens, so you’ll probably be hard pressed to choose the air gesture over the screen tap. I could see air gestures being useful when you’re cooking and have dirty hands (smart displays are popular in the kitchen, after all), but keep in mind that these devices also have Google Assistant voice commands, which can start and stop music, as well as a lot of other things hands-free, without the range limitations of Soli.
Google dreams of monthly subscription services
The Nest Hub 2 doesn’t have a camera, but it does want to keep an eye on you while you sleep via Soli’s radar. The new “sleep detection” feature “analyzes how the person closest to the screen sleeps, based on their movement and breathing — all without a camera or wearable.” You are gently caressed by radar waves while you sleep for motion detection, the microphone can detect coughs or snores and the ambient light and temperature sensors can monitor what’s happening in the room. In the morning, you’ll know if you should be feeling tired (I guess?) from a sleep summary shown on the Nest Hub display. Sleep sensing can also connect to the Google Fit app on a smartphone and share data with it.
The shoutout to wearables is interesting, as most tech companies track sleep through a wearable, but Wear OS’s appalling performance in the market means Google doesn’t have a viable wearable platform. Google is currently undergoing a rework of its wearables strategy after its purchase of Fitbit, and this blog post says, “We’ll also be looking into ways to work with Fitbit’s sleep tracking features in the future.”
Google notes that sleep detection is optional and that “your cough and snore sound data is only processed on the device – it is not sent to Google servers.” For now, sleep sensing is ‘an example’ and it looks like Google is planning to charge extra for service sometime next year.
Here is the relevant quote from the support page:
Enjoy a preview of Sleep Sensing for free until next year. Google is learning and innovating about this new technology, and is also exploring how Sleep Sensing can become a part of the Fitbit and Fitbit Premium experiences. Google and Fitbit will keep you informed of any future plans related to Sleep Sensing.
Fitbit Premium — a service that’s currently undergoing an upheaval along with everything else at Fitbit — costs $10 a month.
A chip for Project CHIP
The new Nest Hub also features the new ‘Project Connected Home over IP’ or ‘Project CHIP’ smart home standard. CHIP is a conglomerate of heavy hitters — Google, Apple, Amazon, Zigbee, and others — finally looking to get smart home standards out of the way once and for all with a new, complementary standard (feel free to drop that XKCD comic in the comments. link). The Nest Hub already has a ton of smart home controls, but it relies on your existing smart home hub bridging commands and data to Wi-Fi and the Google Assistant. With a built-in Thread radio (one of the IoT communication protocols for CHIP) it could theoretically be a more active part of a smart home network or possibly replace your hub.
The CHIP standard isn’t ready yet, so it’s not clear what exactly Google is up to here. Google has integrated smart home hardware into devices before, such as the Google OnHub router, which also came with a Thread radio. Absolutely nothing has come of the OnHub’s secret smart home functionality, so we’re not holding our breath for anything to happen here. Google’s follow-ups on the OnHub (the Google Wi-Fi and Google Nest Wi-Fi) can join Thread networks as well, but there’s no reason you’d want to do that. Currently, the Google Assistant’s ‘Actions’ API makes it great for smart home voice control, so it’s not clear what it would accomplish from a consumer perspective to bring that on board.
The second-generation Nest Hub is available to pre-order now on the Google Store for $99.99. It looks like it will ship around March 30th.
Listing image by Google