With the release of the second-generation Google Nest Hub, Google once again raises the bar for what a smart display can do. The new Nest Hub offers premium features like gesture control and sleep tracking. The Amazon Echo Show 8, on the other hand, might be getting a little long in the tooth.
Amazon's 8-inch Echo Show, introduced in late 2019 as the first direct competitor to Google's 7-inch Nest Hub, represented a good-enough alternative for smart home enthusiasts partial to Alexa over Google Assistant. As the Nest Hub leapfrogs even further ahead of Alexa with its latest update, however, the question may become whether the Echo Show 8 is still good enough to keep the Alexa faithful from straying.
When we reviewed the previous-gen Nest Hub, we lauded its convenient
controls, Ambient EQ adaptive screen, cooking help and voice assistance, noting it was already well ahead of Amazon's only smart display at the time -- the 10-inch Echo Show -- if, admittedly, a tad smaller.
The Echo Show 8, however, does have a camera, which opens up the potential of video chatting that Nest Hubs (other than the Nest Hub Max) simply don't have.
Last time we put the Show 8 screen-to-screen against the Nest Hub, it's fair to say it was a close call. Does Google's revamped device outpace Amazon's with its next-level features and updates? Let's take a look.
Since the very first Amazon Echo Show, smart displays have combined the voice-enabled assistant of a smart speaker with a touchscreen for watching videos, displaying photos, controlling smart home devices and more. One feature that has come to split the category, however, is video calling. To do that, a device needs a webcam. The Nest Hub doesn't have one, but the Echo Show 8 does.
Among the smart displays that do include a webcam, some lack a physical shutter to cover the camera. The Echo Show 8, however, has both, which does mitigate privacy concerns somewhat. The upside, of course, is that you can video chat with the Echo Show 8, which you can't do on the Nest Hub.
Google's smart displays have long been better as kitchen assistants than Amazon's. Going through a recipe on a Nest Hub is as seamless as it is intuitive. The Show 8, however, now offers exclusive integration with Food Network TV, which helps to level that particular playing field -- if you're willing to pay $40 per year for on-demand TV episodes, the ability to save recipes and deep Alexa integration, like being able to ask Alexa about specific ingredient amounts.
The Echo Show 8 also has a full web browser built in, with access to the open web, so if an app or service you want to use isn't available as a native app, you can often access it using the browser. The Nest Hub still doesn't offer a standalone browser, although there are some wonky workarounds.
The Nest Hub has held the crown as CNET's best smart display for a while, and it won't relinquish the title any easier with the updated second-generation Nest Hub.
All smart displays let you scroll through your personal pics as a screensaver, but the Nest Hub adjusts the brightness and color temperature of the screen based on the ambient light in the room, resulting in pictures that look like physical photos in a frame. Amazon's newer smart displays have improved their light sensors, and the latest Show 10 actually attempts to replicate Google's Ambient EQ, but the Nest Hub still has the best display of any smart screen on the market.
Both the Show 8 and the Nest Hub have intuitive smart home control panels that are easy to use, but the Nest Hub's control center is organized slightly better, especially after a recent update to the UI.
Worth noting, too, is that the Nest Hub shows you what it hears when you issue a voice command, whereas Alexa leaves you guessing if you misspoke or were misheard, and in general its touch controls and user interface are accessible and painless to use.
But now the Nest Hub has a true showstopper: a Google Soli micro-radar chip that can detect a tremendous range of motion, from your whole body moving across the room to the wiggling of a toe. This enables Motion Sense gesture control, so you can tap the air to play or pause music or video streams, as well as the marquee feature of the new Nest Hub: Sleep Sensing.
Unlike a wearable, the Nest Hub's bedside-style sleep tracking doesn't need to be recharged nor, for that matter, must you remember to turn it on. Based on our initial testing, it seems to work more or less as well as tracking with a wearable, with a few advantages and a couple of disadvantages that all pretty much come out in the wash.
Improved audio comes close to evening up one area where the Echo Show 8 had previously been superior, which pretty much just leaves the Nest Hub's missing webcam as the only downside. There's a time and, more importantly, a place for video chatting and, let's face it, the bedroom -- the most obvious home for a smart device in this size class -- isn't it.
We couldn't imagine how improving on our favorite smart display could somehow scuttle the Google Nest Hub's uninterrupted reign, and we weren't disappointed. The new Nest Hub keeps everything we loved about the first generation and adds even more goodies on top of it. With a better screen, more intuitive controls and now fuller sound, gesture control and contactless sleep tracking, the Nest Hub remains our favorite midsized smart display, beating out the Amazon Echo Show 8 yet again.
Reputations in the smart home space, however, aren't based on the past -- they hinge on what's currently available in the present. The Show 8 is well into its second year on the market, and Amazon isn't likely to let its middleweight smart display age into obscurity. When it's time for Amazon to throw the next punch, we'll be back here ringside keeping score.
Watch this: Google Nest Hub (2nd gen): Sleep sensing from a smart display