Some competitions are epic by nature: Foreman versus Ali. Apple versus Microsoft. Amazon Echo versus Google Nest, even. Others exist on a more human scale: Apple HomePod versus HomePod Mini, for example. Still others are held to mark the passage of time -- one generation to the next, old to the new, the discontinued Google Home versus the updated Nest Audio.
It's in the spirit of this last sort of match that we've pitted two generations of the same device toe-to-toe as we bid farewell to the Google Nest Hub and welcome its successor, also called, conveniently enough, the.
It's not that there aren't choices to be made, but the fun lies in the problem more than the solution.
For starters, Google is reportedly discontinuing the previous-generation Nest Hub, so the question of whether you should buy one model over the other will soon be moot. Some retailers likeand will likely continue to sell the old Nest Hub until they run out of stock, but before long it will have gone the way of the dodo and with it, your options.
Current Nest Hub owners would do well to ask whether they should upgrade, but such a question isn't an either-or proposition. You can add a Google Nest Hub without subtracting one, after all. (You could, perhaps, give the old one away, but can you ever really have too many smart displays? Your kitchen and bathroom think otherwise.)
Finally, for those who've never owned any version of the 7-inch Hub crowned CNET's(sorry, Alexa!), the question is even simpler: Will this be the one to win you over?
To help unravel these puzzles and more, we'll start with the defending champion, as it were -- the original Google Nest, née Google Home Hub.
When Google's first-gen smart display hit the smart home market in 2018, it may have looked at first like quite an underdog. With its petite 7-inch screen and weighing in at just a hair over 1 pound, Google's schmedium-sized smart display entered the category as something of a welterweight. By comparison, Amazon's flagship smart display -- the 10-inch, over 2.5-pound colossus then simply called Amazon Echo Show -- was an absolute unit (at over 5 pounds, its latest permutation is even chonkier).
What the Hub lacked in brawn, however, it more than made up for in brains and beauty. On both the first- and second-gen 7-inch Hubs as well as Google's eventual heavyweight contender, the 10-inch Nest Hub Max, an ambient light sensor adjusts screen brightness and color temperature to match the surrounding room. The resulting photos and videos simply pop off the screen in a way the competition still has yet to emulate (Amazon tried with the new Echo Show 10 and the result is impressive, but still not quite up to par with Google's engineering).
Just as important -- Google seemed to win at smart home controls with its first jab. Even now, three years later and after several hardware improvements (and even more software updates), trying to turn on smart lights or adjust your thermostat with an Amazon Echo Show (there are now three) still feels clunky and outdated compared to the smooth, seamless scrolling and delightful animations offered by the comparable Google controls.
That's not to say the Nest Hub excelled in every category. The speakers produce sound that, while audible, is more than a little anemic. And that gorgeous Ambient EQ-powered screen is surrounded by a bezel that could make a first-gen iPad blush. And of course, consumers who need a camera for video calls are left in the lurch (although the more privacy-minded crowd will be more than happy to have one less security concern).
But all told, we found these trade-offs worth it for the gorgeous display, smart home smarts and, if I'm honest, a smart home hub whose footprint is smaller than a regulation-sized boxing ring.
With the new Nest Hub, Google didn't try to fix anything that wasn't broken and the end result is a device that's better in several respects than its predecessor without any discernible trade-offs. Sure, the bezel is still dummy thicc, but it's the only part of the Nest Hub you can really say that about -- besides, of course, the 50% (according to Google) louder bass response, which is definitely more Meghan Trainor than Twiggy this time around.
Improved internals, like an additional third mic, the inclusion of a machine learning chip first introduced in 2019's Nest Mini and built-in support for Thread (the low-power connectivity protocol central to the Project Connected Home Over IP universal smart home standard -- aka CHIP) at best improve performance and, at worst, pack in a little future-proofing.
But those improvements pale in comparison to the real showstopper -- Motion Sense, courtesy of Google's once-mysterious Soli mini radar chip.
Motion Sense allows for gesture control for media -- you can now play and pause audio and video streams with hand gestures rather than voice commands or, since it's a smart display, screen taps. CNET's Molly Price found the controls to be usable, if a bit sensitive -- an errant laundry folding gesture inadvertently paused YouTube during her testing, but otherwise she found it faster and simpler than voice commands (you can read her full review of the new Nest Hub here).
Gesture control, however -- while fun and awkwardly useful -- has been done elsewhere before. Sleep tracking, however, hasn't -- not like this anyway. For the first-impression-style deeper dive into how (and how well) the new Nest Hub tracks your sleep with its Sleep Sensing feature, you'll definitely want to head over and read the full review.
But the TL;DR comes down to this: The new Google Nest Hub tracks your sleep more or less as accurately as a wearable (each tracks some metrics better, others worse), but without needing to be charged or, for that matter, worn at all, which could be a game-changer in the relatively untapped field of sleep tracking. There's also still no camera, a choice we think is commendable.
If sleep tracking is something you're even remotely interested in, that makes the second-gen Nest Hub a must-have element of your smart home.
Final verdict: The new Nest Hub wins
You weren't expecting a device now entering middle age (by smart home standards, at least) to oust the latest and greatest, were you? Of course the new Nest Hub bests the old one -- it does more and performs better, all without sacrificing any of the elements that made the first-gen smart display our favorite overall.
But you knew that before we even started, right?
The real question is whether you should rush out and buy one, now that they're officially on sale. At $100 (£90, AU$149), it's priced $30 less than the first-gen Hub, right at launch (although, to be fair, sales aren't hard to come by). The key to solving for that variable can be found in the degree to which the prospect of tracking your sleep from the nightstand appeals to you.
Seriously. Some people won't care a lick about sleep tracking and if that's you, you have no more reason to buy the updated Nest Hub today than you had to buy the first-gen Hub before. Better sound? Meh, if you're looking for great sounding audio and you've already bought into the Google Nest ecosystem (or decided you want to), the Nest Audio is the no-brainer choice for you.
Gesture control? Maybe for edge cases -- professional chefs, people who exclusively dry-clean all their laundry and the like. For most people, it probably won't change your life.
But then there are those who just, you know, want a smart screen, because smart home. If you've been contemplating making the leap to a smart home display, there may not necessarily be a heightened sense of urgency, but there's never been a better time to get in than now.