I didn’t need a Google Nest Hub, but at $99, I kinda couldn’t resist one. It’s the same way I was reeled into a $99 Apple HomePod mini last fall. That one has a 50% success rate: Sometimes it plays what I want, sometimes it goes off on its own.
I knew what I was getting when I bought the HomePod, though. It was a music player I could link to my iTunes account and play my playlists and albums from my phone or Siri. I could also use it as a HomeKit hub to control lights and door locks in my smart home. But my home is fairly dumb as these things go; I don’t need Siri, Google Assistant or Alexa to turn on my lights or tell me how much time is left on the microwave oven.
So I didn’t need Nest Hub for any smart home wizardry, either, even though Google wants me to, having rebranded all the Google Home products as part of the Nest family. Since I have a good old-fashioned radiator with steam heat from the decidedly not-smart boiler in my apartment building’s basement, there will be no smart thermostat for me.
So what to do with the Nest Hub? I bought this smart 7-inch display with the hopes it will let me know what it can do for me. If that turns out to be little, I’m not out too much. In both cases, $99 was a small price to pay for Apple and Google to try to rope me into their ecosystems, where they hope I will spend a lot more.
A recent Parks Associates survey found steep prices stand in the way of consumer adoption of smart home devices, including smart speakers. Over 20 million U.S. consumers, 44% of those who don’t one a smart home device, and don’t plan to, cited price as the top deterrent, followed by perceived lack of benefits and data and privacy concerns.
Dropping the entry-level price to sub-profit levels gives companies a chance to pull consumers into their ecosystem. “Companies are betting that getting one device in the home, even as a loss leader, will convince consumers of the value of smart home devices and inspire future purchases,” blogged analyst Patrice Samuels. Maybe next time that cost-conscious consumer buys an Apple TV and then Apple TV+ content to watch on it. If Apple lures a customer with a $99 HomePod to a $15/month Apple Music plan, that’s a big win; same with Google and its Chromecast and YouTube services.
I already have a Google Home speaker in the kitchen. It plays music occasionally, sets timers and divides measurements for me (Half of 7/8 cup “is approximately 0.438 U.S. cups.”). I have Alexa spinning my Spotify playlists on a Sonos speaker in the bedroom. I don’t need another smart speaker.
But Nest Hub has a screen, which makes it different from my other smart speakers. So it can stream TV (YouTube TV: $65/month), act as a digital photo frame (Google Photos: $2/month and up) and play music (YouTube Music Premium: $10/month). What it doesn’t have — and I wouldn’t have bought it if it did — is a camera. It’s bad enough to have a smart speaker listening to everything that goes on in this apartment. No way Google is getting a visual peek into my world.
I don’t know if I’ll ever watch video on Nest Hub. I might if I cut the cord this summer and get YouTube TV to replace Fios TV. That would only involve linking accounts within the Google family. On setup, the Hub gave me the option to link my Hulu and Netflix accounts, but do I really want to give Google that information? Spotify was easier; it’s linked through Spotify Connect and I am currently tapping my toe to Robben Ford’s Start Me Up.
Nest Hub offers sleep tracking through the Google Fit app, which is a little intriguing. I’ve tried sleep tracking apps with wristbands but haven’t gotten much out of it. Google, which gobbled up Fitbit for its health tracking capabilities for a cool $2.1 billion, is offering free sleep tracking “until next year” via the Fit app, and I’m going to take it for a test spin.
The Hub’s sleep sensing works by using “low-energy radar” to detect movements and breathing. Other sensors pick up movement, breathing, snoring, coughing, ambient light and temperature. To set it up, I placed the Hub level with the mattress, pointed at my supine self, as instructed, “with no other people or pets nearby.” That’s easier said than done with a playful 1-year-old cat.
The Hub did its thing, calibrating my parameters, before I hit the button for it to begin monitoring my nighttime routine. It must have been surprised by all the noise from 6th Avenue in The City That Never Sleeps. I wasn’t. First there were sirens, then banging upstairs and the aforementioned kitten knocked a smartwatch off a wireless charger — a pretty routine night.
In the morning, I was curious what the Hub thought of the night’s hubbub. The 6 hours, 55 minutes of sleep was “normal for you,” it said, which it was. Based on what I said was my ideal 11pm – 7am sleeping routine, my quality of sleep was “restful” — a pleasant surprise. It knew it took me a while to go to sleep; the Hub said I spent 1:02 in bed before going to sleep, which was both surprising and creepy. I wanted to say, “None of your damn business.”
After one night, Nest Hub has already stirred up the household. In the morning, the dashboard showed orange activity dots indicating snoring at quite a few intervals during the night. I know for a fact my partner, Liz, snores routinely. She is adamant that the orange dots are only tracking me since the device is on my side of the bed. The Hub isn’t taking sides.
Then there’s the parental element. Nest Hub reported I got into bed at 11:46pm — “Too late.” Wake-up time was 7:43am — also “too late.” The alarm playing NPR at 7am went off as usual, but I didn’t register the new day until, yep, about 7:43. “You should aim for 11:00 – 7:00,” said my new surrogate mother.
A couple of nights later, a work night, Hub was a little more lenient, maybe because it knew I was watching a baseball game that ended beyond normal hours. I got into bed at 11:27 (“a little late”) and woke up, yep, “too late” again. This is on me. I have to adjust my ideal times to avoid a digital reprimand. I noticed on the sleep dashboard there was a flurry of snoring activity right at the time I experienced “restless periods.” I’m not naming names, and neither is Hub.
The jury’s out on this one. I’ll keep playing around with Hub and decide how much of my content I’m willing to share with it (and pay for). As for the sleep sensing, it’s interesting to check the graph next day, but that’s not information I would pay for. For $99, I think I made a decent investment, but I don’t know if it will pay off for Google in the end.