Google finally found an app worthy of its diabolically smart Soli chip, and frankly, it was wasted on a smart display. Or, more precisely, the 2nd generation Nest Hub may be a bigger showcase than Soli, the short-range radar, is capable with Sleep Sensing, but I can’t help but wish that Google had just made a standalone sensor instead from that.
Soli, announced in 2015, was initially heralded as a breakthrough in gadget control. Its radar-like scan was short-range, but very accurate: combined with the tiny size of the chip, Google suggested, it could create virtual scroll wheels and sliders invisibly projected off the side of smartwatches and phones.
The reality of Soli’s first commercial outlet, however, was a little less impressive. Pixel 4 had its fair share of fights, and Motion Sense – Soli-powered gesture controls that you can do in front of the phone to navigate things like playing music – was not enough to fight them. Soli reappeared at the end of last year, on Nest’s cheapest thermostat model, but who also struggled to give technology a high profile showcase.
The second generation Nest Hub can change that. I’ve been living with one on my nightstand for the past week or so, with the Soli-powered Sleep Sensor tracking how much rest I’ve been having each night. It is not the first product to offer this, of course, but as I struggle to sleep while wearing a watch or fitness tracker, the idea of having the data collected without the need to use a gadget has great appeal.
What Nest and Google do with this data and how it can be improved, I covered more broadly in my analysis of the 2nd Generation Nest Hub. Another lesson for me, however, was the feeling that, while the new smart display gives the best Soli display we’ve seen so far, it may not necessarily be the best combination overall.
According to Nest, about 1 in 5 first generation Nest Hubs are living on people’s nightstands. For one, it is a reasonable amount of being located in the room. At the same time, however, it is clear that more people are using them elsewhere in the house.
I can see why, frankly. One of the first things I did when setting up the new Nest Hub was to define which settings would make the screen as dark – or preferably blacked out – as much as possible. I frankly wanted his minimum functionality to be visible, even silently watching my sleeping habits.
The Google and Nest teams have done a good job there. Sleep Sensing shows a persistent bed icon when it is actively monitoring you, but does not require you to put it to sleep. Instead, as soon as you lie down on the bed where you have calibrated it to take care of you, it will automatically start tracking you – and will stop when you get up again. This means that if you share a bed with someone and that person has retired for the night before you, you will not inadvertently wake them up by turning on Sleep Sensing.
You can get system results on the Nest Hub’s 7-inch screen, but rarely did. One factor is that the Sleep Sensing analysis actually takes a while to appear after you have dragged yourself out of bed. To begin with, there is a grace period during which he continues to monitor, in case you decide to go back to the covers. After that, processing on the device – part of the sensible, privacy-oriented approach Nest took – takes a while to process Soli’s observations, any noise, light and temperature changes observed in the room during the night, and then spit out the results .
This meant that when they were ready, I was usually dressed and continuing my morning. How you can access the results in the Google Fit app – and, if you’re an iOS user, sync them to Apple Health – that’s where I reviewed the numbers. It made me wonder if I really needed a screen on the nightstand.
What I hope to see is a more focused sleep sensor. Something smaller, maybe even built into a cordless phone charger to make it an even more useful addition to the nightstand, which would be responsible for collecting Sleep Sensing data, but should not deliver the results. For $ 99.99, Nest Hub 2nd Generation is not exactly a fancy purchase (and Google has a history of offering huge discounts when tracking Amazon’s Echo Show promotions), but removing things like the screen can make a Sleep device Dedicated sensing even more accessible.
Launching it yourself may have been a tough sell without a more familiar device to charge it, I understand. If you’re interested in sleeping and tracking it, the $ 100 to sleep next to a new Nest Hub is also a pretty small price to pay. At the same time, as Google, Nest and Fitbit bring together their various areas of expertise, I hope that the spread of Soli will be both more attainable, but more subtle. After all, I’m very picky when it comes to inviting things to my room.